State of the Hogs

It's never as good as it seems, nor as bad as it seems. But, one thing was clear after Saturday's 30-12 loss to Alabama, Arkansas didn't have as many quality lineman as the Crimson Tide on either side of the ball.

The game tonight wasn't much fun. That's for sure. I expected Arkansas to win. My reasons were simple. I didn't think Alabama could come up with many big plays against our defense, and that Matt Jones would find a way to make some plays against a great Alabama front. I thought speed would be our best weapon on defense. Instead, the Tide came up with plays of 80, 75, 50 and 34 yards. Dad gum, that was 239 yards on four plays. We got 299 on 61 plays. And, I thought Matt's speed on offense would be the difference on that side of the ball.

I know that most of you are disappointed with the offense, but I was more disappointed with the defense. I thought our tackling was about the poorest I've seen in awhile. We gave up 267 yards running. If you don't stop the run, you end up not stopping anything, and as the game progressed Alabama did more and more damage with the pass. No way did I think Bama could run for that much on us because I thought we'd be prepared to stop the run, but we didn't. And, that led to big plays in the passing game, too, when we didn't stop the run.

Alabama's game plan was to use our attacking gap defense to their advantage. They cut us and used our penetration to take the Hogs out of plays. The first play of the game was a pefect example. It's called the "turnback draw" and when you attack the gaps, they just take you out of the play, and hit you in the spots you just left. It appeared the Hogs didn't protect the A gap, the one right between the center and guard. Our tackles both steped to the outside, and Jeb Huckeba appeared to follow Jermaine Brooks to the right, leaving a huge hole. They ran that turnback draw all night, adjusting a little in the second half to take that play to the outside, when the Hogs began to close it down inside. The most surprising aspect of the game was Arkansas' poor tackling. Tony Bua alone probably missed five to six tackles, mostly at the line of scrimmage. I noted that during the game, and then could only agree with Tony when he offerred up afterwards that he'd missed tackle after tackle.

Overall, I didn't expect to block Alabama's front much, and that turned out to be about right. They have the best defensive front we'll see all year. And, the Tide did one thing I didn't expect, it blitzed almost everytime the Hogs got in the shotgun. They hadn't shown that at all.

To me, it looked like Alabama had about 15 top quality caliber linemen -- the entire first offensive line, and two sets of defensive linemen. It looked like Arkansas had about 4-5 total ... and I'll name the ones I think measured up to Bama's linemen ... Shawn Andrews, Mark Bokermann, Jermaine Brooks, Gavin Walls and Raymond House. The others that Arkansas played didn't get the job done, although they tried their best. They just aren't quite on the level of the players Alabama had up front. The Bama linemen on defense are as good as I've ever seen in one set.

In summary, I'll say that I don't think this is the end of the world for this team. I thought Arkansas would win because it would be able to stop Alabama and force some turnovers. Arkansas got one turnover. That won't do it when you play this type of defense. I thought Arkansas would slow down their run. Arkansas didn't do that either. Offensively, I thought Arkansas would do a little better than that. It might have except for some dropped passes. I thought that had been eliminated, but it hasn't.

Matt Jones fought his butt off and gave us a chance on some plays. He did make one poor decision on the pass interception he threw on the play that seem to seal the doom right after the field position break with 13 minutes left in the fourth quarter. Just a few seconds earlier, I thought the Hogs might win. Heck, I thought Birmingham was close to returning that punt all the way before the last man got him down at the 20-yard line.

I predicted an 8-4 season about a month ago. I still think that's about what we will do. I think Alabama is darn good, and will have a good chance to win the SEC West and have a fun time in Hawaii celebrating their probation. They did a nice job getting these linemen. Perhaps they understand the true value of linemen, considering what they were willing to offer Albert Means. I'll say this, they have some fine linemen right now, on both sides of the ball. Football always comes down to blocking and tackling. Right now, it appears the Hogs are still a few players short as far as what it takes to block and tackle up front.


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