Arkansas Razorbacks: 5 Reasons for Hope After Improbable Comeback Victory
The range of emotions displayed by Razorback fans in the Hogs' improbable 42-38 victory over Texas A&M fluctuated nearly as much as the score itself.
Despair, sadness, anger (especially at the offensive line and defense) characterized the first half, where the Hogs trailed 35-17.
Rising hope, a multitude of prayers, and unbridled elation (directed mostly at Tyler Wilson and Jarius Wright) symbolized what the Hog faithful felt when they peeked their eyes at the largest screen known to man in Cowboy Stadium.
Arkansas 42, Texas A&M 38.
What did we learn from the Razorbacks' victory over their soon-to-be SEC rivals?
5. The Defense and Offensive Line Have a Long Way to Go
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Before we begin doling out the praise to the playmakers who helped the Razorbacks win, it is prudent we address the elephant in the room.
The defense and offensive line performed very poorly against the Aggies.
One look at the stat sheet tells any type of informed football follower everything they need to know about who is going to feel the wrath of Bobby Petrino the most this week.
The Razorbacks gave up 628 total yards, including an absurd 381 of those on the ground. In addition, the Razorbacks allowed nearly 10 yards per pass completion and an absurd 7.1 yards per rush.
Not exactly the type of numbers befitting of a top level defense.
To be fair, most of those yards were gained in the first half (before the Razorback defense finally woke up). However, no matter who the opponent is, or the outcome of the game, no team that expects to contend for an SEC title can be as porous in their coverages and tackling that Arkansas was.
Even though the defense was (literally and figuratively) on their toes for the majority of the game, it didn't compare to the amount of times the Hogs' offensive line spent false-starting and on their backs.
The Aggies entered the game leading the nation in sacks, the Arkansas offensive line did little in changing that statistic by allowing quarterback Tyler Wilson to be sacked four times for a loss of 31 yards.
On a day in which the Hogs could accomplish little through the running game, those loss of yards didn't help.
Neither did the Razorbacks 14 penalties for 112 yards, many of which were a result of seemingly endless amounts of false start penalties by the offensive line.
As bad as those numbers are, they provide only a brief snapshot of how badly the offensive line played throughout the game. On top of the maddening amounts of penalties, Tyler Wilson was punished and slammed to the ground consistently for all 60 minutes. The protection schemes proved to be nonexistent as the A&M defensive line was able to live in the Razorback backfield throughout the game.
So, despite the unbelievable amount of grit, determination, and perseverance the Razorbacks displayed, there is still much to be improved upon before the never-say-never Auburn Tigers come to town.
4. Key Injuries Can Be Overcome
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Now that the season is nearly half complete for the Razorbacks, it is normal to expect banged up bodies.
But, to have nearly the entire depth chart at one position to be wiped out?
Now that is just cruel and unusual punishment.
With starting defensive ends Jake Bequette and Tenarius Wright already sidelined due to injury, the Razorbacks also lost defensive tackle Robert Thomas during the second half on Saturday against the Aggies.
In addition to Thomas, the Razorbacks also lost defensive back Darius Winson to injury.
The loss of three of the Razorbacks top defensive linemen and a defensive back can help to partially explain the Razorbacks aforementioned struggles on defense against A&M, but cannot totally justify giving up so many yards.
Yet, even with players at seemingly every position leaving the field in a limp, it didn't deter the Hogs from delivering an historic performance.
In Winston's absence, freshman Tevin Mitchell had a monster game accumulating 13 tackles and a momentum-changing fumble recovery. Defensive linemen Alfred Davis and Byran Jones were much more effective in the second half in limiting Aggies' quarterback Ryan Tannehill and running backs Christine Michael and Cyrus Gray.
Across the board, even with every injury-laden excuse to pack it in and prepare for Auburn, every Razorback who could put on the pads came to play in Arlington, Texas on Saturday.
3. The Running Game Has a Pulse...Maybe?
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After running into a literal and metaphorical wall known as the Alabama Crimson Tide defense, many looked at the stats and wondered aloud.
17 rushing yards.
0.9 yards per rush.
