A glimmer of hope for Hogs 

A few happy hours on the ol' Plains at Jordan-Hare Stadium doesn't really constitute a fix, but as Pearls dabbles in crude psychobabble, let's not discount what a 17-point road win in the SEC can mean.

Arkansas had spent an entire month getting pelted by the national media and all of its offshoots and sub-strata, so the tourniquet of beating an atrocious Auburn by a 24-7 tally cannot be understated. It was hardly a work of art, which is to be expected, but things went incredibly well for the Razorbacks most of the day. To wit:

After recording seven sacks in five games, the Hogs erupted for eight sacks, delivering four to Kiehl Frazier in the first half and another four to Clint Moseley in the second. Alabama native Trey Flowers, who had all but disappeared after an encouraging freshman campaign, erupted for 3.5 sacks by himself in a singularly motivated, charged performance that nobody on the defense has come close to exhibiting.

The Hogs' miserable turnover ratio reversed sharply, though admittedly it wasn't always a function of the Hogs' own brilliance. Freshman corner Will Hines made an acrobatic pick of Frazier's last attempt, a terribly thrown wide receiver fly route at the end of the first half, and also scooped up a fumble. Arkansas was the beneficiary of five turnovers total, and the two that the Hogs committed (a muffed punt return by Keante Minor and fumble by Jonathan Williams) were ultimately inconsequential.

Tyler Wilson looked comfortable, spent most of the day upright, and did a pretty marvelous job of distributing the ball around. Cobi Hamilton was stunted after another solid first half, but Wilson sought out other targets here and there. Mekale McKay and Austin Tate provided some subtle but meaningful assistance, with the latter's production being especially welcome in view of Chris Gragg's absence. Demetrius Wilson had one catch, but it was a critical 23-yard grab to set up the first score. For a change, the passing game looked modern, crisp and properly executed, which some were negligently crediting to Paul Petrino's decision to move into the coaches' box.

And as a segue from that last point, let's rein in our wildly unsubstantiated theories about why the offense started clicking. Arkansas actually gained only 372 total yards, which save for the Alabama rout was the lowest yardage output all season and was far from being explosive. Hamilton's 41-yard catch-and-run on the first play from scrimmage was the longest gain of the day, and but for the creative burst that allowed Brandon Mitchell to chuck a decisive TD to Javontee Herndon in the third quarter, the Hogs still had extended moments of stagnation against an Auburn defense that hardly qualifies as daunting.

The defense's inspired showing can also be traced to what Paul Haynes, flush with coach-speak after the win, did accurately summarize as simple, better execution. Defensive end Chris Smith, who tacked on a sack-and-a-half, was actually even more impressive than Flowers, springing off the line with timing that Carl Douglas would admire. Coverage was largely improved, as at least a couple of the sacks were created by good blanketing in the secondary.

Of course, even as the sun finally shone on the porcine posterior for an afternoon, it left a burn or two. Alonzo Highsmith is now shelved for good with a foot injury, his all-too-brief career in Fayetteville finished, and Tank Wright may also be checking out prematurely as his return for the last month of a lost season is in doubt. It's often said on occasions like these that the upside is a gain for young players who might otherwise have assumed their roles next year without much gameday work to draw from. Cynically, though, no one can expect a team to keep a healthy outlook when so many vital pieces have been rendered void.

Fortunately, Arkansas finds itself in a stretch where reclaiming the 2012 season can be a tangible goal. Auburn may have been awful, but this week's foe, Kentucky, is demonstrably worse because Auburn has at least recruited well enough to give its woefully unqualified head coach a reprieve. Joker Phillips has done nothing in Lexington other than torch whatever respectability Rich Brooks had worked awfully hard to construct.

Historically, though, the Hogs have had an almost incomprehensible struggle against the Wildcats, just as they have fared shockingly well at Auburn. Kentucky has been in last-gasp mode for seemingly ages, and it's not easy to digest any assertion that Arkansas just suddenly awakened and trudged out of the mire for good. The Hogs need to paste Kentucky, simply put, and go into a bye week before Ole Miss with something closely resembling momentum. It's not out of the realm of consideration that this team, for all its many warts and its damnable luck, can actually play a cash game around Christmas.


Speaking of...

  • Pearls About Swine: Hog bowl victory prelude to new era

    January 1, 2015
    Arkansas Razorback fans descended on the biggest Southern city with a force and fury that presaged the defensive effort that their beloved team thrust upon an oddly hapless Texas Longhorns team Monday night. Before a crowd of 71,000-plus that assuredly was the most zealous bunch to ever watch two college teams fight to clear .500, the Hogs simply overwhelmed the Horns 31-7 in the AdvoCare V100 Texas Bowl and created immense buzz for a 2015 season that now, shockingly, can't get here fast enough. /more/
  • Texas Bowl preview: Hogs over Horns

    December 25, 2014
    Bowl games run the gamut, from the oddball and uninteresting to the compelling and rich (hat tip to Ron Burgundy). It's hard to imagine how Arkansas-Texas in any scenario would be a yawner, and the AdvoCare Texas Bowl next Monday night is a sellout for the first time in the game's relative infancy, so the appeal is unquestioned from the regional assessment and even on a broader scale will be embraced. /more/
  • Another fourth quarter meltdown for the Hogs

    December 4, 2014
    Having risen like the proverbial phoenix with those grand shutouts, the football Hogs just couldn't have a true regular-season finale without officiating controversies and lightning-rod personnel issues. /more/
  • Here come the expectations

    November 27, 2014
    The Bielema Bandwagon pit crew has done some hellacious work getting the wheels road-worthy again. Now it may take the installation of a governor under the hood to keep everyone rational after two historic, emotionally gratifying games have pushed expectations toward the stratosphere for the rest of the season and years beyond. /more/
  • Victory

    November 20, 2014
    Forgive the beleaguered, moonlighting Hog columnist if he scratches out this week's Pearls About Swine in much the same way Bret Bielema rejoiced Saturday night: a smidge teary-eyed and a bit unshaven, and with a robust, impromptu smooch for the wife. /more/
  • Calm victory for Hogs

    September 5, 2013
    Well, this is awkward. Pearls is gonna be pretty complaint-free this week. /more/
  • The midday round-up

    December 3, 2012
    Tyler Wilson signs with a high-powered agent. The Ark. Legislative Black Caucus names a leader. State Repubs. name their leaders. And a former Hendrix student continues to get pub for encouraging young people to NOT go to college. /more/
  • Play Brandon Allen

    November 14, 2012
    The distinction between these Razorback footballers and those from a season ago isn't as disparate as the records (9-1 through 10 games last year, 4-6 this time) might indicate. /more/
  • Bright spots: Cobi Hamilton and Dennis Johnson

    November 7, 2012
    No sense wasting more valuable column inches this week on the grotesquerie that was Arkansas's homecoming game against Tulsa, which the Hogs somehow failed to lose. This plodding, 4-5 team isn't going to play a 13th game this season, and if it does, rejoicing will hardly be warranted anyway. /more/
  • Razorbacks Midseason review

    October 24, 2012
    We've nudged a bit past the true midpoint of 2012, but on the heels of an idle weekend and with a slate of still-meaningful games ahead, Pearls looks back, then looks forward in its quasi-traditional and moderately derisive midseason review. /more/
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