If only steady improvement mattered much in the win column, Arkansas’s effort against Texas A&M in the ill-described Southwest Classic would have been one worth celebrating.

Save for, yet again, a crippling special teams gaffe, the Hogs played the Aggies basically straight up for just shy of 60 minutes. That error, of course, was the opening kickoff, which the Aggies happily took from one goal line to the other without much interference from a kickoff coverage unit that had already been torched once the week before and which mysteriously seems to do everything possible to make the opposing return man very comfortable settling into established return lanes.


The Aggies added a quick offensive drive to make it 14-0 early against the Hogs, and it looked like the rout was on. But a funny thing happened after that, and I’ll caution you right now that it’s the sort of thing that might mean that components of this seemingly lost season can and will be recaptured by the woebegone guys in cardinal and white.
The first point of emphasis is that Quarterback Ty Storey was finally given a little more time, and a little more variety in the passing game. Afterthought tight end Cheyenne O’Grady came up with three critical grabs to key the Hogs’ two touchdown drives in the second and fourth quarters, and receiver Mike Woods showed out with two big catches, the latter of which was a well-throw seam route by Storey under duress that turned into a late score that drew Arkansas back within 24-17 just when it appeared A&M had taken over the game with its own scoring drive.

Sadly, Storey tried to go to the same well for a big play later after the Hogs held on defense, and it turned into the Razorbacks’ only turnover of the game, a pick that left a nasty final black mark on an otherwise well-played game by the junior from Charleston. Storey once again withstood a vicious pass rush — five Aggie sacks kept Arkansas behind the proverbial sticks much of the contest — to throw for 193 yards and the score to Woods, while also hitting five other targets on a variety of short slants and screens in a somewhat futile bid to keep Jimbo Fisher from sending his stout line straight at the Hogs’ backpedaling wall of protection. It wasn’t an audaciously productive performance, mind you, but Storey was more than good enough to keep on holding the job while Cole Kelley still manages to find the field here and there for a gimmick or short-yardage play.
De’Jon Harris played one of his finest games yet on the defensive side, registering a game-high 16 tackles and a sack, and yet again it was the leadership of Harris and Dre Greenlaw — who had two interceptions that the offense failed to convert into points — in the middle that kept A&M from doing anything of note from a big-play standpoint. Trayveon Williams ran for 152 yards for the Aggies, but he had to work for it, with 29 carries and none of them going for longer than 16 yards, and A&M quarterback Kellen Mond found it difficult to go downfield largely because the Hog secondary did an admirable job blanketing some very good wideouts. Mond threw for 201 yards, but no scores, and he found himself under duress plenty.


What’s most frustrating about the 24-17 defeat is not that it extended the Hogs’ current in-season skid to four games or that the one against the Aggies has now reached an unthinkable seven losses in a row (four of those, mind you, have been one-possession games), but that it was the last game before a certain mercy killing is about to transpire at the Hogs’ renovated home. Alabama is simply being unmerciful so far in 2018, and yet these Hogs actually managed to hold the Aggies to fewer total yards than the Crimson Tide did the week before.

That minor accolade will mean little as Arkansas tries desperately to find a wrinkle that will work against the nation’s unquestioned powerhouse. Tua Tagovailoa is the sharpest passer Nick Saban has had in his decade-plus time in Tuscaloosa, and he has racked up video game-style numbers in limited duty over the first five games, which has of course allowed onetime starter Jalen Hurts plenty of chances to prove he is still more than adept at leading this team in the event of catastrophe.


It’s unfortunate given the measured advancement the Hogs made in Arlington, but this weekend is just about keeping heads high and saving whatever bag of tricks exists for a beatable Ole Miss team the following weekend in Little Rock.