What were the expectations for the 2002 football season, and can this Arkansas football team still achieve them? That's the question that's being asked around our state today, and it's a fair question. Let's roll around on that thought in this week's State of the Razorbacks.
First, let me remind that I predicted an 8-4 season back in the summer, maybe even as far back as the spring. I thought that was a fair prediction for a team facing a tough, 10-game stretch in a 12-game season. Some sent criticism my way for that prediction, stating that it wouldn't even be an improvement over last season's 7-4 regular season, noting that the added nonconference game was hardly a heavyweight.
Well, that's probably accurate. It wouldn't be a big improvement over last season. I didn't say it would be ... only that I expected it to be an 8-4 season.
That's still within reach, and the Hogs are not far away from where I expected them to be at this point. I thought they'd have a hard time doing much better than 1-3 in the first four SEC games, but I thought they would probably defeat Kentucky. Hence, I thought they might be almost ahead of where I predicted after the road victory over Auburn. I figured they had a chance to do a bit better than my original prediction after that Auburn triumph, perhaps 9-3.
So, now, I'll go back to my original thought, and that was 8-4. They'll have to correct a few things in the kicking game, namely the cover team, to make that happen. But, that's possible, if not probable ... and I'm talking about the kicking game fixes on the probable area.
I don't think anyone expected a loss to Kentucky, especially at home. So, that is disappointing. That's a game you must win to be competitive in the SEC West race, and it looks like the Hogs are now a long shot in that area.
But, I can see where things could fall in place the rest of the way and turn out the way I thought in the spring and summer. This should be the part of the schedule that is a little tastier. However, I will add this word of caution, the Kentucky game should have fallen under that category, and it didn't.
This is the critical week for this season. They must begin to eliminate mistakes, not find new areas of concern. That was certainly the case last week.
The areas that I'm going to watch carefully this week to see where this team is heading is in the area of punt coverage, pass protection and pass rush. To me, these were the areas that caused us the most problems last week. Some pointed to secondary coverage, but to me, that was more a problem with the pass rush than anything else. I think the quarterback play will be more than adequate if they are given the right protection. That didn't happen against Kentucky and has been a problem at other times this season. Neither Matt Jones nor Tarvaris Jackson can make anything happen unless they are given better pass protection.
In summary, I don't think the football team is in dire straits as some have suggested in the last 48 hours. Many things are in good shape. No, it's not a juggernaut of a team, but I didn't think it was going to be that in preseason. It's pretty close to where I thought it would be at this point.
I knew that the quarterback play would be inconsistent, but there was good promise there, and that has turned out to be an accurate assessment. I knew that the line had a chance to improve, but there would be some inconsistency there because of the number of new players int he lineup there, too. I felt the strength of the offense would be at running back, and that has proven to be true. I felt the strength of the defense would be in the secondary, and that may not be true right now. A patchwork defensive line might be the strength here, but it is not good enough to put pressure on the quarterback. Linebacker has been inconsistent, but has also provided some big plays, too.
Some may not agree with my assessments, and that's fine. I tend to be conservative in my praise, and also patient before I yell that the sky is falling. I think we are about where I thought we would be and there should be good things around the corner. That's the fun thing about sports. It's a guess as far as the future. Maybe it's not fun for some, but it's going to be fun to see what is going to happen with this football team over the next six weeks.