I was hoping the Arkansas game would be where a lot of things came together and we established ourselves as legitimate contenders. Unfortunately, the opposite happened, and we were exposed as pretenders. Our offense, particularly in the first half, was just as putrid as it has been most of the year, gaining only 203 yards against a defense that has been torched in recent weeks. Special teams made several key mistakes and created no big plays of its own. Most alarmingly, our defense, formerly considered a team strength, was razed all night long. The defense gave up numerous big plays, was unable to get off the field on third down, and generally allowed Arkansas to reestablish momentum every time it looked like we were back in the game. All in all, it was very clear that Arkansas is a much, much better team than us.
That said, all is not lost. Arkansas is likely the best team we'll play this season, barring an SEC Championship Game appearance (I don't even want to think about what LSU would do to us right now) and / or a tough bowl matchup. The Hogs are a legitimate dark-horse national-title contender. Our remaining opponents are not, and we get them at home. It's still possible to get to the ever-elusive ten wins if we can play well down the stretch.
The bad news, though, is that Connor Shaw may be out against Florida with a concussion. If that's the case, we are in big trouble. I would obviously hope one of them would surprise us, but I'm not under the impression that Andrew Clifford or Dylan Thompson are going to be able to do much to help us against a defense like Florida's. In that situation, I would expect whichever one gets the start to run with an extremely abridged playbook and for us to run a lot more wildcat. That's not a recipe for scoring many points, so hopefully Shaw is OK.
A few more thoughts after the jump.
--Our offense has lots of flaws right now, but the biggest one remains the offensive line, which was absolutely owned last night. Shaw was running for his life most of the evening and was hit hard several times. It seemed like half the time when we called pass plays, Arkansas had a guy running free, straight for the QB. There was no consistent run blocking. This is just a terrible, terrible line. Obviously, Hutch Eckerson, Garrett Chisolm, and Kyle Nunn were key to keeping it afloat last year. We can only hope that guys like A.J. Cann (who I thought played fairly well last night in a poor group effort) and Brandon Shell will come through next year. As for right now, the coaching staff simply has to do something to mask our deficiencies in this area. We need to run more sets with both a TE and a FB on the field. It seemed like we did so last year. I understand that Justice Cunningham and Matt Dalton aren't as good as Patrick DiMarco was, but Cunningham and Dalton can block and need to be on the field more often to help protect the QB. We also need to run the wildcat more often. It seems to work fairly effectively every time we use it, yet we use it very little. I'm a bit annoyed that Spurrier opened up the playbook in a meaningless game against Kentucky, yet he won't go back to some of the concepts that worked in that and other games now that we're in situations where we need to get the offense clicking.
--The defense, too, made lots of mistakes last night, but the thing that I noticed most was that our safeties and linebackers can't hang in pass coverage with a team like Arkansas. Part of the problem, I think, may be that we have some guys playing out of position. DeVonte Holloman should probably be playing spur, not safety, as he doesn't really have the speed to cover elite receivers. Not having Antonio Allen hurt us, too, as DeMario Jeffery looked lost for most of the night. It should be noted that Clemson will likely be able to exploit some of these same weaknesses.
--The problems on kickoff returns probably boil down to two things. First of all, we need a kicker who can get the ball past the ten-yard line. This is an absolute necessity and one that the coaches really need to address over the off-season. Second of all, due to injuries, we're without some of our best coverage guys. Brandon Wilds and Matt Coffee were important contributors in kickoff coverage, and now Coffee is done for the season and Wilds is off special teams because he's the starting tailback. We have walk-ons in their places. Much as Clemson is likely licking its chops to play against our pass coverage, Florida has to be optimistic about being able to return a kickoff against us.
--Bobby Petrino is the kind of offensive coach that I wish Spurrier could be. The difference has little to do with philosophy or which coach is "on the cutting edge." Interestingly, they have similar philosophies, and if anything Petrino is more old-school than Spurrier, as Petrino runs a more or less straight up pro-style offense without many spread concepts. However, Petrino is a great strategist who takes care of the little things. He establishes the run and the short pass before asking his QB to take deep drops, thus negating the rush. He creates mismatches in order to get the ball to his playmakers. He's a brilliant offensive coach.
--I'm not going to spend too much time on it because I don't think it altered the outcome of the game, but the officiating last night was, once again, atrocious. The running-into-the-kicker call was questionable at best, although I guess I can see why it was called. It was, at any rate, a very costly penalty that led to a TD for Arkansas. However, the holding on the long completion to Alshon Jeffery was utter BS, particularly considering that every officiating crew we've had this season has essentially let opposing offensive lines do much, much worse to Jadeveon Clowney and Melvin Ingram on every single play. To top it off, on the following play the Arkansas defender who sacked Shaw clearly speared him helmet to helmet, potentially costing us our starting QB for one of the biggest games of the year. No call on that play. Simply infuriating.
That's a wrap on this one. On to the Gators.