Remember back three or four months ago when you just couldn’t wait for football season?
Yeah, I do too. What were we thinking?
Remember that old TV show “Thirtysomething?” Did you ever think it would be the point spread for a Razorback football game?
Neither did I.
Next up for the Razorbacks
Opponent: at Alabama
When: 6 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 26
Where: Tuscaloosa, Ala.
Nov. 2 – Mississippi State
Nov. 9 – Western Kentucky
Nov. 23 – at LSU
Nov. 29 – Missouri
Well, I guess there have been other times when the Hogs were 32-point underdogs, but I don’t remember it.
Either way Razorback fans and the program they support are enduring epically bad times. The Hogs are 2-5 on the season and 0-4 in SEC. The Razorbacks’ SEC losing streak is up to 15 and unless the sky falls, it will be at 16 on Sunday.
No one outside the Razorback locker room believes the Hogs can win at 6 p.m. Saturday when they play No. 1 Alabama (7-0, 5-0) in an ESPN-televised game, and its doubtful if anyone in the Razorback locker room believes they can win either.
Alabama quarterback Tua Tagovailoa is out for the game with a high ankle sprain. That will be of consequence if he is still injured in two weeks when Alabama faces No. 2 LSU, but it’s of no real consequence Saturday.
If the Razorback can’t get out their own way enough to beat San Jose State or Kentucky, Tagovailoa’s absence isn’t going to slow Alabama down that much. That’s how great of a talent and coaching disparity there is going into the game.
Most teams of Arkansas’ ability level get a $500,000 to a million-dollar check to play Alabama. All Arkansas’ going to get is the opportunity to host the Crimson Tide next season, when in all likelihood they’ll be ranked in the top five again.
Crimson Tide coach Nick Saban probably could sit all of his starters and still beat the bedraggled Razorbacks handily.
Word that two of the Razorbacks’ starting offensive linemen — left tackle Colton Jackson and left guard Austin Capps — are injured and can’t play only makes matters more difficult. Both are seniors. It might be a good move for Arkansas to move forward with its younger players anyway.
Loyal Hog fans are down to trying to enjoy the play of a few individual skilled players who have had moments to shine despite the overall woes faced by the team.
Treylon Burks and Trey Knox are special freshmen at wide receiver, who have both flashed NFL potential. Hog fans need to enjoy them while they can. Same can be said for tight end C.J. O’Grady. It’s taken some time for the Fayetteville native to capitalize on his potential, but he’s gotten close under some difficult situations in his senior year. Likewise, junior running back Rakeem Boyd is a bright spot, who has run hard despite some tough going this year.
Even in last week’s 51-10 thumping by Auburn, that quartet made plays that stood out. They’ll likely do that against Alabama on Saturday, too.
On the defensive side of the ball, I enjoy watching the all-out effort of safety Cam Curl and linebacker Bumper Pool, as well as the pride and Arkansas spirit that backup linebackers Hayden Henry and Grant Morgan display. They aren’t the only Razorback defenders that have given their all this year, but they are the ones that pop to mind at this moment.
After this weekend, Arkansas’ schedule lets up a little bit. Oh, there’s still a trip to Baton Rouge to face No. 2 LSU on Nov. 23, but I still hold out hope for victories over Mississippi State on Nov. 2, Western Kentucky on Nov. 9 in Fayetteville, and maybe even against Missouri on Nov. 29 in Little Rock.
The Tigers, who are under a one-year bowl ban for a tutor completing coursework for student athletes, are going to treat the game like a bowl. The Hogs might as well do it, too.
I look forward to seeing freshman quarterback K.J. Jefferson play next week after his red-shirt year essentially ends Saturday night. Razorback coach Chad Morris needs to give him some playing time to in each of the final four games for the good of the program and the young man.
