State of the Hogs: Schedule

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North Texas, Tennessee-Chattanooga, Florida International all fit in the same category. They are on the Arkansas football schedule to fill out what is a terrific SEC slate every year.

That is not a bother to me. Troy, despite what some might think, isn't in that category as far as a nonconference date. Ask Oklahoma State.

The only problem with this nonconference schedule is the way the dates fall. Ideally, open with North Texas, Chattanooga, Florida International and then play Troy. Week five would then be an open date as you roll into SEC play in week six.

It didn't happen. It's kinda like injuries. You play the games when the league gives them to you with the players you've got. You'll play some teams when you are battered, others when they are more battered. It usually evens out, maybe not in the same year. If you are hurt at some spots — even if they all stack up at receiver and cripple the passing game — you probably didn't sign enough.

There are years when everything stacks up just right, others it doesn't. Still, you have to persevere.

It's been gut wrenching to watch as Marcus Monk, Ben Cleveland and Crosby Tuck have gone to the training room. Who is going to step up at receiver? I wondered if it might be Robert Johnson, the converted quarterback.

Johnson was the Hogs' leading receiver last week with four catches. One of them made it to the front cover of Hawgs Illustrated, one of the best photos ever in the 16 years of our magazine. Marc Henning took that shot, and it showed Robert battling through two arms to make a 37-yard TD catch against North Texas. (If there's been a better shot, it might have been the one Marc took for our centerspread of Darren McFadden's stiff arm to de-helmet a North Texas defender.)

What I worry is that the Hawgs Illustrated jinx (as Chuck Barrett dubbed it) got Robert. At practice earlier this week, I had in my hands the new magazine, proud of the overall quality of the picture (as well as who was in it) only to find Johnson wearing a protective walking boot because of a sore ankle.

What's this, another wideout on the injury list? I promise we won't put any more wideouts on the cover for fear of putting anyone else in the training room.

Back to the cover, an error was made in the major headline across the bottom. I ordered up "Passing Fancy," not the right choice. Should have been: Making Plays.

That would have captured the overall performance by the Hogs and I'm not talking about just offense. The secondary and receivers had been guilty of not making plays in losses to Alabama and Kentucky. So often, footballs were right in the reach of the defensive backs, but they didn't make a play. Receivers dropped more than their share of good throws.

Coaches get blamed when a team loses. They get blamed when there are recruiting problems, too. That's the bottom line and we all know it. But players have to make plays, too. When they are in position, they have to make catches on offense, interceptions on defense or make sure the other guy doesn't.

This isn't a secret. It's on the to-do list of things this team practices every day. I don't know what's going to happen the rest of the way with these Hogs. What I do know is that the players are determined to make more plays. No one has given up.

That goes for Reggie Herring, the Hogs' old school defensive coordinator. I listened Wednesday as he hinted at making personnel switches up front, even admitting that one looms big in the defensive line. Malcolm Sheppard, moved from end to tackle in preseason, could move back to end next week.

He's lost from 275 pounds on Aug. 1 to around 260.

It was funny when someone asked Herring if there was finally some continuity on defense, something some might perceive as a good sign. Continuity is definitely not a four-letter word, but you could see the coach cringe.

"We don't ever want things the same just to leave them the same," he said. "We are going to keep tinkering, keep pushing buttons. You earn your stripe day by day around here. Nothing is given." Herring could still make as many as five changes in the starting lineup the next couple of weeks. He's grading all positions hard.

"We aren't afraid to make changes and I want my guys to know that," he said. "That's what we tell them every day. Don't ask me about continuity this week. Ask me after Auburn. I can tell you then.

Don't ask me about our front right now. I'll hold judgment until after Auburn. Can we stop the run against these type teams?"

There is one place where Herring likes continuity. It's style from the opposition. He is pleased that Chattanooga's offense is similar to what the Hogs will see next week against Auburn. And, there are several others left on the UA schedule that will be in two-back sets with similar blocking schemes.

"What Chattanooga does in the two-back is what we struggled to stop against Alabama and Kentucky," he said. "It isn't 7-on-7 passing stuff, basketball on grass I call it. It's basic stuff, a lot of the same things we run with our offense. That's what bothers you the most, when a team turns around, hands it off and you can't stop it.

"It's a sick feeling when that happens. With the pass, there are so many things they can do to stop themselves. They can over throw it, drop it, run the wrong route, turn someone loose in protection and you get a sack. So I don't mind seeing those teams.

"But if they do simple stuff and you can't do anything about it, that's how you lose games in the fourth quarter. That's how we've lost them. That bothers me."

What will bother me is if I see one more receiver in the training room.

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