Arkansas vs. Alabama: A Test of Bobby Petrino's Ability To Adjust
Last week, in this space, I wrote we'd know a lot after the Georgia game. And we certainly did learn a thing or two. However, there are many in Razorback nation that are going off the deep end and perhaps reading too much into things. Here's a sampling of some of the sentiment that is going around.
Arkansas has no defense.
Arkansas has no run game.
Arkansas can't kick the ball deep.
Arkansas has no depth (this theory being brought about by the drop off in linebacker strength after Franklin was ejected).
Arkansas didn't make adjustments once Georgia found their rhythm.
There are reasons for any and all of these assumptions based on what we saw last Saturday. However, I don't think we'll see a static team that doesn't improve. And I think the facts bear this out.
Let's start with the run game.
Petrino is known to like to have a big back. Broderick Green was supposed to fill that role. However, he had less than stellar success last week.
But Petrino is already adjusting and scheming. He plans to get Wingo more involved this week. That gives Arkansas a threat of a pass to a back coming out of the backfield and also the toss sweep.
This will keep the defenders guarding the long pass more honest. Also, it will free up room in the middle as the run defense will have to cover the field more sideline to sideline.
This one step will help with two of the other items on the list.
While Arkansas didn't make the adjustment to Georgia's defense "in game," at least they are making it now.
Georgia had better success containing Arkansas after the first quarter (when Arkansas scored 21 in a hurry), after making their adjustments. Other teams will see this and do likewise. So Arkansas must have a plan to move the chains on the ground when the pass is being defended.
Petrino is one of the best at taking what the defense gives when he has the weapons to exploit it. It appears defenses will be giving Arkansas the run. Petrino is getting ready for it.
Secondly, fixing the running game will help the defense. Georgia got the ball 16 times on Saturday. Yes, I said 16 times! That's astonishing.
They scored on nine of those possessions (six touchdowns and three field goals). That means they were stymied (due to Arkansas defense or turnover or penalties) on seven drives. That's pretty close to half and half.
Based on that ratio, had Arkansas been able to run the ball more, not only would Arkansas likely have scored once more, but, if they could have limited Georgia by two drives, statistically, they would have reduced Georgia's scoring by one score.
So, even if the defense were no better than it was, the ability to run the ball more and hold on to it longer offensively would have won this game.
Furthermore, on the defensive side, the loss of the starting middle linebacker obviously hurt, and the Hogs haven't worked their star freshman cornerback into the mix yet. I'm guessing that Franklin won't miss another game unless he's injured, and Winston will be playing shortly.
There is reason for optimism because the Razorback defense was last in the league last year and they weren't giving up this many points. Therefore, there is a rationale for any assumptions that at least some tightening up is coming.
Finally, the kicking game covered well, and I attribute those gains to the new special teams coach, John L. Smith.
However, you can't coach kick distance. I'm afraid Arkansas is stuck with the short kickoffs for this year. An upside is that at least they're covering them well, and the short ones are less likely to be fielded by speedsters who can go the distance.
All in all, I think we'll see great improvement from last week to this week. They say a team improves the most from week one to week two. However, when you play Missouri State in week one and you're off week two, that improvement trajectory is interrupted.
I'm assuming we'll see that improvement this week.
Will it be enough to beat Bama? Not unless Bama helps out.
But Bama may be the best team in the country right now. Saban may be about to win his next national title.
But I think we'll be surprised in that it won't be a blowout. And I think it will give Arkansas what they need to even up their record at 2-2 once the Texas A&M game is in the rear view mirror.
After that, with Florida, LSU, Ole Miss, and Auburn still to go, we'll see what this year's Hogs are made of.
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