Arkansas’s first environmental education state park interprets the importance of the natural world and our place within it.
This is the 91st edition of Pearls About Swine, and all prior installments, without fail, have been a byproduct of my own eyes and ears. This is my solemn vow.
Not this week. Sorry, but this is the mea culpa moment I really hoped I wouldn't have.
Nary a single second of the broadcast of another 52-0 throttling by Alabama transected my sensory organs Saturday. Not one. I didn't watch, listen, or otherwise perceive a moment of what was apparently only liberally described as "action" from Tuscaloosa, and once I learned of the final score, I didn't bother to watch anything other than well-culled snippets of the Crimson Tide treating the Razorbacks like they might in a scrimmage against the marching band. It was apparently terrible, and no, I'm not sorry for avoiding the carnage.
The nation's premier football program casually and methodically deconstructed a poor little bunch from Fayetteville that had already taken two vicious beatings to start October and could ill afford a third. It happened, we all knew it would, and it's behind us. The shining beacon from the Ozarks right now is that there is no game this weekend, and therefore no conceivable cause to wince in pain.
As a result of my voluntary and perhaps gutless choice to enjoy a Saturday evening dinner with friends, and abstain from even iPhone stat-poring, I achieved enlightenment on a Zen- or perhaps even Benny Hinn-scale. Arkansas is 3-5, 0-4, plodding along through a miserable stretch while Bret Bielema probably ponders a career change every few seconds. Ho hum.
There is, mercifully, no justifiable cause to revisit what happened against Alabama. Last year when the Tide meted out the first 52-point whitewashing of the Hogs, there was morbid curiosity: how would this team fare against the elites, fresh off a program-crippling loss to a Sun Belt team, with its quarterback shelved? This year, the garishness of losses to Florida and South Carolina left no one with any doubts, delusions, or desire to observe.
With two-thirds of the 2013 season now in the hamper, and the long-projected October cave-in now complete and astonishingly worse than most probably thought, let's just call this a belated halfway point assessment. Here's the moderately tolerable news: Arkansas has two young offensive linemen, Denver Kirkland and Dan Skipper, who are capable of developing into the best nucleus on that front since the Hogs hit the SEC, and two fine tailbacks who would excel at any program if given the right support. There's some hope that immature defensive players will progress rapidly under the tutelage of Chris Ash, Charlie Partridge and Randy Shannon. Tight end Hunter Henry has world-class skill, and there is a sporting chance that Jeremy Sprinkle will complement him as the best receiving tight-end tandem in the region.
Now there's the rest of this ugly story.
One young quarterback is simply overwhelmed right now, has his own brother nipping at his heels, and there is no receiver on the horizon who looks capable of filling a massive void at the position. Three fairly productive defensive linemen, the best kicker in program history and a pretty salty anchor on the offensive line are all going to depart. The secondary is, as has perpetually been the case for roughly a decade-plus, a shallow and oft-maligned group that gets challenged often and adjusts rarely. And perhaps the most fear-inducing thing is that lurking question from week to week: what recruits are going to find this appealing?!
Bielema's in uncharted waters too. In seven seasons at Wisconsin, he had no losing campaigns, and when things did get bleak, the soft underbelly of the Big Ten always did provide potential rescue. Wisconsin could steamroll the also-rans but certainly squared off well against the heavy hitters in the league, too; now, Bielema is at the helm of a Hog program that is more or less that also-ran, and on a weekend ripe with seismic shifts in the conference standings, his team went whimpering away behind the woodshed. The man in the magic windbreaker says all the right things and succinctly said after the Alabama loss that the string of bad performances was "getting a little old," but there didn't even seem to be a hint of hope finishing his assessment.
Having a bad year in this league is nothing new for Arkansas, mind you, but there's this inescapable desire to leap off the cliff right now, and getting outscored 134-17 in a month's worth of immolation is only part of the distress. When you simultaneously see Mizzou and Texas A&M bolting into the fray with such rapid returns, Tennessee showing signs of resurgence, and Auburn regaining footing under the ever-polarizing Gus Malzahn...man, you just get flat-out sad.
Darkest before the dawn, right?