Our friends over at Arkansas Expats asked us to do a Q&A for the Kentucky Wildcats at Arkansas Razorbacks football game. You can find my answers to their questions at this link over at Arkansas Expats.
AE has changed management since we last did a Q&A with them, but they are still a great community of Hogs fans that also happen to be one of the rare SEC schools that has a genuine basketball tradition that they are extremely proud of, and hope to resuscitate under Mike Anderson. So we included a little basketball talk as well.
So without further ado, let's get right to the Q&A:
ASoB: I suspect most Arkansas football fans think the season to date has been a train wreck. How did this happen? Was it all about the coaching, did some players just mail it in, what? How does one go from top ten in the pre-season to 2-4 with a loss to (admittedly very good) Louisiana-Monroe at home?
Some attribute it 100% to coaching and are firm in their belief that Arkansas would be 5-1 or even 6-0 at this point in the season. Others, myself included, have come to the realization that while Bobby Petrino's absence has been devastating to the season, the talent on the field is not championship caliber, regardless of leadership. Perhaps Petrino could have led the Razorbacks to eight or nine wins this season, but it seems unlikely he would have been able to match the lofty expectations fans held for 2012.
To answer the last question, a team goes from top ten to 2-4 with a loss to Louisiana-Monroe as a result of a very specific sequence of events. A perfect storm of injuries to the wrong people and at the wrong times (Arkansas likely defeats ULM if Tyler Wilson plays the second half), a leadership vacuum so desperate that players have been looked to for answers and guidance, and a mixture of opponents with the unique blend to create embarrassing upsets and humiliating blowouts. Combine that with a ranking that was too high to begin with and what you get is the debacle that Razorback fans have been enduring for over a month now.
ASoB: Considering the Razorbacks team itself, it looks to me like your scoring defense is even worse than ours, as is your passing defense. What went wrong? Is it just youth (we can totally understand that), key injuries, players robbing convenience stores with uzis and getting dismissed, what?
Injuries have played a monumental role. Defensively, the Razorbacks have seen injuries to its best cornerback (Tevin Mitchel, out since Week 2), its best linebacker (Alonzo Highsmith, who is out for the season), and its best defensive lineman (Tenarius Wright, also out for the season). Linebacker Kiero Small (out for the season), cornerback Kaelon Kelleybrew, and safety Eric Bennett are all starters who have missed at least one game during the season on defense.
With that said, there IS a lot of youth playing, due in part to the injuries discussed above. But I feel it's important to note that the ceiling for this defense wasn't monumentally high even before all of the bad fortune that has befallen the Hogs occurred.
ASoB: Arkansas turnover margin is out-sucked only by Auburn at -1.67. What is the major malfunction there? Is it butterfingers, your QB not able to throw to the right team, 12 players on the field for the opposing defense, or just plain bad luck?
A confluence of events has led to the Razorbacks' turnover woes. Knile Davis has had particular trouble holding onto the football, perhaps due to a lack of contact during fall drills. Quarterbacks Tyler Wilson and Brandon Allen have made some poor throws for interceptions, but in their defense, there were a few that were pretty fluky and more bad luck than anything else. The main reason for the poor turnover margin, however, is the inability of the Razorback defense to create takeaways. Before the floodgates opened against Auburn to the tune of five forced turnovers, the Hogs endured a drought of nearly 15 quarters without one. Over one-quarter of the season. Turnovers can be fickle with their allegiance, but when a defense goes that long, it's safe to assume things have crossed the threshold from bad luck into bad form.
ASoB: Kentucky is famous for being M.A.S.H. unit this year. Does Arkansas have any major injury problems, and if so, how will they affect Saturday's game?
If it were not for the Petrino/John L. Smith storyline accompanying the Razorbacks' fall from grace, the story of the season to date would almost certainly be the barrage of injuries that have crippled the Hogs. Offensively, the Razorbacks will be without the services of tight end Chris Gragg, fullbacks Kiero Small and Kody Walker, and possibly running back Ronnie Wingo. Gragg is, in my opinion, one of the best tight ends in the country, and his absence means Tyler Wilson loses possibly his most dependable target over the middle of the field. This was plainly evident last week against Auburn. Also, the early loss of both Small and Walker was catastrophic to both the Razorbacks' pass protection and rushing attack, but Morgan Linton made huge strides last week against Auburn, and can hopefully keep that positive momentum going.
