If you're like me, you haven't yet seen the Hogs play live football this year, so rather than speculate on what we can expect to see on Saturday, I turned to the excellent folks at Razorback ExPats, who took some time to answer a few questions. Take a moment to head over their den to see my thoughts on the game from a Texas perspective.
1. Arkansas' is 2-1, but after two close wins over weak non-conference foes and a thumping by Alabama in Fayetteville, it's been a rough go so far for Bobby Petrino.. Do you see anything that indicates this team can be more than it has been to date?
Unfortunately, it feels like the rough ride is going to continue. The Texas game is the second of four straight games the Hogs have against opponents currently in the AP Top 15 (and No. 5 LSU awaits in the regular-season finale). It's certainly not inconceivable that Arkansas has already notched its final victory of the 2008 season.
The offense has moved the ball well at times, even though it hasn't scored a ton of points. In their first two games against Western Illinois and Louisiana-Monroe, the Hogs gained 394 and 506 total yards of offense, respectively. Granted, the competition wasn't exactly the stiffest around. And quarterback Casey Dick has looked good in stretches (more on that below), as has running back Michael Smith.
But the special teams play has been abysmal, as it was last year, and the pre-season concerns about the defense have proven to be well-founded. Against Western Illinois and Alabama, the run defense was brutal. Against Louisiana-Monroe, the secondary looked pretty weak. Chris Bahn, a top-notch sportswriter for ArkansasSports360.com, recently said the following about the Hogs, "This could be a really long year for Arkansas. There are problems all over the place and just about the time one liability looks improved, another one springs up."
There's some talent on this squad, but it's young and inexperienced. There's no getting around it: this is a rebuilding year.
2. Bobby Petrino is well-known for his offensive style which relies heavily on the pass. Is Casey Dick cut out for what Petrino is trying to do? If not, are there other options?
Casey looked good in the Hogs’ first two games. Again, the opponents – Western Illinois and Louisiana Monroe – weren’t exactly Top 10 quality. Still, this is a guy who had never thrown for more than 228 yards in a single game before this year (Houston Nutt didn’t put much of an emphasis on the pass), and he threw for 318 yards against Western Illinois and 323 yards against ULM.
In those two games, he completed 63 percent of his passes, threw for four TDs, rushed for two others, tossed only one interception and confidently led Arkansas’ fourth-quarter comebacks (yes, we’re sad to say the Hogs had to mount fourth-quarter comebacks in both contests). Some Hog fans were undoubtedly thinking that Petrino’s reputation as a QB guru was even more deserved than they previously thought.
But against Alabama … well, he looked more like the skittish and uncertain Casey Dick of 2006 and 2007. He did a decent job of moving the offense for stretches of the first half, but, after all was said and done, he completed 20 of 39 passes for 190 yards and threw 3 god-awful interceptions, two of which were returned for long touchdowns and forced poor Casey to make two borderline hilariously bad attempts at tackling the interceptor before they sprinted off to the end zone.
All of this is a long-winded way of saying that we’re withholding judgment on how Casey will do under Petrino. Nutt never asked him to do much, so this has got to be a big adjustment for him. Honestly, our gut says to expect more games like the one against Alabama, but we’ll see. It’s still early … at least that’s what we’re telling ourselves.
As for other options, true freshman Tyler Wilson took some snaps in the second half and threw for a touchdown (he also threw an interception). He’s now listed as the backup. It will be interesting to see how much Petrino uses him if Casey has more games like last Saturday’s. Next year, Ryan Mallet, a transfer from Michigan, will be eligible, and Hog fans are very excited to see him take the field.
3. One potential good sign for Razorback fans is that while Texas has excelled passing the ball, the running backs have been disappointing. Meanwhile, Arkansas' pass defense numbers are solid thus far, while the rush defense has been terrible. (A) Is the pass defense looking solid to you, or have the opposing quarterbacks been bad? (B) Who/What's to blame for the poor showing stopping the run so far this year?
(A) As mentioned above, the pass defense looked vulnerable against Louisiana-Monroe, and it was bad for much of last year. Furthermore, Alabama was having such success running the ball against the Hogs that the Tide didn't need to throw it that much. Suffice to say, we're not sold on the pass defense. (B) Well, the defensive coordinator questioned his players' "heart" the other day. That makes us question how well he's reaching his players. More likely, though, it's simply a lack of SEC-caliber talent.
4.. Fill in the blank: If Arkansas upsets Texas in Austin on Saturday, it will be because _______ happened.
The Earth spun backwards.
But seriously, folks … it seems the stars will have to align for the Hogs to walk away with a victory. First off, Casey Dick is going to have to display a poise that was altogether lacking against Alabama.
It would also help if Arkansas would force Texas to cough up the ball and give the offense a short field to work with. The Hogs' defense has recorded a grand total of one turnover in three games - and that was an interception of Alabama's second-string quarterback. And the special teams play, which has been dreadful for much of the past two years, needs to improve dramatically.
Another key is to score early - the Hogs have yet to score in the first quarter this season. A young and inexperienced team playing in front of a hostile crowd for the first time will need an early confidence boost.
5. The perception among Longhorns fans is that--certainly since Arkansas left the SWC--Texas has been a more important rival to Arkansas than the other way around. As a Razorbacks fan, share with us some insight into how you and your fellow fans view Texas generally, and this game in particular.
That perception is almost certainly accurate, as humbling as that is to admit.. If there's one thing that we miss about the SWC, it's the football and basketball match-ups with Texas. Arkansas has now been in the SEC for 17 years, and, for our money, has yet to come close to developing a rivalry that the fans care about as much as the one we had with Texas.
The strong antipathy that so many Hog fans feel for Texas probably starts with the David-vs.-Goliath dynamic: Arkansas is a small, rural and poor state that - surprise, surprise - has a bit of an inferiority complex. Meanwhile, Texas was the biggest, baddest kid on the block, at least in the SWC days. Toss in the fact that you guys consistently stomped on our hearts (even when were having a better season) and that the Hogs and Horns had so many close games over the years, and you have the makings of rivalry that Hog fans can't - and don't want to - forget.
As for this year's game, it seems like most Arkansas fans are pretty realistic and are bracing themselves for what is likely to happen in Austin on Saturday.
6. Give us three reasons why Bobby Petrino will succeed in the SEC.
One – A great track record. He was 41-9 in four seasons at Louisville and made that program a national player.
Two – Style of play. His passing attack should make Arkansas an attractive landing spot for the kind of top-tier offensive talent that may not have considered the Hogs in the past. Yes, it’s an SEC school, but it’s a small state without much of a natural recruiting base. It needs every advantage in the recruiting wars that it can get.
Three – Facilities. During Frank Broyles' final years as athletic director, he oversaw an expansion of Razorback Stadium from a 51,000-seat capacity to a 76,000-seat capacity, plus the construction of a world-class, 38,000-sq.-ft. weight and conditioning center and the building of a 76,000-sq.-ft. pavilion with an indoor football field. The quality of Arkansas' facilities are now truly SEC-caliber and, when combined with Petrino's style of play, should hopefully make the program appealing to blue-chip recruits.
Bonus Reason – None of the Hogs, at least none that we know of, is running an illegal dog-fighting operation, so hopefully that will be all the more reason for Bobby to stick around long enough to get the team back up and running.
7. And finally, a prediction for the game on Saturday?
Looking into our crystal ball, all signs point to toward a long afternoon for the Hogs. We see the Longhorns winning big, something along the lines of 35-14. Might be more enjoyable for Hog fans to break out the video tapes and spend their afternoons watching their recordings of this game or this game that game. Thanks for the chat! Good luck Saturday and the rest of the way.