For God’s sake, Hog Fans, just enjoy it! So much social media grumbling was afoot after Arkansas obliterated Nicholls State, 73-7, on Saturday to finally kill off the damnable 10-game skid the program had been mired in. “Congrats on beating a JV team!” “Who scheduled this?” “If this is how we have to win, it’s not worth it.” “How did I get this drunk before halftime?”
Look, Nicholls State is no different than Lamar, a Southland Conference also-ran that happened to be a 70-point loser to vaunted Texas A&M in its home opener Saturday night. These FCS programs have to play cash games, and even the biggest of big-time programs are happy to oblige. See also, for reference’s sake, Alabama drumming hapless Florida Atlantic, Kentucky drumming Tennessee-Martin a week earlier, and on an on. September isn’t overflowing with competitive or even appealing games by its nature.
But Arkansas did what it didn’t do quite so well last year, which is calmly and coolly dispatch a soft foe in due course. Recall that the Razorbacks struggled mightily to upend Samford in Little Rock and then scuffled past Southern Mississippi, which has clearly assumed the rarefied position as the worst team in the FBS.
On Saturday in Fayetteville, a rather lackluster home crowd assembled and offered fleeting attention to the proceedings on the field. The Hogs racked up 35 points in the opening quarter thanks to two long TD runs by Keon Hatcher and Alex Collins on their first two plays from scrimmage, then Brandon Allen got the opportunity to help out by throwing scoring passes, which is incidentally all he threw against the Colonels. Four completions in limited work led to a career-best four touchdowns, and for those keeping score at home, the universally maligned junior QB has started off the season with a six-to-one score/pick ratio, and we all know that the interception against Auburn was anything but his own error.
The offense was mighty, and a lot of unknowns got to show out a bit. Austin Allen received his first game action in backing up his brother, and did a reasonably commendable job completing a few throws. Jared Cornelius and Drew Morgan, who absolutely must be useful this fall if the team has any designs on being bowl-worthy, both had their first scoring grabs. Taiwan Johnson provided an early force on the defensive line and has the interior quickness, if still short on size, to be an imposing run stopper and pass rusher if his technique remains good. It was nice to see John Henson confidently strike all of his PATs true, and throw in a short field goal for good measure.
It’s a win and it was, thankfully, an emphatic one. The belief that nothing can be gained and plenty could be lost from games like this is simply mistaken. Players within this program don’t exactly have sufficient cause for egos: When you have suffered through 18 losses in the last 25 games and borne witness to staff upheaval and media scorn, you take nothing for granted and build on whatever modest achievements you can. Then there’s the great unknown: Was Nicholls State really that bad? In the second game of a long season, the Colonels sure as hell looked it, but it’s anyone’s guess as to whether they will solidify and put forth a strong showing down the line.
So what kind of training did it provide for the next and arguably bigger road test of the year? As the Hogs head to Lubbock to take on Texas Tech, the defensive staff is assuredly dissecting film frantically, knowing that the Red Raiders’ strength plays to the Hogs’ weakness, and trying to exploit trends that Kliff Kingsbury’s rapid-fire approach develops in game action. There’s an argument to be made that Tech is one of the weakest 2-0 teams in the nation at this point, shaking off Central Arkansas 42-35 in the opener and then skating past UTEP 30-26 on the road last week. The Raiders put up gobs of gaudy yardage and yet, this past weekend, they only had the ball for 21 minutes and had to summon a late fourth-down stand in their own territory to keep the Miners from pinning a loss on them.
In Pearls’ season preview we pinpointed and perhaps even understated the weight of this game. A program in seeming ruins can show fortitude and resurgence in a matter of hours, or it can recoil back to the depths. Last year, the Hogs could’ve started off 4-0 with a win on the road at Rutgers, and likely would’ve set themselves up for at least a win or two in league play if they had reaped the rewards of a victory. Instead, a 17-point second half lead disappeared and the rest was tragicomic history. Arkansas needs to build a lead this weekend, hold it, and return to Fayetteville with the kind of swagger that hasn’t been present in that locker room since late 2011.