This post continues our series on our 2012 opponents. Today, we're talking about Arkansas, which this year will be our final SEC game.
How tough this game will be, and how well Arkansas will do more generally this year, principally comes down to one thing, whether or not the Hogs can keep up their formerly brisk pace now that Bobby Petrino is gone. Oftentimes when a coach departs, it takes a couple of years for you to see the difference. Indeed, a number of second-rate coaches, such as Larry Coker, have won big with the former coach's players, only to see the program fall to shambles as it became apparent that the new coach wasn't the capable program-builder that the former coach was. Maybe Arkansas won't skip a beat this year. After all, Tyler Wilson, Knile Davis, etc., are still on the roster. Same team, right?
I'm a bit skeptical, though. Petrino, more so than many other successful coaches, is known just as much for game-planning and play-calling as he is for his program-building. The guy is widely considering among the best offensive minds in the game. He's the kind of coach whose wits oftentimes made the difference on game day. I mean, really, in terms of raw talent, Arkansas has been no better than South Carolina, a team Petrino dominated, and has probably been significantly worse than teams like Georgia and LSU, both of whom Arkansas beat under Petrino. Yes, part of the issue here is that Petrino was able to find players who worked within his offense, particularly two NFL-caliber QBs, the best thing you can have when you want to sling the ball around the field. But make no mistake: Petrino's offensive mind helped elevate this team to the nation's elite. There's going to be drop-off with him gone.
Now, Arkansas made what could prove to be a good hire in John L. Smith, a coach who seems to have enough offensive acumen to lead a good charge with Wilson, Davis, and Arkansas's other offensive talents at this disposal. However, Smith isn't Petrino, and while he'll still likely have a good offense, there are some holes to fill on defense with stars Jake Bequette and Jerry Franklin gone.
Of course, that likely merely means that this game becomes a push, rather than the mismatch it seemed to be when Petrino was the coach in Fayetteville. That said, there's one more bit of good news about this game: We have a bye the week prior. Arkansas is only playing Tulsa that week, so it's not like they have to play Alabama during our bye, but at this late point in the season, we'll probably need to rest the bye will provide. I'm hoping that, as well as the desire to give this opponent a little payback, will prompt our guys to play inspired ball and win this game.