When the Razorbacks coach gets pushed into a corner he does what he's become famous, in his small state for, getting that back up – tailback, that is.
Sure, USC fields more skill players than Ziegfield had dollies for his Follies, but Arkansas has nearly as many to match. The problem is, they all play the same position – running back. The five headed monster, that is the current version of Razorback football, fires from one cylinder – lined up behind the quarterback.
The Trojans have 5 excellent running backs too, but in a dark luck sort of way, two are not available and the third makes so much noise on special teams that he's relatively satiated by game's end. That leaves just two to share the carries. Of course, that's when USC runs the ball. They also field the best quarterback in college football, maybe ever, and he tends to like to throw the ball… just a little.
So, the problem is Nutt's. He can't stop the Trojans with his defense. That's a lost cause. What he can do, though, is do what USC's last opponent, the Hawaii Warriors, tried to do – keep that Trojan offense off the field. Interestingly, the Razorbacks, while not as flashy as the Big Island Brawlers, he is far better equipped. Just the give the damn ball to one of those five excellent running backs and pray like hell they don't fumble. Fresh legs, ten of them, could be a major key to Arkansas, at least, keeping it close and hoping for a USC mistake to open the door, even slightly so.
The spread for Saturday's game has USC favored by 31.5 points. The Trojans are easily that much better than the Razorbacks, but it could prove very difficult to reach that spread amount, if the Razorbacks can maintain possession of the ball. Wide Out "I wanna say Art, but his name is Marcus" Monk, is Arkansas best receiver. A Mike Williams, Dwayne Jarrett-sized 6'6 player, and could be their only other hope for anything beyond a ground game.
Experience at quarterback is always a key to a successful season in college football. Arkansas graduated their phenom Matt Jones to the NFL and have replaced him with a poor man's substitute in sophomore, Robert Johnson. While Johnson is doing his best impression of his predecessor, few could ever play the way Matt Jones did. For those who never saw highlights of this young man's college career, you missed what seemed to be the outtakes from "Forrest Gump." Wiggly legs, sub-sonic speed, monster size and a backwoods cannon for an arm, Jones was a Tarzan-like, Weismuller throwback. Andy Griffith might have played him in the movies, had his story been told in 40's but instead it was just yesterday. And unfortunately for Razorback fans, yesterday is still the past and that means that story "done been told." So it's up to Johnson to make folks forget and start his own legend.
Looking at Arkansas, their strengths are obvious, the question becomes, just how strong those aspects of their game truly are. Their loss against Vanderbilt, shocking as it was, tells us that leadership, both from the sidelines and on the field is in question. Kyle Roper, the Razorback's senior center, with more starts than any other player on the team, has taken it upon himself to take hold of a season that could quickly spin out of control…
"We are all just trying to keep a good attitude and let anybody stay down about last week," Roper said. "You have to put it behind you and get up off of the floor. In fact, we have been trying to cut up the last few days and lightened the mood. We have a free shot to go out there and shock the world and you can't do it if you are moping around and feeling sorry for yourself."
Against Vanderbilt, the Razorbacks missed from punching the ball in on numerous occasions inside the 3. Fans, students, even the local papers have raked the football team over the coals for what they viewed as a lack luster effort. Roper again commented that the team has already formed an "inner-circle" to survive the slings and arrows. It might be a full scale riot after the Hawgs return home, following this weekend's game. The hope can only be that our visitors at least put on a good show because Vandy ain't no Troy.
One loss and the season is lost seems a bit dark but this all stems from Coach Nutt. Houston has as about as much popularity on his campus as a former Trojan coach who's last name also began with an H. That's as much of his name as I dare write in this piece for fear of retribution from our own fan base. Not trying to be a prognosticator of doom for Nutt and his Hawgs, but Arkansas sounds like a team that is already on the mat and playing the Trojans could be the prize-fight they just aren't ready for. As much as you hope for a good game, this one could end early, if USC pulls a quick defensive or special teams score against Arkansas.
Despite the Razorbacks' low esteem and national image, playing an SEC team is sweet music for fans of West Coast football. Long, the media's and coaches darling, the SEC gets more press than deserved. If USC treats Arkansas like they have every opponent they've faced in this now nation's longest win streak, it might just be enough to convince the nation that football is played on both coasts. Let's not hold our breaths.
What this game will do for USC, and really isn't that all we care about, is give our defense enough of a challenge from a more traditional opponent, to prepare the coaches and team for the following week's opponent, the Oregon Ducks.
I know, next week's team should never be mentioned in this week's article but truly, Hawaii offered little measure for our defense and therefore this game is a necessity as we prepare for league play. So what Troy has to gain in this mismatch is devouring an SEC foe whole, gaining insight into our defense, getting our two Heisman candidates more primetime exposure, although the east coast will be asleep by half, and getting some kids who didn't get in much against Hawaii because of the games strange start, the ball.
Dom Byrd, Patrick Turner, Willie Buchannon, David Kirtman and Brandon Hancock should all get touches and it will be exciting to see the next version of the Sark/Kiffin experiment.
It is amazing to think that two of college football's greatest coaches, no not Lou, but Pete and Pat, both once worked the Arkansas sidelines. It is also amazing that the Trojans are already taking the next step on the long road to the Rosebowl. Realizing that, it becomes obvious, when you look at the upsets that have already occurred this season to other ranked teams, that no matter who USC plays, their opponent is going to leave every ounce of themselves on the Coliseum floor. It's important the Trojans play each game at that same level if they hope to accomplish what no team has ever done before. Great we get to be a part of it. Fight On!
USC 58 Arkansas 20