One of the imperatives in this game was to make the Hogs pay for last year, and we did that. The final margin was only two scores, but Arkansas made it look closer than it really was by scoring a late garbage TD and this game was never in doubt other than briefly in the third quarter after the Hogs closed the gap to 20-14. This was a solid, convincing victory.
That said, we looked far from perfect. While they got the job done, our offense was only inconsistently effective. A lot of the blame goes to Stephen Garcia and Chris Smelley. On the surface, their combined 219 passing yards and 2 passing TDs along with the TD Garcia scored on the ground does not look too bad. However, neither was particularly accurate. Garcia supporters will remember the perfect fade Garcia threw to Kenny McKinley in the fourth quarter to more or less put the game our of reach for the Hogs, but Garcia was 4/11 with an interception and threw numerous shaky passes when he had receivers open. Smelley's numbers were a little better, but he is lucky to escape the game without an interception, also threw bad passes when he had open receivers (Smelley must be the only person on the planet who can overthrow 6'5 Jared Cook), and cost us a couple of touchdowns when did not see open receivers and threw it to guys in coverage.
Should we blame our quarterbacks' pedestrian performances on Spurrier's decision to alternate them almost every other play? Perhaps. I can only imagine that it is difficult for Chris or Stephen to find a rhythm when they know they are not going to stay in the game long. On the other hand, lots of Spurrier's ploys worked yesterday. We did have open receivers all over the field, which indicates that Spurrier beat Arkansas's defense from an Xs and Os standpoint. Part of that scheme success probably owes to the confusion the QB alternations caused Arkansas. If our quarterbacks could have made a few more of their throws, we might have scored 50 on these guys. So it may not have been such a bad idea to alternate Garcia and Smelley, even if it did not work as well as it might have. Part of the problem also owes to our receivers dropping ball. Jason Barnes looked like the next Sidney Rice a few weeks ago, but now he looks more like the Troy Williamson of Vikings fame. On a side note, I thought the wide-tackle formations were generally effective and can only wonder why we did not use this formation against LSU in the second half.
We also finally saw a solid performance out of our running game. Both Eric Baker and Mike Davis played well in the second half, particularly during our final TD drive. If I remember correctly, we did not throw the ball once during that possession. Who would have thought we could drive the length of the field on the legs of our tailbacks? I do not want to make too much of running success against an Arkansas team that has a terrible defense and was likely worn out at the end of the game, but seeing that we can run the ball to some degree was promising.
Our defense played well for most of the game, although Arkansas did mount
a couple of decent drives. Casey Dick passed the ball well against us other than his three interceptions. My general impression is that the only thing keeping our defense from being truly great is that we do not generate much of a pass rush when we do not blitz. Casey Dick (and his brother Nathan on the final drive) often had a lot of time to throw the ball, and I doubt that any defense is going to have much success against a Petrino-coach team without getting in the quarterback's face. Luckily, we took advantage of the inevitable bad throws Dick always tends to make. Jordin Lindsey's interception was a great play and helped us put the game away.
One thing to be happy about is our performance defending the run. Michael Smith came into this game as one of the country's most productive tailbacks, and we held him to 25 yards on seven carries. With Florida and Clemson coming up, we will need to continue to defend the run well.
Special teams play was so-so. We did well in the return game, but Chris Culliver's inability to keep his head at the end of the game will cost us his services in the first half against the Gators (Culliver's suspension will also be felt on defense). Captain Munnerlyn fumbled a punt, but luckily we got it back. One day we are going to lose one of those. Finally, Succop continues to perplex. He made a great 54 yard kick that might have been good from a couple more yards out, but missed a gimme chip shot later in the game. Succop's struggles have yet to cause us a game, but they might against better competition.
All in all, this was a good but not great performance. I am happy with the victory, especially considering that we likely wrapped up an Outback or Peach Bowl bid. However, neither Arkansas or Tennessee (who lost to Wyoming yesterday) are good teams, so we should not overestimate the value of beating them. I saw little to indicate that we have what it takes to hang with the Gators. Unless we get perfect play from our quarterbacks, we will not be able to score enough points to beat Florida. What we saw yesterday from Garcia and Smelley simply will not cut it. We will also need better play to beat Clemson. The Tigers are not a good team and have a very shaky defense, but they are better than Arkansas and will play their best game of the year when we come to town.