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I'm aware that the common American finds it laughable when lowly scribes like myself try to make overblown connections between things like, say, philosophy and sport. So, in an effort to keep things on the level, permit me to cite no less of a thinker than Dalton from "Road House" as a sort of rudimentary polestar for the state of the 2013 Razorbacks as we move toward midseason.
You may remember that Dalton casually dropped the line "Opinions vary" in that classic (and in the process elicited quite the sheepish look from Terry Funk!) and that's about as succinct an assessment as you can give of these Hogs so far. After they dropped a 45-33 decision to Texas A&M Saturday night in Fayetteville, I saw two divergent themes emerging on the social media front:
1. This Razorback team is gutsy and improving, and by golly, get ready for fun times ahead; and
2. Screw moral victories, we are stuck in the same damn rut we've always been in.
Seeing a litany of the latter stripe of comment is never a shock around these parts, but it's refreshing that the former line of thought was pretty pervasive. Hog fans rightly have heaped considerable expectations upon Bret Bielema and his well-compensated support staff, but they are also fairly cognizant of what limitations the first-year coach has inherited.
The loss to the explosive Aggies is hardly a badge of shame, given how dynamic Kevin Sumlin's offense is. You can critique the hurry-up style and demean its trendiness, but the fact is, Johnny Manziel has just the level of creativity and moxie to make it efficient. Arkansas gave all it had against the defending Heisman winner, but its shortcomings at the second level of the defense were glaring. Manziel used the soft middle of the field to his advantage in the first half, then when the rains came, the exploitation changed form as the Aggies switched to a downhill approach that realistically no one anticipated.
For as much attention as Manziel justifiably draws, if Texas A&M is going to sustain its alarming degree of success in its SEC infancy, those tailbacks will be the determinant. Ben Malena, Tra Carson and Trey Williams are a perfectly steady and dependable bunch, perhaps lacking in reputation because they're sharing carries, but effective anyway. Every time Arkansas threatened to take the lead Saturday, the Aggies started shuffling in those runners and forcing a winded Hog defense to try to decipher the direction and weapon of choice.
What needs to be said, primarily, is that the Hogs were probably better prepared for the Aggies' variety than Alabama was two weeks prior. Recall that the Ags posted 42 points and a whopping 628 total yards in that home loss, all despite losing the time of possession battle by an unfathomable 10-plus minutes. Arkansas didn't quite stifle the Aggie attack but did hold Manziel's aggregate yardage down and run and throw with remarkable effectiveness given that Brandon Allen was returning to action after the one-week layoff.
As for Allen, he was pretty good given that he landed squarely on his throwing shoulder two weeks prior. It was a source of consternation for some fans that Bielema threw out the usual ambiguous coachspeak to describe Allen's playing status prior to the Rutgers game, but it was understandable from a strategy standpoint. And Allen clearly wasn't ailing against A&M, but his one critical error was ultimately one that did tilt momentum permanently for the Ags. When he tried to hit Julian Horton on a short hitch and DeShazor Everett came in on it for A&M, a four-point deficit moved to 11 early in the third period, and Arkansas was forced to stay in catch-up mode for the duration.
If you watched this game and monitored the way Florida and South Carolina have played thus far — both are already saddled with a loss and with second-string quarterbacks now in command of far less imposing offenses than the one Manziel shepherds — you get a mite bit encouraged, don't you? The trip to Gainesville has never been well-timed for this program in the very few opportunities it has had at Ben Hill Griffith Stadium, but this may be as good a shot as any as long as Marc Curles' crew isn't going to be working the game. And every time the Hogs draw South Carolina at home, they've got a sporting shot, so maybe October won't be quite so bleak as once projected.