Is Arkansas' running game beyond embarrassing without Knile Davis?
After Saturday's game, the answer can be said with a resounding: No, probably not.
All kidding aside, although it took three quarters to get going, the Razorbacks finally found some semblance of a rushing attack as tailback Dennis Johnson impressed by rushing eight times for 54 yards; many of which came on the Hogs' last two drives late in the fourth quarter that completed the comeback.
Despite another sub-par performance from Ronnie Wingo, the Razorbacks may have gotten lucky in getting the man they call "DJ" back when they really needed him.
With Tyler Wilson and Jarius Wright receiving all the attention (and deservedly so) Bobby Petrino and offensive coordinator Garrick McGee knew they needed more balance in their offensive attack if they were to complete the second half shocker.
In came Dennis Johnson, who ran right into the teeth of the winded A&M defense and gave the Hogs a solid change of pace in the fourth quarter as the Aggie defense had no answer for anything the Razorback offense threw (or ran) at them.
Going forward, no one knows if the revived running game will show consistent signs of life for the remainder of the season. But, if Saturday's performance in Jerry World was any indication, it seems as if the Razorbacks may have found their man to rely on.
2. Tyler Wilson and Jarius Wright Are Unstoppable
Tyler Wilson and Jarius Wright
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I don't pretend to possess the eloquent vocabulary to sufficiently put in perspective the type of performances put forth by quarterback Tyler Wilson or wide receiver Jarius Wright.
I don't think anyone does.
So, instead of hurling well-deserved superlatives at these two game-breakers, I'll let their numbers do the talking:
Tyler Wilson: 30-51, 510 yards passing (school record), three touchdowns, zero interceptions, 10.0 yards per completion.
Jarius Wright: 13 receptions, 281 yards (school record), two touchdowns, 21.6 yards per reception.
What's most dumbfounding is that the most impressive statistic wasn't even mentioned. It was this: Jarius Wright had shattered the school record for most receiving yards in a game (204) by halftime (227).
Given the way the Aggies' defense had been carved up by Oklahoma State's Brandon Weeden and Justin Blackmon one week ago, many wouldn't have been surprised to hear that the Razorbacks would have success through the air.
But 510 yards!?
After being injured for (Wright) and battered by (Wilson) the Crimson Tide defense, many questioned if the Razorbacks were actually as good as their numbers against sub-par competition indicated.
Consider that question answered.
1. The Razorbacks Are Mentally Tough
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Call them out-matched by a top three Alabama team in Tuscaloosa. Call the comeback a result of yet another Texas A&M second half meltdown. But, after Saturday's soiree in Cowboy Stadium, there is one thing you cannot call the 2011 Arkansas Razorbacks.
After being savagely bruised and beaten by the Crimson Tide on the road, the Razorbacks were faced with the nearly impossible task of contracting immediate amnesia to prepare for another out-of-Fayetteville battle against another top 15 team.
This daunting task looked to be a large reason for the Razorback's slow start against the Aggies, where the A&M backs ran wild over the Razorbacks' defense in helping put up 35 points by halftime.
Given that this was a tough, neutral site, non-conference game sandwiched in between two brutal SEC games, few would have been surprised for the Razorbacks to shut it down in the second half down 18.
But, give these bunch of Hogs credit, they knew what was riding on this game.
With poor performances in back-to-back losses, the Razorbacks would prove to be a talented team with little in the way of grit and character that great teams illustrate on a weekly basis.
Many would quantify the Razorbacks in a similar way that NFL fans characterize the San Diego Chargers. Excellent offensive numbers, good quarterback, good team, but not good enough to win a championship.
But, in a span of 30 minutes, the Razorbacks took a major first step in changing that perception.
Despite living in a perpetual state of fear of his head being taken off, Tyler Wilson stood tall in the pocket and made all of the throws necessary to lead his team to victory.
Just when it looked like the Aggies would garner over 60 points and 1000 yards of offense, the defense stepped up and held A&M to three points in the second half.
These two narratives are the key components for proving the Razorbacks have the mettle to stay in the race to Atlanta for the SEC Championship.