He may not be totally ready to play, but getting him time on the field should only enhance the progress he hopefully is already making in practice. Jefferson’s not the only freshmen that needs some playing time. Anyone that has a decent shot at seeing some playing time next season needs to get some in-game reps. Every position coach should understand that and abide by it, even if it is only on special teams.
Seeing those young men play and improve is something that fans should be able to look forward to in a season in which some Hog fans have lost reason to fill their seats at Razorback and War Memorial stadiums.
I’m not saying the seniors should be totally cast to the side, but in a sense, the 2020 season for the Razorbacks should begin next week.
Hoop Hogs on Exhibit
The Arkansas Razorbacks’ first season under new basketball coach Eric Musselman is inching ever closer with the season opener less than two weeks away on Nov. 5 against Rice at 7 p.m.
However, the Razorbacks play their second of two exhibition games at 7 p.m. Friday when they host Southwestern Oklahoma State in Bud Walton Arena.
Musselman’s Hogs made a solid first impression last Sunday in about as historic of an exhibition game as a college program can host. The court was not only dedicated to living Razorback legend Nolan Richardson, who led Arkansas to its lone basketball national championship, but they also played Arkansas-Little Rock, a break from the tradition of the Razorbacks not scheduling other in-state schools.
A loss to UALR wouldn’t have just been a downer; it would have been a disaster that Musselman never would have been able to wipe off his resume. Thankfully his Razorbacks responded by opening strong in the first and second half, which was enough to put away the Trojans, 79-64.
The execution was sharp and crisp early on, although the Hogs turned the ball over too much and fouled too much for their effort overall effort to stand up in regular-season play.
Musselman, who misses nothing, noted those issues and the Hogs have been at work this week to correct the problems.
A longstanding issue with Razorback teams going back two decades has been rebounding. This year will be no different. The Hogs are a guard-oriented team that is size-challenged with 6-foot-8 sophomores Reggie Chaney and Ethan Henderson the tallest players Musselman can call upon. Arkansas is going to have to gang rebound every night out.
In his press conference Thursday, Musselman said he is challenging his guards and wings with winning the rebounding battle each game at their position in hope of mitigating their lack of size at the center and power forward spots.
Their is still a bit of hope that 7-3 sophomore Connor Vanover could receive a transfer waiver that would make him immediately eligible to play this season. His length would certainly help on the glass, but rebounding and pounding in the paint isn’t necessarily the 230-pounder’s forte. He is a finesse player who is more adept at facing the basket for a three-pointer than banging down low.
It’s ridiculous that the NCAA hasn’t already made a decision on Vanover’s waiver. It’s like the institution is holding him and dozens of other transfers who petitioned for a waiver hostage, but I digress.
The theme of Musselman’s offense is efficient shots. Though it’s early for this team, that likely means a great number of 3-point shots. The Hogs made 13 of 35 three-point attempts against UALR with junior Isaiah Joe canning 8 of 18 for 25 points. Musselman said that Joe averaging 15 three-point shots a game is realistic.
With shooters as sure as Desi Sills and Mason Jones were last year behind the line, this could be one of the most prolific three-point shooting teams the Razorbacks have ever had.
Now, it’s early, and hopefully this squad can become adept at penetrating the paint and getting to the rim for layups and to draw fouls, as well. There are always nights when the long-range shots just aren’t falling as well, and the Hogs will still have to score.
This should be a fun team to watch, and Hog fans are going to get a lot of early opportunities to see them with seven games in November before the Razorbacks play just five in December.
With the Christmas break and only five games in December, Musselman will have a great deal of practice time to drill his squad before heading into Southeastern Conference play in January.
It would be interesting to know if Musselman planned the schedule that way or if it was just the way it fell. Either way, I get the idea he will take advantage of that time particularly once final exams are done.
The Razorbacks have tonight’s exhibition game and 12 other opportunities to develop their identity with their new coaching staff before embarking on a very difficult conference schedule.
Here’s hoping the Hogs can not only improve over the next two months but also pile up a nice stack of victories before the beginning of the year.