State Of The Hogs

FAYETTEVILLE - They may remember what you do in November most, but October has been the month that sent Arkansas football fans to the exits the last few seasons.

The Hogs are poised to finish off a rare 4-0 October when they play host to lowly Louisiana-Monroe on Saturday in War Memorial Stadium. A victory will push the season record to 7-1 and set the stage for a high-stakes November, perhaps the most important since the Hogs opened 8-0 in Houston Nutt's first season in 1998.

With South Carolina, Tennessee and LSU on the November fare, things promise to get interesting in a hurry.

None of that is lost on senior captain Keith Jackson Jr., the man with the big belly and the bigger, infectious smile. He's much like his father in personality, outgoing and a real charmer. Jackson knows what is at stake and the importance of what the Hogs have done so far this season. It may all be a surprise to many, but not to Jackson.

"I thought in August we were going to be good," Jackson said. "We've got good players, experience and we believe in each other. We just needed to catch a break."

That last part might be the most important aspect. He said all the Hogs needed was a little mojo to get them over the hump. They got that in their first two SEC victories, close calls against Vanderbilt and Alabama.

"There are going to be close games in every season," Jackson said. "There are going to be some games you need a break to fall your way for you to win. The last couple of years, we didn't get those breaks. We got them early this season with the field goal that didn't quite get there against Vanderbilt and then those (missed kicks) in the Alabama game.

"That's what you need to happen if you are going to have a good season. It's always like that. There isn't much difference in winning and losing. And, then when you get to winning, it starts to lift everyone and you play better every week. That's us."

It's like that in every sport. You need a little mojo, a little luck, a little spark.

Listening to the winners every week on the PGA Tour, you get the idea that many of them had something good happen on Thursday or Friday, way before they stepped into the winner's circle Sunday afternoon. There was a tee shot that was sailing for out of bounds, but struck a tree or perhaps an out of bounds stake. It bounced back to the fairway and led to a par, birdie or maybe even an eagle.

Those bad swings that work out are all you need to get a little confidence and begin to believe good things are going to happen instead of bad things.

However, it's how you take advantage of those good breaks that determines your destiny. Jackson gets all of that loud and clear.

"We know what we want our destiny to be and we aren't there yet," Jackson said. "This is just a nice little start, not it at all. We are still hungry. We aren't full. Arkansas needs to be back on the mountaintop. Until we get there, we are going to stay hungry.

"We have to do a lot more this season to get to our destiny."

To get there, the Hogs can't look too far down the road.

"It is all about staying focused, disciplined and to continue with our work ethic," he said. "People that didn't care much about us the last two years are patting us on the back everywhere we go. They are telling us how good we are when we go to class, when we are out in the community. These are the same people who did not know we existed the last two years. We didn't have many friends the last two years. We can't listen to them right now.

"I've stopped and thought about that some. I have wondered, ‘Which side are you guys really on?' It makes you think.

"But, you have to put it aside and focus on one game at a time. We've got a lot more friends right now, but they will be gone if we don't take it one game at a time."

No one understands the arrival of new friends better than Jackson this week. He's been covered up with ticket requests for the Hogs' trip to Little Rock, his hometown.

"I've uncovered some new relatives," he laughed. "Really. There are a couple of new cousins I didn't know I had. I got them tickets. I've been asking my teammates for their tickets. I've had requests for 57 and that's the most I've ever had. But I'm done. I'm not getting anymore. That's enough, 57."

Playing in War Memorial Stadium is a big deal to Jackson. It's been that way ever since he was tiny, if ever he was.

"I played my first game there in little league football," he said. "I was playing for the Sunset Tigers and we were playing for the city title. I was 9-years-old.

"It's fun to go back there on this kind of a roll, but we have to stay focused or it will all slide away."

If they don't take care of business in October, they know their new-found friends will be in the deer woods in November.



CLAY HENRY IS THE PUBLISHER OF HAWGS ILLUSTRATED, A STEPHENS MEDIA GROUP PUBLICATION. HIS COLUMN APPEARS EACH FRIDAY. E-MAIL: CLAY@NWAONLINE.NET


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