Arkansas had better improve dramatically in the next two weeks on defense and special teams to have any chance of upsetting Alabama on September 15th in Fayetteville.
The Hogs’ defense looked mediocre concerning pass defenses, giving up 21 points in the first half to Jacksonville State… that’s 21 points to a Football Championship Subdivision (FCS) team that posted a 7-4 record in 2011 in the mighty Ohio Valley Conference.
Yes, the Razorback defenders played better in the second half. But, if they don’t learn how to play 60 minutes at 110%, the Tide is going to roll to a 31-7 halftime lead on Arkansas just like they did against Michigan this weekend.
There is no excuse for the Hogs defense allowing the Gamecocks to convert a third-and-15 in their two-minute drill and then score with 8 seconds left in the first half. I’m sure that very point was driven home to them by their coaches at halftime and again during film review.
Chris Gragg and Brandon Mitchell are the real deal. Gragg proved that last year and he made a statement Saturday that he is one of the best tight ends in the country. He’s got former wide receiver speed and a bulked-up smallish tight end’s body. At 6-4, he and Mitchell both make great targets for Tyler Wilson.
Gragg caught seven passes for 110 yards and two TDs. Mitchell caught four for an impressive 122 yards. Mitchell will only get better as the season progresses, as he learns to use his size and superb athletic ability even more to his advantage over much smaller defensive backs.
Another big plus was Javontee Herndons’ 63-yard TD reception that proved he can be a deep threat for the Hogs along with Gragg and Cobi Hamilton.
Feedback I got from people who went to the game was that Jacksonville State came out looking prepared and ready to play and the Razorbacks didn’t.
Word to the wise to Tyler Wilson and crew: Don’t talk about putting on a show against an FCS opponent and then let them take a 14-7 lead in the second quarter. It just looks bad. As Abraham Lincoln said, “Better to keep your mouth shut and be thought overconfident than to open it and remove all doubt.” I think Honest Abe said that either before the first Illinois-Ohio State football game in 1860 or just after the Battle of Fredericksburg. No matter. It’s true either way.
Word to the wise to the Arkansas coaches: Your young men need to be ready to go when that first whistle blows against SEC West opponents or it’s going to be a very long season.
Back to ‘Bama. Yikes! Nick Saban’s bloodthirsty horde didn’t have any trouble coming out of the starting gate at full speed. They jumped on Michigan like offensive linemen at an all-you-can-eat buffet and pounded the previously eighth-ranked Wolverines into submission 21-0 before the first quarter ended.
Quarterback A.J. McCarron said after the game that the Tide wasn't trying to make a statement, but they were heard nationwide, whether they were trying to make a statement or not. The talent is there for the best head coach in college football to continue the Alabama dynasty. If anyone wants to dethrone the Tide, they’re going to have to EARN IT.
I was hoping Alabama’s defense was going to take at least four games to get on track after losing so much NFL talent from last year’s team. Looks like that was wishful thinking. Granted, Arkansas’ offense is better than Michigan’s with the Wolverines’ best running back suspended for the game. How much better remains to be seen. How Arkansas’ defensive front will stand up to Alabama’s massive road-grader offensive line and powerful running backs also remains to be seen.
And, don’t be surprised if Michigan QB Denard Robinson’s Heisman Trophy campaign fails to get back on track after Saturday’s embarrassment. He didn’t look horrible trying to carry too much of the load, but he didn’t look good enough to maintain his place among the elite Heisman candidates either.
Other SEC observations: Georgia is in the same boat as Arkansas, only the Bulldogs don’t have another week to get better. They took a “commanding” 24-16 lead over FCS foe Buffalo before pulling ahead in the second half for a less-than-impressive 45-23 victory. The Bulldogs travel to Mizzou next week and might find out the new team in the SEC East isn’t the pushover many have predicted. The Tigers pounded cannon fodder Southeastern Louisiana 62-10 in their home opener Saturday.
South Carolina looked weak offensively against Vanderbilt Thursday night in their 17-13 win in Nashville. All-American tailback Marcus Lattimore looked less than 100 percent coming back from the torn ACL that cut his 2011 season short. Lattimore gained 109 yards and scored, but he didn’t look like the powerful workhorse he was last year.
When QB Connor Shaw got hurt, the Gamecock offense really struggled. Coach Spurrier used his second and third string quarterbacks but was forced to put an injured Shaw back in the game repeatedly to keep what little offensive momentum they had from disappearing altogether. Even with Shaw’s courageous performance, SC had an anemic 67 passing yards.
If the Gamecocks lose Shaw they will be in trouble, especially early in the season. His backups were not ready for anything more than mop-up duty. He suffered a bruised shoulder on his throwing arm and will miss practice this week because he still doesn’t have full range of motion without pain and stiffness.
Shaw is a shifty 6-1, 207-pounder who can run the ball very effectively. But he still suffers from the typical dual-threat QB malady of taking off as soon as he feels pressure, often too soon and without keeping his eyes downfield looking for an open receiver. He’s too valuable and too small to be flying around letting 250-pound linebackers take shots at him. Without him, the Gamecocks will be SEC East also-rans for sure.
Tennessee looked pretty solid stopping NC State Friday night 35-21 in Atlanta. I think the Vols may be ready to challenge for the SEC East title, especially after watching the other supposed contenders over the weekend. Lowly Bowling Green should have beaten Florida in what might be the start of Will Muschamp’s second and last season as Gators head coach.
The Gators—a dismal 7-6 in 2011— owe their 27-14 victory Saturday primarily to two missed field goals and a shanked punt by Bowling Green. With road games at Texas A&M and Tennessee next on the schedule, Florida doesn’t have any cushion. They either improve dramatically on both sides of the ball, or their head coach will be frying on the hot seat before their early October match-up with third-ranked LSU. Muschamp is a Georgia grad, so he won’t get the 3-year grace period that a former Gator would get.
Auburn looked very good at times but sophomore QB Kyle Frazier lost his composure late in the game against Clemson as the Tigers from South Carolina pulled out a 26-19 victory in Atlanta. Frazier, former Shiloh Christian of Springdale, Arkansas phenom, passed for a respectable 194 yards against Clemson but was 1-7 at one point late in the game when Auburn needed him most.
Finally, look out for West Virginia as a team and Mountaineers QB Geno Smith in the Heisman race. The Mountaineers hung 70 points on ACC champion Clemson in the Orange Bowl, then began this year still on a roll, thumping Marshall 69-34. WVU jumped from the Big East to the Big 12 this season and could be good enough to challenge for the conference championship.
Meanwhile, Smith started his 2012 campaign (Heisman campaign?) by hitting 32 of 36 passes for 323 yards and four touchdowns with no interceptions. He also rushed for 65 yards and a touchdown. Considering the quality of defense traditionally played in the Big 12, Smith could very well end the year with an invitation to the Heisman festivities at the Downtown Athletic Club in New York.
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