State of the Hogs: Top 10 Review (Florida)

Arkansas lost in the passing game on both sides of the ball in Gainesville. Throwing and catching (and defending the same) will be the focus when the Hogs return to the practice field.

When the 2013 schedule was revealed, the heart of the Arkansas schedule looked ugly. Any way you sliced it, going to Rutgers, facing Johnny Manziel and the Texas Aggies, then trips to Florida and Alabama sandwiched around Homecoming with South Carolina qualified as the gauntlet.

Bret Bielema had a nice line on the barbecue tour every time someone asked about it. The new coach said, "They have to play us, too."

Bielema also has mentioned other aspects about the tough stretch, noting he looked forward to a challenge of a game like Florida. He said it fires him up when he comes to work on Sunday and it's easy to turn the page when there is an opportunity to play a heavyweight that week.

Reality is starting to sink in, though. After the 30-10 loss at No. 18 Florida and the inability play well in the passing game on either side of the ball against great athletic talent at wide receiver and cornerback, Bielema did offer for the first time an admission of what a losing streak can do to a team's confidence.

Bielema said his team prepared with a winning attitude all week ahead of the trip to Gainesville, but "at some point you need a reward of some type." He wasn't talking about moral victories. The coach knows his team, now battered and bruised on both sides of the ball, needs a win on the scoreboard.

It's three straight losses ahead of this week's South Carolina game. Then, it's off to No. 1 Alabama. It's not difficult to add up the losses if the Hogs don't get the Gamecocks this week. Alabama's defense is a lot like what the Hogs saw at Florida. No, this is probably the week if the Hogs are to avert a five-game losing streak before they get to their first open date.

Usually, we review the top 10 keys to victory in this space, but it's probably not necessary. It comes down to the passing game on both sides of the ball. It's as simple as that, perhaps the reason Bielema said "throwing and catching" would be the top priority when the Hogs return to the practice field Tuesday.

Pass protection (and containing a mobile quarterback) should also be high on the list of things to improve. Arkansas did not do enough to contain or pressure Florida quarterback Tyler Murphy and could not protect Brandon Allen beyond a nice first quarter that featured a solid running game.

As soon as Florida added a defender in the box and brought an extra rusher in the pass rush, the Arkansas offense was dependent on personal foul penalties when Florida was late hitting Allen. Allen, already with a sore shoulder, has a bruised throwing hand, too, this week. At least two fingers of his throwing hand were bruised afterwards. He hit that hand in the pocket of his pants mostly while in the interview room.

Allen didn't fare well, mainly because of the pressure. It was chunk and duck most of the night, much like the last two UA of starters fared in their first big-time SEC road game. It was similar to the treatment Ryan Mallett and Tyler Wilson both got in their first start in Tuscaloosa. Both were beat upon by a fast, physical defense using some of the same blitzes, since Will Muschamp understudied with Alabama coach Nick Saban.

The Hogs have some injury woes, some of which not even an open date will help. Cornerback Will Hines, improved in his sophomore campaign, is done for the season with what appeared to be a broken arm. He was sent to the hospital in the second half for a cast. He tweeted Sunday that he was out for the year.

Cornerback was not a strength against the Gators. Junior Tevin Mitchel gave up two big plays, one just before the end of the first half and the other early in the second half. He tackled well in some other situations, but couldn't make the play on those two curls.

The Hogs need to find some answers at wide receiver. Javontee Herndon, the leading receiver on the year, had several drops and was offside before the onside kick that he recovered in the second half. Can Herndon make plays against a top flight corner in the SEC? Or is it time to look for freshman D'Arthur Cowan and sophomore Keon Hatcher a little more? Both of those are battling back from injuries, but appear close to full speed. They will probably be heavy in the game plan going forward.

The running game might have a better chance for going four quarters against the Gamecocks, especially if star end Jadeveon Clowney can't go for the second straight week. Clowney told his head coach just before the game that his "sore ribs" wouldn't allow him to play. It will be interesting to see how Clowney responds this week.

Kentucky gave Carolina a game with a big fourth quarter, but the Gamecocks should still be a favorite in Fayetteville. If the Hogs are still in it in the fourth quarter, it might be because they improve dramatically in the passing game (on both sides of the ball) from what they showed Saturday night in Gainesville.

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