There's not much doubt as to the motivation behind Arkansas' decision to replace North Texas with Weber State, a I-AA team which has won only once in its last four games dating back to last season. The Hogs are seeking confidence after an 0-3 start. Can they get it by playing the Wildcats? Perhaps. Here's what I think needs to happen for the Hogs to get a big victory Saturday night at Reynolds Razorback Stadium.
The number one key is for the Hogs to avoid turnovers. That is the way they can help the Wildcats the most, and keep one of the nation's poorest defensive teams in the game. If the Hogs turn it over and lose the field position battle, then they will have to make long drives to score points. Even against an outmatched foe like Weber State, the Hogs need good field position.
It appears the Hogs are on the road to limiting their turnovers. They committed only one last week, a Zak Clark pass interception just before halftime.
The next key for the Hogs, as it has been all year, is to see continued improvement in the running game and that means better blocking up front. Some cohesive blocking began to develop last week, although the running game still wasn't anything to scare even a defense like Weber State. The Wildcats have been awful at stopping the run. But, with the way Arkansas' passing game has failed to click on long plays, it is obvious every team will crowd the line of scrimmage, the number one reason the ground game has been slow to take hold.
Of course, the Hogs hope to score some touchdowns, instead of settling for field goals. The Hogs have been superior in the red zone ... when they've made it that far ... as far as getting points every time they've been close to the end zone. Unfortunately, they've been settling for field goals too often. The Hogs must do a better job of getting in the end zone with touchdowns.
And, if the Hogs do score often, they will kickoff often. That wasn't a strong point last week, as Georgia gained field position in increasing quanities as the game progressed both on its kickoff coverage and returns. Arkansas settled some of those problems in practice this week, but shuttling some personnel. Shane Collins and Brandon Holmes were both missing from kick coverage against Georgia and will continue to sit out from those units. Collins is out for the year and Holmes is solid in the tailback rotation. The Hogs must find solid replacements if the are going to cover kicks in an acceptable fashion.
The Hogs must eliminate some of the penalties suffered at Georgia. Nose guard Curt Davis promises he won't fall for the tricks that Georgia pulled early. The center was twitching his thumb, causing Davis to jump offsides. It happened twice. Davis said he will be more careful, although he still maintains those were illegal moves. The Georgia center ceased his tricks after the second time Davis complained to officials.
Arkansas' cornerbacks gave up some big plays in the passing game, but more because Georgia made big plays than the fact they played poorly. They won't face as talented opposition this week, but they must make more plays than last week. It would be a plus if they could come up with some pass interceptions. Weber State will air it out on offense, playing with three wideouts. That's fine with Arkansas since it prefers an alignment with three corners and two safeties. The Hogs should be able to make some plays in the passing game, but they must do much better at stopping the inside running gains that have popped up more as the season has progressed.
Another key will be how the Hogs' walking wounded hold up. Can Tony Bua play after suffering several bruises last week while making 20 tackles? Carlos Hall will not play and Sacha Lancaster will fill his spot at end. Hall has a high ankle sprain and didn't practice this week. Zak Clark also has some injuries, including a bruised hand suffered against Georgia. Ryan Sorahan will likely suit up, but not play for the second straight week. He practiced on Monday and Tuesday, but his bruised lower back kept him from practicing on Wednesday and Thursday. Tailbacks Cedric Cobbs and Fred Talley are both less than full speed. Cobbs will be checked in warmups to see if his hamstring is healed enough for him to play. It will be a big boost for the Hogs if they get their top tailback back this week, so he can get some of the rust off before next week's SEC game with South Carolina.
This is a game Arkansas expects to win big. If they don't have early success, it will be interesting to see how the Hogs' fans respond and how the players respond. There has been little happen positive for the offense in the Hogs' 1-3 start, but they are facing a Weber State defense that has been horrible most of the season. This is the right medicine for what ails the Hogs, and should be a fun game. But, if things don't develop properly early, the Hogs must remain focused and find their game. That will be another key Saturday night.
The final key is something the Hogs do not control. If the stadium is only half full, it will be a bit of a downer. Over 60,000 tickets have been sold, but not that many fans will attend, it's clear. Tickets have been available in abundance throughout the week on internet message boards and radio talk shows. In fact, if you show up, it's likely someone will hand you a ticket, if not for free at below face value.
Clay Henry, Publisher, HI.com