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State of the Hogs:
One of the biggest keys to victory will be when Arkansas has the ball. How much can the Hogs make on first down? I'm hoping for 6 yards. The Hogs average 6.1 yards per first down play on the season.
That's what we have to get, somewhere in the neighborhood of 6 yards per first down play. If we do that, the rest of the offense sets up a little better.
I just remember there being too many 2nd and 10s,or 2nd and 9s the last three games ... and quite a few 2nd and 12s. Can't have that against Kentucky. We will see the blitzes that make it tough on our offensive line. So we have to have better production on first down.
That having been said, I don't care if we are throwing the ball on first down or running it on first down. I just want to see productive plays on first down. If we can manage to do that, we'll see our offensive production go up for the game.
Someone told me yesterday that we just haven't been very good in the red zone of late. Heck, we haven't been in the red zone of late. We got there one time last week and that was on a turnover provided by the defense. The week before, we were in the red zone once in the first three quarters. The week before that, against Auburn, it seems like we had only one possessions in which we snapped a play from the red zone (and I could be mistaken because I'm not sure where the play started on which Matt Jones fumbled at the Aubbie 8).
We need to score some points this week. I expect Kentucky will score some points. The Wildcats average 20 per game, but they have scored higher than the opponent defensive average in seven games this year.
I also hope this is the week that our special teams come of age. Something has been a little off each week in special teams. We haven't had great coverage on kickoffs and we have gotten little out of our return units outside of the big return on the kickoff against Texas.
Our gunners will be tested by the league's best punt returner in Derek Abney. He is a special player and he burned us last year with two big returns. If we aren't good on punt return coverage this week, he could do it again. Batman Carroll and Thomas Crowder have a huge challenge this week and they need some help from the rest of the punt coverage team. There was a bust last week that forced punter Jacob Skinner to make a saving tackle on a punt return. That can't happen this week. I'm not sure Skinner can get Abney to the ground. Abney is too good.
Offensively, it's hard to say what the Hogs will do this week. There are all kinds of rumors that Ryan Sorahan will play more at quarterback and Matt Jones will play more at wide receiver. To me, that's not the biggest key for the offense. I wonder more about who will play tailback. Can De'Arrius Howard and Cedric Cobbs come back from injuries and bring some life to the running game? That is a bigger key.
Penalties are a huge key. We can't have the illegal procedures, personal fouls and holding calls that have killed this team over the last three to four games. I think it dates back to the Alabama game where penalties doomed us until the fourth quarter comeback. Penalties were a huge problem the last two weeks. The Hogs have to be penalty-free against Kentucky.
Of course, turnovers will be a key, too. The Hogs have to get some turnovers from Kentucky, and limit their turnovers on offense. Hopefully, the Hogs can use the turnovers to get an advantage in field position and that will help the offense more than anyone can ever imagine. The field position battle has been lost over the last few weeks and that must change. It is a huge key. And some of the other keys that have been mentioned factor into the field position battle.
The final key will have to do with the Hogs' mental state at game time. Will they have emotion at game time? Can they sustain that emotion for four quarters. I haven't seen that of late. I understand when you have seniors and that when some of the goals disappear, there is a tendency to play flat. That can't happen this week. The Hogs have to gear up for a long, hard fight and bring the passion that's been missing. That's easier said than done and that's why it is a huge key.