Let’s be honest. The showing last week in Oxford was disappointing.
The state had waited all year on bated breath for expected signs of progress, confident its Hogs had a real shot of ending the latest SEC losing streak against Ole Miss and ready to proclaim the Chad Morris era as officially launched, last year’s mulligan a hiccup on the road back to respectability.
Unfortunately, the Hogs followed that 2018 mulligan with a flat opener against a 1-AA school and a bang-your-head-against-the-wall frustration fest across the river. The first half gave us functional defense but sputtering offense. The second half gave us Nick Starkel and an offense that threatened to click but a tiring defense still sorely lacking in depth.
Some argue that we were just a handful of plays away – that we left as many as 31 points on the board. And it’s true. A handful of plays quite possibly made the difference in the game. At least three plays come to mind that would’ve resulted in scores if not for execution lapses. But good teams don’t leave points on the board against middling teams like Ole Miss, and they don’t suffer critical lapses of execution.
Starkel clearly is the right choice to lead the offense; his ceiling is much higher. Then again, Ben Hicks likely would’ve correctly executed the trick play that left C.J. O’Grady running alone behind the Rebel defense awaiting a touchdown pass that never came. Still, Starkel provides a spark. His reads and throws are quicker, a critical consideration, and his playmaking ability separates him.
A rematch with Colorado State awaits in Fayetteville Saturday, and it goes without saying — we need this one. Not just to maintain whatever hope, faint or otherwise, that still lingers regarding six wins and bowl eligibility, but for our collective psyche. We’re at a historical low point for our once-proud program, and Morris’ staff must show progress this year — to ease fans’ angst, to maintain recruiting momentum. And we have to be able to take care of Colorado State at home, even in our current state — not yet full-grown Hogs but like newly minted mascot Tusk V, still shoats. Young, for sure, but hungry and quite possibly dangerous.
The Rams can move the ball. They put up 31 on Colorado in a season-opening blow-out loss but scored on the first play from scrimmage and coasted in an easy 38-13 win over 1-AA Western Illinois this past weekend. Arkansas fans would’ve taken such a win against Portland State. The Hogs, who surrendered a 27-9 lead to CSU last year in Fort Collins, may need to score more than their current season tally of points to win Saturday.
We think they’ll hit that mark with the offense finally clicking and an increasingly aggressive D making big plays of which we know it’s capable. Take care of business this week, and we’re still on schedule. After all, Ole Miss was considered one of four winnable league games. More opportunities await. A loss, well, let’s not think about that right now. The jury’s still out on the Morris regime, but reasons for optimism remain despite the pall that seems to have quasi-enveloped the program. That optimism needs to start feeding on wins, and it starts this week.
Prediction for the Arkansas vs. Colorado State game: Hogs, 40-27.