The measuring stick for Arkansas used to be Texas. The Longhorns, often on the schedule in early October, gave Arkansas football fans an idea of where the Razorbacks fit in the Southwest Conference or maybe the national stage.
Texas may have done that last week, except for Hurricane Ike. Instead, it was Alabama -- in year two of Nick Saban's time -- which proved the Hogs still have a long way to go in the start of the Bobby Petrino era.
Petrino couldn't help but chuckle when asked if the 49-14 Alabama triumph was the difference one year can make in the life of a college football program.
"Yeah, we did see that," Petrino said. "Alabama is very good, very well coached."
What the Hogs saw in Alabama was a team that doesn't beat itself, doesn't give up big plays. The Tide was assessed only one penalty. The Hogs didn't have many, but the first was a whopper. A running into the kicker foul kept the Tide's first touchdown drive alive.
"We've got to get to where we don't beat ourselves, take care of the ball and don't make assignment errors. Even in the two games we won, we did that.
"We have to stay positive, keep working hard. It's tough for the seniors. They have to stick with us and help us keep the young ones focused."
Defensive tackle Ernest Mitchell said the message from coaches after the game was simple.
"They asked us to keep our heads up and keep pushing," Mitchell said. "It's one game and the season is hardly over."
Mitchell was on target, but some may not believe him. Sophomore tight end D. J. Williams knows the 35-point setback will send fans to a quick conclusion about this Arkansas team.
"A whole bunch are going to say we are not worth anything," Williams said. "There will be some in the fan base leaving us now."
One of the key seniors had perhaps his worst game of his college career. Quarterback Casey Dick, perhaps the top leader on the team, made critical errors -- just the things his teammates had not seen this fall.
"Listen, no one's perfect," Williams said. "None of us. We all have plays that hurt the team. That's the frustrating thing."
For instance, Williams said he didn't break free on his route on the third down on the goal line just before the half, the play Dick threw incomplete for De'Anthony Curtis.
"That one was on me," Williams said. "The mike linebacker tackled me coming off the line. It's a bear defense and the play was for me. I didn't get off and into the back of the end zone for Casey. I've got to get free on that. It's my job.
"I know that's going to come up again, where someone else tries that. I have to get past the linebacker and open. I did some basic things wrong that hurt us in other areas. I tried to catch a pass with one hand. You can't do that. It's a characteristic that I have to change or it will hurt us again."
The Hogs got no break from the SEC refs on that play. You can't tackle the tight end coming off the line in that situation. There were a few other times when the Tide defenders were ultra aggressive against receivers and didn't get a flag.
Arkansas offensive coordinator Paul Petrino, asked what his receivers could do better, congratulated Alabama's defenders for solid play.
"I sat in the locker room for a few minutes thinking about that," Paul Petrino said. "What we could have done better (at wide receiver). We did make some good plays today, but there were times when we didn't break on the ball hard enough and they did. We have to improve that."
Really, there are things to improve everywhere. Mitchell called it a case of "10 men playing right, and one not. It was someone taking a play off a lot. Sometimes it was me. That's what happens on defense when someone doesn't get a play right, the other team gets big plays."
Sometimes, it was basic stuff that had been practiced since day one. Bobby Petrino said one of the interceptions thrown by Dick was a play the quarterback "knows real well, extremely well. We had a matchup with a wide receiver on a linebacker and he didn't go to it right now." Petrino snapped his fingers as emphasis, then added, "That's a concern."
Defensive coordinator Willy Robinson didn't point any fingers, but had a snap analysis on Alabama's long running plays.
"We loaded the box and you'd expect to get better tackling than that," he said. "My gut feeling is that we were in the right gaps, but just soft. We were not the hammer. We were the nail.
"Those are good backs, good players. But they didn't do anything we haven't seen in practice or the first two games. We didn't put a hat on a hat.
"We've got 24 hours to watch tape of that and then move on to Texas."
That was the first time anyone had mentioned Texas. It was a sobering reminder that another measuring stick will come soon.
State of the Hogs: Measuring Stick
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