State of the Hogs: Top 10 List (Vandy Review)

The tough part of the schedule is behind the Hogs -- as far as travel. Now they need to finish with a good November.

Do you remember your younger days when you stayed out past dark playing in the neighborhood. That was in the days before air conditioning and video games. You didn't want to come inside. It was as hot inside as it was outside and there was nothing to do. Television was not much of an option with only three channels.

I do. And I remember that eventually, my parents would yell out the front door, "Come home! You need to come home!" Sometimes they'd have to yell it twice.

That's where this Arkansas football team is right now. It needs to come home.

The Hogs need to come home for three straight football games, starting with South Carolina in a battle that might decide if the SEC West is clearly the dominant side of the conference again this season.

This could be a game that decides the third best team in the conference bowl pickings. Right now, it's clearly a matter of LSU and Alabama sitting at the top, thanks to a one-two BCS ranking.

But back to the original premise. The Hogs need to come home. They've struggled to play a consistent four quarters anytime they've been away from Fayetteville or Little Rock this season. They've faced double digit deficits at Tuscaloosa, Arlington, Oxford and Nashville. Only against Auburn in Fayetteville did the Hogs look fairly solid.

That's not to say all will be perfect for these Razorbacks when they play host to the Gamecocks at 6:15 p.m. Saturday in Reynolds Razorback Stadium. But maybe the pride of the Hog walk before the game and running through the A into a big Razorback crowd will excite them for an early-game run? Maybe that's part of the answer.

The good news is that the Hogs are somehow good enough to rally in the second half and bring a 7-1 record back to the Ozarks. They'll get South Carolina and Tennessee in Fayetteville in back-to-back games, then play host to Mississippi State in Little Rock in their third straight home game.

Arkansas coach Bobby Petrino hopes that is part of the answer. He said it seems like a long time since the Hogs have been home. It's been a tough bit of traveling for the Razorbacks. They need some home cooking.

The Hogs got off to a rocky start once again this past week before slipping past the Commodores, 31-28, when the home team missed a 27-yard field goal with five seconds left. The Hogs trailed 21-7 late in the first half, 28-17 with 5:02 left in the third quarter, but somehow won without an offensive touchdown.

The best play the offense made the rest of the way was probably the two-point pass play from Tyler Wilson to Jarius Wright. It was vintage Wilson. He had Wright in the slot to the right with a cornerback on his nose. The play started with the cornerback stepping inside to take a direct route at Wilson on a blitz. Wright ran a route across the middle of the end zone all the way to the left corner. Wilson had to back pedal to buy time, then fired while dodging the blitzer. It was a wonderful throw right to Wright's midsection for the tying two-point play.

There was some luck that fell right for the Hogs in some other areas of the game, but that play wasn't luck. It was a great read of a blitz by Wilson, then the quarterback bought just enough time for Wright to run his route and for him to wiggle free to fire a tough, across-the-body pass for the play.

There was some luck in other areas. Wilson said he had maybe "six" passes that could have been intercepted by what has been a ball hawking Vandy secondary. All went through their hands, were mishandled or just plain dropped. Obviously, Carey Spears missed a 27-yard field goal that would have forced overtime.

It wasn't even from a tough angle. He was well inside the right hash and just pushed it right.

I remembered watching Spears warm up before the start of the second half. He couldn't go to his usual spot between the hashes to kick because the Vanderbilt band was marching around there. So he set up his kicking tee about 10 yards outside the hash near the Vandy bench then tried to punch field goals through from that acute angle, from the right side. It required a kick with no hook. I wondered later if it was the right way to conduct a warmup. Zach Hocker, who went three for three, went to the middle of the field for his halftime kicks. That's smart thinking.

It was a strange game because of many reasons. The Hogs went with Ronnie Wingo for the bulk of the game at running back. Dennis Johnson had been the hot back the previous week at Ole Miss, but he got rocked by a vicious tackle early and was never the same. He later lost a fumble, just as he had done at Ole Miss. He wasn't used much after that.

"We were about to go with Ronnie anyway and then Dennis fumbled," Arkansas coach Bobby Petrino said. "Dennis didn't look the same."

Offensive coordinator Garrick McGee said, "You can't fumble. And he seemed like the hit (earlier) did something. Ronnie was playing well."

The Hogs lost the running game again, this time by 222 to 72. They made only 388 yards total.

About the best thing they did was win the turnover battle, 3 to 2. Both teams dropped interceptions and Jerico Nelson's fumble return was negated when he fumbled trying to reach for the goal line in a play that could have provided some breathing room for the Hogs.

The Arkansas special teams had good and bad plays and even one ugly flash. The ugly came when Marquel Wade made a high, brutal hit on a defenseless punt returner before the ball arrived. "The ball wasn't even close," Petrino said, noting he didn't have a beef when Wade was ejected from the game for the flagrant personal foul.

Hocker hit all three of his field goals, but he did commit a personal foul with a mild out of bounds hit on a kickoff return. The Hogs gave up a successful fake punt to keep alive the third Vandy touchdown drive late in the second quarter to go up 21-7. Tramain Thomas was the safety on that side of the defensive formation and he didn't seem to recognize or react to the play.

That might be the blow that put Thomas on the bench in the second half. He didn't make many plays in the first half and the Hogs went with Elton Ford at safety for the final two periods. They did tackle better in the second half, but were still fooled on a throw-back pass for 44 yards and Zac Stacy's 62-yard touchdown dash that saw both Jerry Franklin and Eric Bennett sidestepped by the Vandy back.

Arkansas had to scratch and claw because some of its usual big-play touchdowns didn't materialize. Wingo had a 21-yard run for the longest rush from scrimmage. There was a 37-yard pass to Wright, but the next longest was a 26-yard screen to Johnson.

"We didn't get the chunk plays this week," Petrino said. "They made us work and earn everything we got."

Some might argue that the Hogs didn't do enough to earn a victory, that they got a little bit of help (and maybe a lot) from the Commodores.

Either way, it's a victory and the Hogs were glad to head to November with a 7-1 record. As they always say, it's about what you do in November. The goal was always to get to the home stretch run in decent shape. The Hogs may not be playing at their best, but they survived September and October.

Now they can come home. No one is going to have to tell them twice.

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