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Ole Miss gave Arkansas blueprint to beat Alabama 

Even as Arkansas sojourned over the weekend, the free world of SEC football spun almost wildly off its axis and triggered future storylines for the Hogs as they embark on the remainder of a schedule that was already seen as grueling.

The events of Oct. 4 altered the West divisional landscape dramatically while the 0-2 Razorbacks seek out a means of escape from the cellar. In the wake of the collapse at Arlington against Texas A&M, when certain victory got ensnared in defeat's filthy jaws at the end, Arkansas looks like arguably one of the best 25 teams in the country, and may still finish with a losing record at the end of it all.

First, consider that the Hogs will come off the bye week to face an assuredly hostile Alabama team that is reeling from blowing an 11-point second-half lead in a 23-17 loss at Ole Miss. That game, the second of a two-act Mississippi uprising on Saturday, was as rough-and-tumble as anticipated and it wreaked havoc on the Tide in numerous ways. For beginners, Nick Saban teams are thoroughly unaccustomed to being overmatched in the trenches, but the Rebels shored up their protection of Bo Wallace in the second half and he delivered three touchdown strikes as a result. The running game also shook off early struggles, and perhaps most damning, Alabama's offense was bereft of any kind of big-play threat. Amari Cooper was checked, Blake Sims was unsteady and Kenyan Drake was sent out of the game before halftime on a garish leg injury.

Frankly, but for a gift touchdown that should've been negated by an obvious facemask grab that wasn't called, Alabama would have lost this game by a wider margin. This was the most undisciplined performance by a Tide team since a demonstrative favorite gagged badly against Utah in a BCS matchup six seasons ago, and it wasn't just penalties, turnovers and further kicking woes that brought home that point. Indeed, Alabama looked mortal, unimposing and thoroughly beatable.

Should that give Arkansas encouragement? Well, keep in mind that this very atypical occurrence happened shortly after Mississippi State beat the brakes off the very Texas A&M team that Arkansas couldn't quite conquer seven days beforehand, and Dak Prescott efficiently swapped places with alleged wunderkind Kenny Hill on the Heisman watch list with a five-touchdown effort. The Bulldogs took a cudgel to an already-weakened Aggie defense from the get-go at Starkville.

The Hogs, therefore, may be drawing Alabama at home at the ideal time, or at the worst time, because it's apparent gospel that Saban-coached teams will be especially nasty in the aftermath of a rare loss. But why? Keep in mind that the Tide unthinkably choked away a road win at Auburn last year in an eerily similar game to the one that Oxford hosted, and then, with weeks to prepare against underdog Oklahoma, got run off the Superdome turf by the Sooners. That wasn't the first two-game losing streak of Saban's distinguished tenure, either — note above that when his then-unbeaten team got taken down by Florida in the 2008 SEC Championship Game, the next defeat was to the Utes weeks later.

You can extract as much or as little as you wish from that historical nugget, but you can bet that Arkansas coaches are using the shakeup to point out something. This division, as brutal as it may be, paradoxically clarifies the roadmap needed for success. How does Arkansas hope to win in this league, you ask? Well, the question was posed to Auburn last year, and it answered with authority, and now two long-suffering programs in the Magnolia State are taking out all their frustrations on the teams that had rooted themselves at the pinnacle of the league. (Don't forget about Auburn putting a 34-point spanking on LSU last Saturday night, which planted the latter Tigers further into the pits than Arkansas is at this stage.)

Saturday night in Fayetteville, these rather healthy Hogs get a depleted and shaky Alabama team in their house. We've talked about how those 52-0 games the past two seasons must be sent to the proverbial dustbin with emphasis, and the plate has been set for that to happen, but a moral victory won't do the trick, either. With six meaty chances left for the Razorbacks to validate their widely championed improvement, this is the first and most meaningful. To kill a six-game skid against a titan will be anything but simple, but as it is often said after a game like the one at Vaught-Hemingway last week, the blueprint on how to beat Alabama in 2014 has been created early and it's one that Arkansas will borrow from liberally.

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Speaking of Bret Bielema

  • Changes needed

    January 5, 2017
    Those who have read this column with some degree of regularity know that I've held fast to the belief that Bret Bielema can and will revive the Arkansas football program. /more/
  • Belk bowling, b-ball

    December 8, 2016
    Before Pearls breaks its brief silent treatment about Razorback basketball's latest bid to shake off listless irrelevance, we'll spend a word or two on the Belk Bowl, where the football team draws a Dec. 29 matchup with Virginia Tech in Charlotte. /more/
  • Woeful

    December 1, 2016
    On Thanksgiving night, Bret Bielema could settle into his bed knowing that after a rather miserable 2013 inauguration, he had slipped comfortably into his job and the results were bearing some small but edible fruits for this ravenous fan base. He was only 25-24, but 18-10 with two bowl wins over his last 28 contests, a smattering of takedowns of ranked teams, and a stabilized roster that showed off the staff's endeavors to enlist and develop a caliber of player that would lead to better days ahead in a rugged conference. /more/
  • Deflated

    November 17, 2016
    Foolish consistency, per Emerson, is the hobgoblin of little minds. What commentary he would've offered about the Arkansas Razorbacks' 10 weeks of wild inconsistency is for debate, but he might've been more profane than pithy if he had to sit through this madness. /more/
  • After Auburn

    October 27, 2016
    I'm not one for hyperbole, but the mere mention of "56-3" changes things. /more/
  • Lessons learned

    October 20, 2016
    Picture Bret Bielema pole-vaulting for a minute. Then, once the laughter subsides, hear me out with this absurd analogy. /more/
  • UA faculty member apologizes for cursing football coach

    October 11, 2016
    The University of Arkansas faculty member who was arrested after cursing Hog football coach Bret Bielema following the Razorbacks' loss has apologized for his actions. /more/
  • On to Alabama

    October 6, 2016
    With War Memorial Stadium's mystique and alleged efficacy dying by the year, it was at least comforting to watch Arkansas finally devour a purported cupcake there. Bret Bielema boosted his Little Rock record to 2-3, with those two wins coming against Football Championship Subdivision schools, after the Hogs pummeled Alcorn State 52-10 on Saturday. /more/
  • Hogs blew it

    September 29, 2016
    Arkansas needed to beat Texas A&M. That's it. Sometimes perfunctory is poetry. /more/
  • 2-0

    September 15, 2016
    If you tuned in to ESPN Saturday night or settled into your seats at Fort Worth's compact but energetic Amon Carter Stadium, you undoubtedly felt like the impending Arkansas-TCU tilt was going to be compelling, if for no other reason because it pitted a burgeoning Big 12 power against a rising SEC program, with both having that Southwest Conference badging that went dormant a quarter-century ago. /more/
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