Leave it to the talented, tormented Razorbacks of 2012 to play their most complete game of the entire season to date in a game that was incomplete.
Nasty conditions put a mercy killing on Arkansas's 49-7 rout of Kentucky with a few minutes left in the third period. Fayetteville was hammered with storms, and the Wildcats got hammered by a Hog offense that looked oddly speed-enhanced by the soaked turf. Fitting for a game played in such soggy conditions, the outcome was dripping with irony: It was this Arkansas team, demoralized and depleted by the longest, cruelest September the program has had in years, that finally got the program's first on-campus win against Kentucky. Even stranger was the fact that it happened so routinely.
Kentucky is now nestled at the foot of the SEC bed, a new iteration of what Vanderbilt used to be but not strangulated by the same academic rigors. I don't mean to pick on the Wildcats, but it was impossible to watch Saturday's game and not recognize just how empty the coffers are. Yes, they have been blistered by injuries, and Joker Phillips and his staff might have arguably waved the white flag. The talent pool is thin, though, and for a university where the sport has always been an inoffensive prelude to the hardwood, even this degree of wanton awfulness is disconcerting.
Arkansas, after all, spent the first half of the season as the headline disappointment of college football, a hulking mess of injuries and coaching dysfunction. The Hogs cleaned it up against a bad Auburn team, but still didn't totally shimmer on offense. What they did against Kentucky, though, was electric.
Freshman tailback Jonathan Williams bookended the first quarter with two dynamic touchdown receptions of 74 and 77 yards, slipping out of the backfield to take the ball in stride from Tyler Wilson. Between and beyond those plays, though, Arkansas demonstrated more sustained offensive rhythm than it has all season, with 24 first downs over only 40 minutes of action, and a rushing attack that was both assertive and physical. Dennis Johnson had a banner Saturday night with 82 rushing yards and three total touchdowns, and even Knile Davis recaptured a little bit of his 2010 vintage with some hard running. Wilson, for his part, put together another clean, almost effortless passing performance (372 yards, five scores).
And for the second straight game, Arkansas was only victimized for a single touchdown. Defensively, the Hogs were less opportunistic than they were against Auburn — they forced no turnovers this week — but were actually more collectively balanced. Kentucky tried to juggle QBs as the Tigers had done the week before, to no avail. Their two passers, Jalen Whitlow and Morgan Newton, combined to hit only four of 15 attempts, and the rest of the backfield was smothered to the tune of 66 rushing yards on 25 carries. Granted, Kentucky's offensive line is of modest size and caliber, but the Cats' front simply generated no forward inertia.
It is an inescapable truth that the Hogs have likely battered the two worst teams in the conference the past two weeks. The garish 48-point beating that Texas A&M handed out on Sept. 29 had many of us musing about the cataclysm of a winless conference run, one that would leave the program so terminally crippled that it couldn't possibly entice the kind of coaching hire needed for the long term. It's hard to project how a 3-4 team will fare the rest of the way against the schedule that Arkansas has left, but it's also hard to dismiss the recent surge as being gained solely by way of substandard competition. Auburn had just pushed LSU to the brink in a 12-10 loss the week before it faltered against the Hogs, and Kentucky had competed fairly well against South Carolina and Mississippi State in spite of being shorthanded.
Now the bye week arrives, and prior to the commencement of this bizarre season, Pearls posited that it was well-timed. Now even that throwaway observation looks suspect. Just as the Hogs finally began to resolve some internal disharmony, there's the potential for a week off to be more hindrance than help. When Ole Miss returns to Little Rock for the first time in two decades, what Razorback team will it see? The last Little Rock game was one of infamy, and with the notoriously imperiled state of future War Memorial Stadium games very much on everyone's mind and tongue, if the Hogs regress and essentially cement a losing season by folding against the Rebels, you can probably put aside all those nagging worries you used to have about getting to the golf course early enough to get a plum tailgating spot.
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