Hogs fighting uphill physically

By: Bo Mattingly
Published: Wednesday, November 16, 2016
Arkansas linemen Hjalte Froholdt (51) and Dan Skipper (70) watch as quarterback Austin Allen (8) flips the ball to an official after he was sacked during a game against LSU on Saturday, Nov. 12, 2016, in Fayetteville.
Photo by Michael Woods
Arkansas linemen Hjalte Froholdt (51) and Dan Skipper (70) watch as quarterback Austin Allen (8) flips the ball to an official after he was sacked during a game against LSU on Saturday, Nov. 12, 2016, in Fayetteville.

— There are two things Razorback fans need to understand: 1) Arkansas is getting whipped by really talented teams. 2) The Hogs are not as physical as they were a year ago.

That is not a winning combination in the SEC.

On a day when the Nos. 2, 3, 4, 8 and 9 ranked teams lost, Arkansas made it clear it is still looking for the winning lottery ticket last Saturday. The Razorbacks have been the underdog in seven of their 10 games this year and have managed to win three of them (at TCU, Ole Miss, Florida).

There’s no doubt in my mind the 38-10 loss to LSU was talent issue. They were outmanned once again, which is nothing new for Hog fans. Arkansas is not a member of the SEC’s rich and famous.

What is new is the lack of physicality. Somewhere between this year and last Arkansas lost its physical edge. It could be because Denver Kirkland, Sebastian Tretola, Alex Collins and Hunter Henry are all gone. But hey, everybody loses players and Arkansas is losing a bunch more next year so what’s the problem?

I think the Razorbacks might be caught in the middle of a changing college football world. As defenses try to adjust to spread offenses, even the master of coaching Nick Saban has struggled to strike a balance in how to recruit and how to practice the last couple of years. The difference is he has the best players you can find and Arkansas doesn’t.

The Hogs have lost to four teams which at some point this year were ranked in the top 10. Those teams have more talented rosters. I don’t know how good the rest of college football is, but the list of teams who can match the talent of Texas A&M, Auburn, LSU and Alabama is shorter than I am.

ESPN play-by-play man Dave Pasch, who called the Arkansas game last Saturday, told me before the game he felt like both LSU and Arkansas were top 10 type teams. His explanation was even though LSU had lost to Wisconsin in week one, he thought both the Tigers and Razorbacks could beat the Badgers at least five out of 10 times.

The point is Arkansas is a decent team. It’s hard to say it's good when it's been handled by four really good teams, but what do we know about the rest of college football and does it even matter if those other teams aren’t on your schedule?

It sure looks to me like the Razorbacks are hanging by a thread against good teams. They know they’re outmanned and as soon as it goes bad, the cracks come unglued and it gets ugly fast.

You can’t fake it for long against the best players and coaches in college football. Arkansas is accustomed to being the underdog and fighting uphill. Recruiting has always been a challenge for Arkansas in the SEC regardless of who was coaching.

When Bret Bielema was hired his philosophy of physical football seemed like a good weapon as teams evolved to the spread. If Arkansas could hold its own up front on both sides of the ball they would be just fine. But the Hogs are no longer a team that can run the ball and stop the run, and without those two things they don’t have a chance to knock off the giants. That’s something Bielema and his staff will have to address moving forward.

However, the immediate future looks a little brighter. The final two opponents are not giants. The Razorbacks should not be outmanned in the remaining two games and even though they are on the road, these are games you should expect Arkansas to win.

Bielema is 9-0 in games following an SEC loss dating to October 2014. If the Razorbacks can string together back-to-back road wins against Mississippi State and Missouri they’ll have improved their regular season record (8-4) for a third straight year.

This story originally appeared in Hawgs Illustrated

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