Amazingly, the Hogs are even more banged up on defense than they are on offense, as noted in one of my responses above. To underscore the depressing nature of things, let me point out that a different star player is featured on each week's ticket. The featured Razorback on the tickets to the Kentucky game is defensive end Tenarius Wright... who is out for the season. The player featured on the NEXT game in Razorback Stadium (against Tulsa) is linebacker Alonzo Highsmith... who is out for the season.
ASoB: You asked us, now we'll ask you: Other than Jay Gruden, whom you have already indicated is on your list for a new head coach, who else are you looking at? Nick Saban? Urban Meyer? Bobby Petrino (Oops, I forgot, you had that near-death experience) Dead football coaches and basketball coaches like us?
I fear that you underestimate the dizzying delusional heights that Razorback fans are capable of achieving. Not Jay Gruden, my good man. He's not on the radar of Razorback Nation. Hog fans instead covet big brother Jon. Yes, the one who won a Super Bowl and now enjoys a cush gig on Monday Night Football. That's the one some of our fans are insistent is coming to Fayetteville.
Dozens upon dozens of more realistic options are discussed daily on radio call-in shows. The most frequent names are Charlie Strong, Dana Holgersen, Gary Patterson, Chris Petersen, and of course, Gus Malzahn. Truth be told, nobody has any feel whatsoever for the direction that Jeff Long is looking to go. Much like it was before the hires of Bobby Petrino and Mike Anderson, the Broyles Center appears to be airtight as far as leaks go. At least so far.
ASoB: How do you see the game going, who sucks less, and what will Arkansas fans do if they win?
Having watched both teams, it's pretty clear to me that Arkansas sucks less. Despite being devoid of talent in certain key areas, the Razorbacks possess it in spades elsewhere, and should be able to dictate things against Kentucky. However, I'm not sure I have ever seen a team as fragile as this season's Arkansas squad, and if Kentucky can catch some of the same breaks they caught in the first half of their game against South Carolina, I'm not at all sure the Razorbacks have the capability to claw their way back the way Carolina did.
A win this week is going to mean much, much more than most everyone would have anticipated six weeks ago. It will be an SEC win at home, and as such, a reason to celebrate. The Razorbacks only home victory so far this season was against Division I-FCS Jacksonville State in the opener, and things were pretty subdued following. A win over the Wildcats will serve as a signal to 70,000 that it's finally okay to SMILE! after a torturous stretch.
ASoB: Now that Mike Anderson is your basketball coach and Arkansas looks competitive in hoops for the first time in a while, what are your expectations for next year. And don't say, "Beating Kentucky," because trust me, you're not ready for that yet :-).
My expectations are for the Razorbacks to make the NCAA Tournament, and for them to be a competitive team in the second half of the SEC season, and for them to be fun to watch and cheer for. Beating Kentucky is always significant, but I'd quickly trade a win over the Wildcats for road victories against LSU, Ole Miss, Mississippi State, and Alabama. The Hogs have been just agonizingly bad on the road in recent years. Finally, I want to see Bud Walton Arena, the Basketball Palace of Mid-America, return to its former glory on a permanent basis. It's been far too long since The Bud was rocking consistently, and every Razorback fan I know is desperate to get back to those days.
ASoB: For the benefit of both Kentucky fans who are likely to show up on Saturday in Fayetteville, what would you recommend for tailgating and pre/post game food and drink in the area?
Tailgating is pretty spread out around Razorback Stadium, but wherever you find yourself, it's a safe bet you're next to conscientious and generous Razorback fans who will be eager to make sure you enjoy yourself. The best green space is an area called The Gardens that is located south of the stadium. It's probably a 10-minute walk to the stadium, but shuttles do run continuously on game day.
The main strip of bars in Fayetteville is Dickson Street, which is about 15 minutes east of Razorback Stadium on foot. Just follow the throngs of coeds. Here, dozens of drinking establishments will be packed to the gills from halftime until last call. There's a place on Dickson for everyone, from hipsters to frat guys to 20-year alumni. Even a place for UK fans, if you can endure a Hog Call or ten.
Thanks for having me, and Woo Pig Sooie!