J.R. and Henry's Thursday Column: The new Hogs | Rock Candy

Thursday, October 26, 2006

J.R. and Henry's Thursday Column: The new Hogs

Posted on Thu, Oct 26, 2006 at 1:27 PM

J.R. and Henry: A new beginning

It’s the beginning of a new season. What, you say? There’s a little bit of truth to that if you compare the Razorback team that kicks off on Saturday with the team that played Southern California many moons ago. The Razorbacks, after a 50-14 whipping in Fayetteville to start the year, have rolled off six straight victories under the leadership of freshman quarterback Mitch Mustain and the play of sophomore tailbacks Darren McFadden and Felix Jones.

But the Razorback’s schedule, with the exception of USC and Auburn, was filled with cupcakes: Southeast Missouri State, Utah State, Vanderbilt and Ole Miss. Alabama has yet to decide what kind of team it wants to be – the team that plays Tennessee and Arkansas down to the final minutes or the team that barely beats Ole Miss.

This is not a knock on the Razorbacks – at No. 13 in the Bowl Championship Series standings, this team is good. And they have a chance, for the first time since the invention of the BCS, to make a real mess of the national championship picture.

But the test for the Razorbacks will be getting through the remaining five games on the schedule; securing the SEC West title; and competing for a spot in the BCS.

In order to do that, the Razorbacks must continue to improve. After all, this is a team that, but for some true luck, would be 4-3 and 2-2 in the SEC; a mediocre record with a difficult second half stretch to come.

But that’s not the case.

Mustain, after a poor performance against Alabama (the game-winning pass in OT, but three interceptions too), has settled into the pocket and manages the game with the poise of an upperclassman. McFadden and Jones are one of the best running back tandems in America, with only the duos at West Virginia, Clemson and perhaps USC to compete with them.

While we’re sold on the offense, we think the defense still needs some work. Sitting behind the Razorback bench last Saturday, we got a bird’s eye view of many of our defensive backs getting beaten on passing route after passing route. Thankfully, Brent Schaffer couldn’t hit his targets, but they were consistently open. We’re also concerned that several defensive players were breathing deeply, holding their hands on their hips or on their knees; signs a fatigue were present in game where Ole Miss’ offense wasn’t on the field all that much.

This will be a problem for the Razorbacks as they begin this tough stretch of games.

South Carolina has been announced as a 6:45 p.m. kickoff in Columbia, S.C. The game will be televised on ESPN and there is no doubt the Gamecocks will be prepared for Mustain, McFadden and Jones. Tennessee then travels to Fayetteville in a game that could pit two 8-1 teams in perhaps the biggest game of Houston Nutt’s tenure, since the teams met undefeated in Knoxville in 1998 (who can forget that one?). A win would likely seal the SEC West race and put Arkansas in a position to play its way into the BCS. Mississippi State follows and Starkville has never been an easy place for the Hogs. And then the Razorbacks finish with a treat of a game in Little Rock against the LSU Tigers the day after Thanksgiving.

We’re not yet prepared to predict what will happen in each of these games. But we will say that it feels like the start of a whole new season and, in that new season we think the Razorbacks will win many more than they’ll lose.

So in that spirit here’s to:

Sound coaching on both sides of the ball, conditioning, determination, a will to win, and a sense that you’ve been there before, even if you haven’t;

To hog calls, red, white, cheers and jeers, fun, friendship, fellowship, and sportsmanship;

To long gains and short fields;

To less penalties, more touchdowns, made extra points, throwing down field and celebrations on the sidelines;

To being positive more, negative less, but critical always – we can do better;

To the Pit, Hugo’s, long days and longer nights, Dickson street, Old Main, autumn, Bordino’s with a beautiful girl, tradition, excellence, Gaylord’s, a dry martini, a warm scotch, Al Witte and the memory of Dick Atkinson;

To the Studio, Hillcrest, War Memorial Stadium, proximity, Little Rock, tailgates, barbeque, cold beer, Thanksgiving, lifelong friends, history, a home-cooked meal, good neighbors and victories;

To being one state, not two; many fans, all true; and

To Arkansas! it’s pride, our pride.

Damn, it feels good to be a Razorback.



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