State of the Hogs: Alabama Review

Arkansas came out of the loss to Alabama with plenty of questions. One thing was clear. The Tide told the truth in a 38-14 way.

This is usually the place where the Top 10 List is reviewed after the game. Instead, I'll just write a column about where this team is at and where it must head.

The team Arkansas saw Saturday in Tuscaloosa is extremely capable of running the table in the SEC and winning the national championship. The Crimson Tide is that good. If it stays healthy.

And it's obvious that's not what this Arkansas team has done since it played in its first BCS game in the Sugar Bowl. The Hogs have lost a lot. And they are not healthy.

I think it's more physically battered. Yes, a 38-14 whipping will take you down a notch mentally. But I worry more about the availability of key players because of injuries than the mental standing.

Bobby Petrino's best work is coming off losses. He will grind, but he also understands when to back off and work towards a game instead of driving a team into the ground. The Hogs will grind mentally in the meeting room, but they don't need to beat on this team right now. It's got too many injuries.

There will be no moaning in the Arkansas camp about what bullets are left in the chamber, or what is gone. But it's clear that the ammo shelf is depleted quite a bit from what might have been.

Broderick Green was the first to go down. Then Anthony Oden (with off the field problems). Then Knile Davis. Then Jake Bequette. Now Tenarius Wright. Perhaps Isaac Madison.

Bequette is likely to return in the next week or so, although I'd still list him as questionable for this week's trip to Arlington to play Texas A&M in the Southwest Classic. They need Bequette back after Wright was lost with an apparent broken forearm.

Oden's loss might have been the most severe loss of the last few months. He was the most talented tackle on the team and would have allowed Grant Freeman to perhaps move to weakside tackle. Now, the Hogs are piecing that position together with true freshman Mitch Smothers and junior college transfer Jason Pecock. Neither was good enough against Alabama.

But it's clear the Hogs also are not there as far as blocking at tight end. The tight ends won some battles, but not enough against a team the caliber of Alabama.

Texas A&M is a decent team, but it's not of the same quality as Alabama. Perhaps no one is right now. The Alabama defense might have the best defense in the country and the offensive line is among the best, too. The Aggies are good, but not nearly as good up front on either side of the ball.

The Hogs weren't ready up front for Alabama. But playing the Tide will help point coaches to decisions on the future at certain positions. Right now, the lines are depleted at tight end. Could Colton Miles-Nash could be moved from tight end back to defensive end? That's a possibility.

How do you help the running game? Which way do you go at weak tackle? Is it Smothers or Peacock? Or do they continue with both playing?

And there are plenty wondering about quarterback. I thought Tyler Wilson did about as well as any Arkansas quarterback of late against Alabama. His numbers weren't great, but it hasn't been easy for Casey Dick or Ryan Mallett against the Tide over the last three years under Petrino.

Would Brandon Mitchell have given the Hogs more of a running attack with the option? Is that the right direction?

Certainly, those are questions that are being asked by fans. Wilson is the best at delivering the ball in the passing game. But he's not getting enough help with the run game to keep the rushers from pinning back their ears.

The real issue is what you think this offensive line can do against the bulk of the rest of the schedule. Is it going to improve enough that there will be a running game to go with Wilson's passing? That's the question Petrino was probably pondering on the plane ride home Saturday night.

I like to write about the truth. Alabama was the truth. The Tide was the real deal in all areas. Everything it did will exploit your team and make you check your team in greater detail. That's what Petrino had to do afterwards.

This team is built around a nice senior class. How it holds together as some of the decisions are made this week as far as the directions of the rest of the season will determine chemistry. I expect it to be very good. But it won't be easy. Tyler Wilson mentioned that Saturday after the game. Leadership will define this season this week.

The pieces are still there for a fine season. It won't be like Alabama's season. We know that now. Arkansas is not at LSU's level talent wise, either. But it can improve execution and grow in all areas by Thanksgiving. And who knows what will happen on the injury front by then?

Things change fast in the SEC. Eddie Lacy, the other top Alabama back, was limping by game's end Saturday. It doesn't take many bad breaks to change the fortunes of teams.

Some of the plays Alabama made at linebacker and in the secondary won't be possible against Arkansas by other defenses the rest of the way. I might have said the lone exception to that rule was LSU, until I watched the Tigers tackle poorly against West Virginia's passing game. Joe Adams, Jarius Wright, Cobi Hamilton and others will make more plays down the stretch than they did at Tuscaloosa.

One of the keys to that yards after the catch that disappeared was the wide receiver blocking. There were times that Adams looked to have room. But the other wideouts didn't sustain blocks against the Tide secondary. And things closed in a hurry. That won't happen as much the rest of the way.

Ronnie Wingo and Dennis Johnson will find more running room as this offensive line stays together and quarterbacks get better each week at execution in the run game checks. Alabama didn't need to blitz to get pressure because of great talent and scheme. They didn't take as many chances as the Hogs will see later.

This is the start of the 2011 season. The starting point is lower than I anticipated. It's not a deep hole. And there has been no dirt thrown on the Hogs just yet. They are still very much alive and ready to fight back.

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