One of the annual highlights of yours truly’s blogging season is the week of the Arkansas game and the chance to get together with my buddies at the Hog blog Arkansas Expats for our yearly Q n’ A. There’s 10 questions below and 10 answeres provided by Stephen of the Expats. My answers to their Q’s should be up shortly at their place. Enjoy.
1. There was a five-quarter stretch there, starting with the end of the Georgia game and continuing through the Alabama trip, where Ryan Mallett looked less like the Next Unstoppable Cannon-Armed Petrino Passer I think everyone expected him to be this year (and which he was for those first three Georgia quarters, it seemed) and more like just a guy with an arm from God. So … why? What changed? What changed back vs. A&M?
“I think the main thing that changed was Alabama’s defense, which didn’t allow Mallett to stand in the pocket all afternoon and which clearly made him uncomfortable. Plus, the game against the Crimson Tide was his first SEC road game and perhaps nerves came into play. Petrino said he thought that was the case.
“As for why he lost his mojo against Georgia in the fourth quarter, I don’t have a great answer. I don’t think it was the Bulldog’s defense. I’ll chalk it up in part to pressing after the Bulldogs took the lead for good in the third quarter.”
2. So Tommy Tuberville publicly declares his mortal enemy Bobby Petrino will lose by three touchdowns Saturday, thereby perhaps adding the slightest edge to the Hogs’ motivation and focus that makes it less likely that his mortal enemy Bobby Petrino will, in fact, lose by three touchdowns. Please provide an equivalent example of irony without referring to the popular Alanis Morrisette song “Ironic.”
“Maybe Tommy’s aim is to exact some measure of revenge against Auburn by angering the Hogs to victory? I wouldn’t put it past him. Tommy’s an Arkansan, you know. We’re pretty crafty folk.”
3. We’re all hot and bothered about Auburn’s special teams because our kicker is turning the clock back to 2007–you remember Wes Byrum, don’t you?–and our kickoff return is looking spunky. Any chance Auburn breaks one for a second straight year? What parts of the Hog special teams are you especially excited or non-excited by?
“There is certainly a chance that Auburn could return another kickoff for a touchdown – with the Hogs’ special teams unit, we’ve learned to always dream the horrible dream. To be fair, the special teams play has probably been a little bit better this year – Dennis Johnson is a decent threat as a kickoff returner, and freshman punter Dylan Breeding continues to show improvement.
“But the Hogs consistently allow their opponents to gain good field position on returns, and Petrino appears to have no desire to allow field-goal kicker Alex Tejada, who has battled the yips throughout his career in Fayetteville, to attempt a kick from farther than 35 yards out.
4. What do you feel like is at stake for Arkansas in this game? At 0-2 in the SEC, has the motivation level reached “desperate” yet? Why or … wait for it … why not?
“Well, for the sake of Arkansas’ not-terribly-great bowl hopes, the Hogs really need a win on Saturday, particularly considering the remainder of their schedule includes road games against LSU, Florida and Ole Miss. Let’s get crazy and assume they lose all three of those contests. Let’s also assume that they win both remaining non-conference games, which are against Troy and Eastern Michigan.
“That means they have to win two out of three against Auburn, South Carolina and Mississippi State to become bowl eligible. So in that sense, the Auburn game is pretty close to a “must-win” situation.
“Personally speaking, it doesn’t feel like a desperate situation, though. If the Hogs lose to Auburn and end up not making a bowl this season, I’m not gonna lose my [excrement] about it. The cupboard was pretty bare when Nutt left, and Arkansas is clearly still in rebuilding mode. I feel very positive about the direction in which Petrino has the program headed. Given the defense and the brutal schedule, a sub-.500 record this season is not going to change that.”
5. Your 97th-ranked defense: what few things (thing?) is it doing right that give you some sense of hope that Auburn can be kept in the double digits?
“Well, the opponents’ point total has dropped from Georgia’s 52 to Alabama’s 35 to Texas A&M’s 19. There are obviously lots of reasons why that’s so, and not all of them (or maybe even many of them) have to do with the Hogs’ defense, but they do seem to be getting better in the red zone. Bending but breaking, if you will.
“And we’re not horribly horrible when it comes to defending the run. We’re seventh in the conference in rushing yards allowed per game, yielding an average of 121 yards on the ground each contest. Given how much the running game is a part of Auburn’s attack, maybe there’s some reason for hope there.”
6. Your 97th-ranked defense: what many things is it doing wrong that cause you to look upon Auburn’s offense and despair?
“Our big problem defensively is our secondary.. Arkansas is giving up an average of 283.5 passing yards per game. That’s good enough for dead last in the conference. The Hogs’ defensive backs made Joe Cox look like Joe Montana, Peyton Manning and Johnny Unitas all wrapped up into one.
“Against Texas A&M, the Hogs finally were able to put some pressure on the quarterback, but we’ll see how they do against another SEC foe. I wouldn’t be surprised if Chris Todd looks like a Heisman candidate out there on Saturday.”
7. No Jonathan Luigs this year, and it looks like the rushing numbers suffered early on–less than 5 yards per-carry vs. Missouri St., 3.2 vs. Georgia, and 2.8 vs. Alabama. Is the 5.3 mark vs. Texas A&M a sign the line is coming together or more of a product of A&M being a horrid defense?
“I am obviously hoping it’s the former, but considering the quality of A&M’s defense, I’m skeptical. And the Hogs’ rushing total – 163 yards – was helped along tremendously by freshman Ronnie Wingo’s 62-yard TD run in the fourth quarter. Before that strike, the Hogs were enjoying another fairly pedestrian day on the ground.”
8. I’m already having nightmares about our linebackers trying to cover D..J. Williams, so let’s talk about the other receivers. Lots of catches for everyone, but what two guys does Auburn need to be particularly aware of?
“Quick aside: D.J. has had a pretty quiet year so far. Perhaps that’s a result of Mallet’s preference to try and throw the ball to Copenhagen. But moving on to your question, I’ll give you three receivers for the price of two. Sophomores Joe Adams, Jarius Wright and Greg Childs all are having bang-up seasons. Adams currently ranks second in the SEC in receiving yards per game, averaging 79 a game. Wright ranks third at 74.2 yards per game, and Childs ranks eighth at 65 per game.
“One other thing to keep an eye out for: the Hogs had notable success throwing the ball to their running backs against A&M, particularly Michael Smith and De’Anthony Curtis.”
9. You’ve seen the Petrino offense in action for a season and a third now. How would you defend it if you were Ted Roof?
“This is something of cliched answer, but this year I think it really comes down to putting pressure on Mallett and making him get out of the pocket. That’s probably true of any quarterback, but Mallett in particular. He does not appear to be very comfortable running the ball at all. He’s kind of a throwback that way.
“Georgia and Texas A&M didn’t get a whole lot of pressure on him, and Mallett burned them. Alabama, however, made him very uncomfortable, and the Hogs never got untracked offensively. The Hogs haven’t had much of a running game this season, so if you stop Mallett and the passing attack, you will probably stop Arkansas.”
10. Do you own one of those Hog hats? You know the one I’m talking about–it’s the hat shaped like a Hog, like the Packers fans’ cheese hats, but in Hog form. If not, would you like to own one one day? Why or why not? And if you do already own one, what kind of emotions do you feel wearing your Hog hat?
“I do in fact own one of these hats, and when I have it on, I know that I can accomplish anything. Think Leonardo DiCaprio in Titantic – “I’m the king of the world!” Or maybe it’s just the drugs that make me feel that way. I forget.”