State Of The Hogs

FAYETTEVILLE -- Growing up, I loved the ride from Little Rock to Fayetteville for football games. It was something I looked forward to as much as the games themselves.

Yes, it was an early morning start, probably around 5 a.m. But there would be that stop along Highway 23 at Turner Bend for a few snacks to go with the fried chicken that had been prepared the night before. Then, just minutes later, there would be a stop in the Boston Mountains at a turn out for cold chicken and Coca-Cola. In those days, you didn't get Coca-Cola except for special events. Going to Fayetteville was special.

The game was secondary. Yes, it was great, too. But the trip and the anticipation of the game was wonderful. Nerves. You wondered who would be the star that day. There were those awesome conversations with your father during the trip.

You were in the back seat (after sneaking up from your assigned place in the "way back" of the station wagon), leaning forward over the back of the front seat. You were only inches from your father's ear. Maybe mother was asleep. And, you'd whisper, "What's going to happen today, dad?"

Maybe he'd say Tommy Trantham is going to make a play to beat the Longhorns today. I knew Mr. Tommy. He dated the girl across the street, so I could always pull for him even if I didn't know the rest of the players by face.

But there was one thing you never wondered about. You knew the Hogs would win. Even when there was serious doubt in the mind of some, he'd tell me, "Yes, son, the Hogs will win today."

He'd detail how Texas might be better at this or that, but the Hogs will find a way.

"Trust me," he said.

Wish I could tell you that much today as I prepare for a different kind of trip, one to the smog and bumper-to-bumper freeways of Los Angeles.

However, I will tell you this: The Razorbacks have a chance. It's slim, but they do have a chance.

I know Southern Cal could apply, as my grandmother always said, a whipping that soap and water won't wash off. The Hogs could well come back to the Ozarks a broken and demoralized team after the No. 1 Trojans are done with them Saturday night. SC might well hang half a hundred on them.

That's not what I think will happen, though. I think the Hogs will be competitive. I don't think they are as far away as losing to Vanderbilt suggests.

I guess I'm kinda like Reggie Herring, the Hogs' defensive coordinator who looked five sportswriters in the eyes Tuesday and said, "Don't underestimate the human spirit." I know that these Razorbacks have fight in them. Funny things can happen in a football game. A ball can take some strange bounces.

I do believe that if this Arkansas team played this SC team 10 times, the Trojans might win easily eight times. Maybe one other one they'd win by a close score. But that other time, well, Arkansas could win.

Maybe I'm off on my numbers. Maybe it's one out of 20. Maybe it's really more like one in 30. You pick your number. But there is that chance that the Hogs can win once. That's all I want. One chance.

I like to think the odds are about to catch up to the Trojans. They've had some close games over the last three years, but have won all but three of them. I like to think they won't be taking the Hogs serious after a loss to Vandy. And, sooner or later, every dog has its day.

The stark reality is that it would be a massive upset, one for the ages. But it can happen.

How you say? First, SC has to help the Hogs some. If the the Trojans play perfect, with no turnovers, few penalties and don't bust defensive assignments, they will win, most likely by a comfortable score.

It may be that the Trojans are a little too cozy in their belief that no one can beat them and they don't cross all their Ts. Maybe they think they are invincible at home before a sellout of 92,000.

I've got some thoughts on how the Hogs can cross up the Trojans. Herring's blitzes might be one way things could turn around from last week.

I hear the doubters. If Jay Cutler can solve those blitzes, Matt Leinart, the Heisman Trophy winner, can do it, too -- times three. He's got Reggie Bush to outrun those cover guys underneath. Should be easy, right?

Leinart is good, but I'm not sure he is as good as Cutler. He isn't as big or strong. I suspect the Hogs will at least make him prove he can solve their blitzes.

There is some thought that the Hogs can and will make more plays in the secondary than they did last week as the season progresses. I don't think anyone on the UA staff is ready to give up on those corners after just one week of missed chances. Afterall, the coverage was good, the playmaking bad.

Plus, I think UA freshmen tailbacks Felix Jones and Darren McFadden are going to get a few more carries this week. There is nothing to lose. They may like the big stage and step up in a magnificent way.

The time I was around the players this week it didn't seem like they were moping or afraid. They seemed pumped about an opportunity to play No. 1, not scared about the potential for humiliation.

"No one else may give us a chance, but WE give ourselves a chance," said Desmond Sims, one of the ends who will be chasing Leinart. "I think we are excited and looking forward to it. We know what's out there, what can be achieved with a victory."

It's called opportunity.

Herring said he's seen similar situations and won't be surprised if the Hogs rise to a different level. He mentioned the time he coached linebackers for an Oklahoma State team that played No. 1 Nebraska to a near stalemate in Lincoln.

"They had Mike Rozier, Turner Gill, Irving Fryer, Dave Remington and Dean Steinkuhler," Herring said. "I think that game was 20-17 or something like that."

Yes, I was there, working for the Tulsa World. The Cornhuskers sprinted off their home field when that game was done. They were fortunate to win and knew it. OSU was a play away from one of the all-time upsets.

I can't remember if the Cowboys were underdogs by 31 points. That's the odds these Hogs face.

But as Herring says, those bookies in Las Vegas don't measure human spirit. You don't know when things fall in place for a particular night, a special game.

It doesn't look like it would be possible. Certainly, it's not probable.

Ever since SC destroyed Oklahoma in last year's national title game, I've heard folks say they did not look forward to this game. I've heard some say they were going to find something else to do. They weren't going to even watch the game.

"We watched that game and it's not not what we thought," said UA defensive tackle Keith Jackson. "This is the game we've been looking forward to. Tell them (at SC) we are coming."

That's not in me, either. My dad is no longer around to say, "Son, trust me, the Hogs will win today." Maybe he wouldn't say that today, but I bet he'd hold out hope until the game was played.

He taught me enough about college football, and about the Razorbacks, to understand that the best team doesn't always win. Vandy may have knocked some hope out of some last weekend, but it can still happen.

The Hogs can still win Saturday night at LA.

Trust me.

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