Arkansas Razorbacks Take Giant Step Backward vs Ole Miss

Roger GowensCorrespondent IOctober 25, 2009

GAINESVILLE, FL - OCTOBER 17: Wide receiver Greg Childs #85 of the Arkansas Razorbacks fumbles at the goal line against the Florida Gators October 17, 2009 at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium in Gainesville, Florida.  The play was ruled a touchdown. (Photo by Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images)

There is an old saying by coaches not to dwell on a loss in a previous game. "Don't let Florida (in the Hogs' case) beat you twice." By concentrating on the Florida game and the subsequent suspension of that games' officials, the Arkansas Razorbacks may have done just that.

The Hogs might have lost to Ole Miss anyway, after all, Ole Miss was highly regarded entering the 2009 season and ranked No. 4 in the nation at one time. Of course, that ranking was a case of too much, too soon and based on last year's Rebel squad that had five players depart for the NFL.

However, with a performance that could be charitably described as unfocused, unprepared, and even downright miserable, the Hogs could not have beaten any SEC team on Saturday.

Missed blocks, missed assignments, missed tackles, a personal foul on the first play from scrimmage, a host of pre-snap offensive penalties, where do we begin?

That misery index doesn't even begin to explain one dropped pass after another by the Hogs' normally sure-handed receivers.

Many fans will vent their spleens on Ryan Mallett's less than stellar play. On those rare occasions when Mallett had enough time to throw the ball, the receivers dropped the ball almost half of the time. Mallett had 12 completions, I counted eight drops.

Yes, there were a few times when Mallett airmailed the ball 10 feet over the receivers' head or gunned a 100 mile per hour fastball when a touch pass would have been better, but his performance was no worse than most of his teammates and better than many.

Getting blasted in the back or hit in the mouth has a tendency to affect most quarterbacks, especially when it is happening on what seemed like nearly every pass play.

Once again, like earlier in the season, the running game was almost nonexistent with Michael Smith getting 35 yards on only six carries. How can any running back get into a rhythm with so few opportunities?

Part of the problem is so many pre-snap penalties. The Hogs had only six infractions, but it seemed like many more. Not that they were bad calls, mind you. But if you're constantly in second down and 15 and the like, the running game is severely hampered.

Delay of game. False starts. Illegal substitution. These penalties should not be happening in the seventh game of the season. That goes back to coaching. This team was as ill-prepared and out of sync as any Arkansas team in recent memory. The Hogs played as if their minds were elsewhere. Did they have no idea that this was a big game for Ole Miss and Houston Nutt?

The defense was just as bad or worse than the offense with a host of missed tackles. Danger Will-y Robinson! Dexter McCluster, No. 22, is someone you just might want your players to keep track of.

After McCluster gashed the Hogs' for over 150 yards in the first half, whatever adjustments were made didn't work as the little engine that could steamrolled the Hogs for over a hundred yards again in the second half, totaling a ridiculous 260 yards for the game.

With just 39 yards less than the entire Arkansas team had in total offense, the Hogs defense made McCluster, a good player, look like Barry Sanders in his prime. The tackling on the screen pass was straight out of Keystone Kops.

McCluster had seven catches for 137 yards and a touchdown, just less than twenty yards a pop. While some Hog fans were expecting a two touchdown or bigger victory, I knew better. I knew Houston Nutt would have his team playing at a fever pitch and with the Hogs' tendency to give up long touchdown plays, I was expecting a close game.

I thought the Hogs had a good chance to win, but I was shocked by the Hogs' lack of preparedness and lack of any sense of urgency. I had to wonder what this team did all last week.

It could be that the team just didn't bring their practice to the game as coaches like to say, but it looked as if the Hogs had no defensive gameplan whatsoever after executing an excellent plan vs Florida last week.

If not for a lucky touchdown pass by the Hogs and Nutt going conservative, this game probably would have been a blowout by 4 touchdowns or more.

One factor may have been playing a different type of offense after three straight games vs the spread, but that's an excuse. One of the things I liked least about Houston Nutt was his excuse making after losses. There can be no excuse for the Hogs' performance in this game.

I give Bobby Petrino and his staff credit for not alibiing, but at some point these players need to learn that in the cutthroat SEC if you come out flat and uninspired, unless you're playing Vandy in some years, you're going to get your backside handed to you.

That's exactly what happened as Ole Miss made 31 first downs and 553 total yards with 221 yards rushing to the Hogs' piddly 299 and 45.

With winless Eastern Michigan next on the schedule, the Hogs figure to even the record at 4-4. However, at 1-4 in SEC play with the only win coming over an Auburn team that has been exposed as a pretender, until the Hogs beat an SEC team with a winning record, Arkansas has to be considered pretenders also.

A win over South Carolina on Nov. 7 could be a start, but like any game in the premier conference in college football, if it happens, it won't come easily. This UA team still has a long way to go.

It is a young team with a roster dotted by sophomores and juniors, but few seniors who play much. For this team to contend for SEC honors in the future, it won't happen unless and until the coaches and players realize that this isn't Conference USA or even the Big East.

In the SEC, a team must be ready for a knockdown-dragout every week or what happened against Ole Miss will happen again and again.

As for those who put Houston Nutt on a pedestal, I still contend that the man is a mediocre coach. If not for his curious decision to go ultra-conservative as he so often does right before the end of the first half, Ole Miss could have had that game put away at halftime.

Nutt got cute down on the goal line running the Wildcat when Snead had a hot hand and the Rebels settled for a field goal. Let's not forget that the holes on the Arkansas roster in the upper classes are due to Nutt's scattershot recruiting.

Let's also not forget that the Jevan Sneads and Dexter McClusters, along with their stable of defensive linemen, were recruited by Nutt's predecessor at Ole Miss.

Watching Damian Williams star at USC as a receiver and dangerous punt returner after Nutt ran him out of Fayetteville is all the worse when the Hogs have maybe the worst punt return average in the country.

Maybe someday someone on our side will figure out that this has become an important game and come prepared.