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Weathering the Wildcats: Observations and analysis on the Kentucky Game
I have mentioned before that "Kentucky drunk" is a slang term used by a certain circle of my friends to describe an evening (and occasionally a daytime) of imbibition and debauchery not known prior to Arkansas' 2007 football game against the University of Kentucky. In addition to being one of the final nails in Houston Nutt's coffin, that game will forevermore live on for me due to its now permanent place in my vocabulary.
Kentucky drunk is not a state of mind you want to find yourself in, but following last night's contest between the same two programs, I'm not sure if it's one that can be avoided. While 2007 saw only overindulgement with alcohol, last night saw gluttony on multiple levels. In addition to the expected increase in boozing, we saw the Razorbacks drunk with newfound offensive prowess, binging on points even as Mother Nature let her weather wand go straight to her head. Last night saw no such thing as too many touchdowns or too much torrential rain. Definitely an evening of excesses, which is ironic considering the game couldn't even make it three full quarters. A game cut short by too much, too fast. Quite fitting, at least in my mind.
So let's get to it. Here are some of the things that stuck out to me through the windows of the East Indoor Club and the haze of Charter Eight.
Offensively, it was just about as close as you can get to a perfect performance as you can get. Tyler Wilson was 11-12 for 263 yards and three touchdowns IN THE FIRST QUARTER. It was so brutally efficient that there's not really much you can say about it. Drop back, throw to the wide open receiver. This was the first game since Bobby Petrino's departure that I envision Wilson's film review to focus mainly on plays where a different wide open receiver may have been a better option. It certainly felt like the olden days, that's for sure.
One reason for the return to previous form is certainly that Kentucky's defense is a complete abomination, but I think Paul Petrino calling the game from the press box as opposed to the sidelines makes a huge difference. He's mixing things up between aggressive and extremely aggressive play calling, and is picking the right times to go for the "chunk" plays that have been a staple of the Razorback offense in recent years.
Last week I questioned where the crossing routes and our predilection for the middle of the field had gone, and this week saw them return with a vengeance. Both short and intermediate, to a bevy of different receivers. Cobi Hamilton, Brandon Mitchell, and Javontee Herndon and freshman D'Arthur Cowan all got into the act over the middle of the field.
We also saw a return of the wheel route, to the tune of 150 yards and two touchdowns. The play had somewhat disappeared because of Ronnie Wingo's struggle to succeed at any other play in addition to it, causing his presence to be somewhat of a tell. Jonathan Williams ran it beautifully twice, and coupled with his tough running against both Texas A&M and Auburn the previous two weeks, it looks as though this freshman the Hogs beat Missouri out for may be what Razorback fans hoped we were getting with Wingo when he picked Arkansas over Missouri four years ago. This is the third consecutive week I've praised Williams on the recap. He just keeps doing more and more to impress.
Don't look now, but the Arkansas rushing attack is getting better. Dennis Johnson continues to pinball his way amongst defensive lines to an impressive amount of yards. Knile Davis is slowly, slowly getting closer to the player we remember, although he still has a long way to go. He showed that inside-step/bounce-outside maneuver that he is so good at a couple of times last night, and it made me very hopeful. Morgan Linton had another fantastic game, and it was good to see him get into the action some too with a 19-yard reception early on.
One thing that I did notice about the Hogs' rushing attack last night was that they seemed to be running lots of plays that pulled multiple linemen. I know very little about the ins and outs of line play, but I can't recall seeing that as much as I saw it last night. For whatever reason, it stood out to me. Perhaps it was just because the plays developed as they were drawn up so easily. Perhaps it's a new wrinkle. Either way, it was effective, and I hope to see more of the same with similar results.
Defensively, I don't know how much there is to say. Arkansas completely dominated Kentucky, so much that I really cannot remember much of the game when the Wildcats had the football. Paul Haynes again used an aggressive blitzing scheme to keep Kentucky's quarterbacks off balance, and this took a huge amount of pressure off of the secondary. Ross Rasner's sack on third down of the first Wildcat series really set the tone for the evening. After that, it seemed like the Wildcats were punting almost as soon as we kicked them the football.
Finally, Keonte Minor seems to be coming into his own somewhat as a punt returner. Last night he took an ill-advised return from inside the 5 yard-line and turned it into something that had fans standing up with excitement, however briefly. His later return for a touchdown that was called back due to a penalty was a great bit of aggressiveness with the football. He recognized how much he was going to have to work with even before he fielded the punt, and acted decisively on it. Razorback fans were very spoiled by Joe Adams over the years, but Minor has the potential to turn into a dangerous weapon in his own right. That's something that Arkansas needs very badly.
I never thought I would be thinking about a bowl game following the debacle in College Station two weeks ago, but that's where my mind is after watching the Razorbacks truly dominate for the first time this season. The off week could not be coming at a better time, and the game in Little Rock against Ole Miss in two weeks has become a gargantuan one. The Rebels certainly look to be a step up in competition from the Hogs' last two opponents, but the formula looks to be the same. Mix things up enough on offense to assist the offensive line in pass protection, and then run off the passing success that follows from giving Wilson time to throw. Defensively, continue to win at the line of scrimmage and keep the Ole Miss rushing attack in check, and keep the quarterback off balance with constant pressure from different places on the field.
A win against Ole Miss will at the very least (almost) guarantee that the team has something to play for in every game for the rest of the season. This means that the fans will have something to show up and cheer for as well, which is critical. Jeff Long cannot afford for Razorback Stadium to be at half-capacity or overrun with Tiger fans when LSU comes calling on the day after Thanksgiving. It would send a horrible and lasting message to every single coach he has courted throughout this prolonged coaching search.
Trent Wooldridge will be thatwith . He loves the S-E-C chant and honks because he hates Texas. He puts honey on his pizza, demands aisle seats, and sees quitting golf as more of a hobby than actually playing golf. Follow @twooldridge and track his quest to transform his two-year-old into a southpaw ace in the bigs.