State of the Hogs: Top 10 Revisited

Wow. There was plenty to watch. Seventeen scoring plays left us a little dizzy, but we still decided to review our pre-game Top 10 things to watch. Cam Newton dazzled. Arkansas special teams did not.

After further review. Hate to use that term to start our Arkansas football rewind after listening to it with painful results Saturday. But we have to review our Top 10 List.

Some of our pre-game thoughts turned out to be on target, while others fell by the wayside in a 65-43 loss to Auburn. We like to go back through the Top 10 things to watch each Sunday. It's a review that we hope goes better than any of the replays Saturday by the SEC crew led by Penn Wagers.

1) Ryan Mallett
It didn't last too long for Mallett. He left in the second quarter with a concussion. He was on the sideline in the second half, so hopefully he'll be back for this week's Ole Miss game.

On Sunday, Matt Summers, the Arkansas trainer issued this statement: "Ryan Mallett sustained a concussion yesterday and his symptoms are improving. We will continue to evaluate him."

Tyler Wilson, his backup, filled in admirably. Despite poor field position, Wilson was winning a duel with Auburn's great Cam Newton as the fourth quarter began. But it all slipped away in a rash of turnovers as the Tigers piled on 28 straight points. Combined, Wilson and Mallett hit 35 of 49 passes for 428 yards. They led an offense that chewed up the Tigers for 566 total yards. The Hogs had to punt only three times. All of those numbers would produce a victory on most days, but not when the defense and special teams make so many mistakes.

2) Cam Newton
The 6-6, 250-pound Auburn quarterback was as good as advertised. He rushed for 188 yards and threw for another 140. Most importantly, he engineered an Auburn attack that didn't lose a turnover and had very few penalties. He ran through, around and over the Hogs. His performance was off the charts. He broke tackles, ran through defenders and was solid as a passer. He was as elusive as he was big. The Hogs praised him afterwards, but were disappointed that they didn't do more to get him on the ground. It was probably a combination of great play by Newton and poor tackling by the Razorbacks.

3) Middle linebackers
Jerry Franklin led the Hogs with 10 tackles, but the junior middle linebacker had a hard time getting squared up to make plays against Cam Newton. The Tigers did a good job with some interesting cross blocking schemes up front to tie up Franklin's help in the defensive front. Too often, Franklin was alone when it came to making plays in the middle. He was no match for Newton in the open field. Maybe the Hogs asked him to do too much, not giving him more help from the safeties. For sure, the outside linebackers, Anthony Leon and Jerico Nelson, had a difficult time providing support on his flanks. Auburn's Josh Bynes had eight tackles, only three unassisted. But he was the man in the fourth quarter with two interceptions against Tyler Wilson. He dropped into the deep middle of the area for the two picks, nice plays by the Tiger middle linebacker. He had returns of 33 yards, too.

4) Turnovers
Auburn had zero turnovers for the game, the difference. Of course, they may have lost one just short of the goal line, but the SEC crew led by Penn Wagers didn't get it right. A replay judged that Mario Fannin had scored before fumbling. We have a hard time believing that having seen the CBS television replays. The Hogs left Jordan-Hare thinking they got the raw end of that call. There was a close call on a reply of a Broderick Green fumble in the fourth quarter that seemed to ignite the Auburn rout. Then, Tyler Wilson added two interceptions to seal the verdict. Three turnovers to zero for Auburn was too much to overcome.

5) Penalties
This one was a wash. Both teams made a few mistakes. There were holdings on both teams, pass interference on both teams. Nothing stands out as a game breaker. The Hogs cleaned up some of their procedure and false start penalties from the previous week and didn't lose the game because of flags.

6) Toughness in the fourth quarter
We'll move this to No. 1 on next week's list. It was the difference. The Hogs had the lead early in the fourth quarter, but couldn't sustain the mental sharpness. There were too many mistakes and the game quickly got away from them. They must be tougher on kickoff return blocking. They must avoid fourth quarter turnovers. And they must tackle better in the fourth quarter.

7) Gus Malzahn vs. Willy Robinson
Give Malzahn the nod, but it has to be easy to call plays with Cam Newton pulling the trigger. How hard is it to say, "Take the snap, wait a few seconds, then run where you see a hole." Or, "We are calling a pass, but you can just wait a bit, then take off. They can't tackle you." It looked that simple at times. The Hogs tried to commit a few more defenders to the rush in the second half, but all of that did was open up the throwing game. Give credit to Newton. He's a fantastic talent. And give credit to Malzahn for not screwing it up with too many trick plays called like the last two seasons the Hogs have seen him. Robinson was frustrated with poor tackling. That promises to be a point of emphasis this week in Ole Miss preparations. But the Hogs don't have to see another Cam Newton. That's the silver lining.

8) Pass Protection
It's hard to say this was a difference in the game. Both teams got pressure at times. Each team had two sacks. But maybe you give an edge to Auburn for knocking Mallett out of the game. But it's hard to say Wilson didn't perform as well as Mallett could have played. The Hogs got to Newton more than the stat sheet shows, but they didn't get him down. He was just too strong, too elusive. Pressure wasn't the key to the game. Tackling was.

9) Wes Bynum and Zack Hocker and special teams
Field goal kickers were not really a factor. Bynum made three routine kicks, so I suppose you give him credit. Hocker didn't get a chance. So this shouldn't have been on my list. This was a day to score touchdowns, not field goals. But special teams turned out to be the killer for the Hogs. Auburn's three kickoff returns were the difference. Arkansas got hammered on its own kickoff returns. You'd think that there would be something to pick from when you get to return 10 kickoffs, but the Hogs faltered on all of them. One of the problems appeared to be depth of the return man. Too often he was back pedaling to take in the kick, meaning his momentum was the wrong direction. Still, the blockers were getting blown up and there was no creases to hit.

10) Fast start
It was fast enough. The Hogs did enough in the early goings to take the crowd out of the game, the goal. They scored first. But they had enough mistakes in kickoff coverage that anytime the Hogs scored, the momentum flipped almost immediately. Special teams were momentum killers and brought the Auburn crowd to life. It's hard to flip the momentum when the replay refs give them the benefit of the doubt on poor officiating. The replay man is supposed to erase those mistakes, not confirm them. You can't play fast with those kinds of break with those kinds of killer results.

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