Nate Allen is a columnist for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. A graduate of the University of Missouri, Allen is a voter for the Heisman Trophy, has been inducted into the Arkansas Sportswriters and Sportscasters Hall of Fame, and has authored three books about the Razorbacks.
Razorback football commentary: Nate Allen UA/Ole Miss preview
FAYETTEVILLE -- Going into their 2019 season's second game tonight, Arkansas Razorbacks Coach Chad Morris and Ole Miss Rebels Coach Matt Luke likely prefer looking back on 2018 with defective rearview mirrors.
No reflections, please.
Unfortunately for tonight's loser of their 6:30 p.m. SEC Network televised SEC opener at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium in Oxford, Miss., all mirrors not only will reflect the past but also reflect a fan base that's at best glowering with discontent and at worst resigning to apathy.
It seems an unfair reflection on either coach, considering what each inherited.
But fair seldom figures into assessing losing in the SEC. The conference's aptly descriptive slogan: "It just means more," just means more pressure on those not winning.
Previously, the Ole Miss offensive line coach, Luke became named interim coach with Coach Hugh Freeze's 2017 abruptly-forced resignation. Luke inherited the probation, post season ban and scholarship reduction penalties from the Freeze era now finally fulfilled.
Luke's 6-6 overall/3-5 SEC records under 2017 duress netted him the head coaching title, minus interim, in 2018.
Last year's 1-7 SEC Ole Miss record, the lone win 37-33 over Arkansas in Little Rock, exerted major changes. For coordinators, Luke hired big-name former head coaches. Rich Rodriguez (former West Virginia, Michigan and Arizona head coach) for offense, and former Colorado coach Mike MacIntyre for defense.
Petals off that blooming rose started dropping with the Rebels opening loss, 15-10, last Saturday to Memphis.
Morris' Razorbacks are 1-0. That 1, 20-13 last Saturday at Reynolds Razorback Stadium over lower division 4-touchdown underdog Portland State, doesn't inspire an Arkansas fan base wearied to floundering football.
Upon Bret Bielema's Razorbacks closing 2016 losing 24-7 and 24-0 halftime leads in 28-24 and 35-24 to Missouri and Virginia Tech, the Razorbacks mostly have lost games while their fans lose confidence.
A 3-9 overall/ 1-7 SEC 1-7 in 2017 banished Bielema.
He didn't leave much in 2018 for Morris, 2-10/overall/ 0-8 in the SEC.
Resilient describes the Razorbacks and Rebels fan bases, but reality can recoil even the resilient. Seems tonight's reality for both marks the best 2019 chance for a SEC victory and perhaps other SEC successes from confidence built.
The loser grimly faces increasing prospects of the SEC O-fer besetting Arkansas last year.
Asked Wednesday the importance of tonight's game, both coaches said one of these standards: "Every game is important," "the SEC opener is always important," and "it's important because it's the next game."
But a recruiting question to Morris regarding tonight's impact hammered home what's at stake.
"For all aspects of our program it's a great opportunity to continue to step in the right direction," Morris said. "I mean, this is a big ballgame. We understand that. These players understand that. A ballgame like this and you go win on the road, it does wonders for your program."
Meanwhile the loser must preach patience knowing patience grows thin.
Sports on 09/07/2019
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