If the Hogs hope to still be playing beyond Thanksgiving weekend, winning the next two is crucial.
Arkansas has rebounded. Cue George Harrison.
Ah, yes. Dreams of sunny mornings spent trudging out of a Shreveport Hotel & Casino are alive and well, my brethren, because Arkansas is back from the dead and the Harrah’s/Poulan Weedeater/Spicy Beef Jerky Independence Bowl is back in play!
The mood of the fanbase in 2012 has vacillated between despair, disbelief, relief and even a little born-again hope and faith as the Hogs have shown the ability to score like Oregon and also allow scoring like whoever Oregon is playing.
All of which leaves most of us thoroughly confused. Are we the team that shredded Kentucky or the one shredded by the Sun Belt?
The truth, as it often does, probably lies somewhere in between. So let’s focus on what we know.
Arkansas is 3-4 with five games remaining. We need three more wins get bowl-eligible, and the final three games will be against teams currently ranked in the top 12 in the country.
But before we start considering the prospects of an upset, let’s first take a look at the next two games on the schedule with an eye on a few things we think we know about the 2012 Hogs.
1. If Tyler Wilson has time, he’s a really good quarterback.
2. Tyler Wilson gets a lot more time when the threat of an Arkansas running game is a viable one.
3. Despite the progress made in the Hogs secondary, if the other guys have a good quarterback, they can have success against Arkansas.
Oct. 27, Little Rock
Protect Wilson: Despite not having a single player in the SEC’s top 10 in sacks per game, the Rebels can get after the quarterback. They rank 26th in the country and fifth in the SEC in the category.
But Arkansas is actually third-best in the conference at avoiding sacks, a pretty astonishing number considering the number of passes the Hogs attempt.
Sacks don’t tell the whole story however. Wilson gets rid of the ball quickly, but when Arkansas’ offense struggles it’s often because he’s getting pounded and forced into hurried decisions and poor throws.
Chances for success: Solid. The offensive line has seen and succeeded against better pass individual pass rushers. The challenge here will be communication as the Rebels like to send pressure from various positions. Working in Arkansas’ favor is the new-found unpredictability of the offense since Paul Petrino moved up into the booth.
Run effectively: Ole Miss is very small up front, with no starter on the line listed at larger than 288 pounds and a group that averages less than 260. They’ve also got two starting linebackers under 205 pounds.
Nonetheless, they’ve been somewhat effective. The Rebels rank 10th in the nation in tackles for loss, but just ninth in the SEC and 54th in the country in rushing yards allowed per game (145.3). In SEC games, they’re giving up 172 yards per game and 4.2 yards per carry.
Chances for success: Pretty good. With Dennis Johnson toting the mail, the Hogs don’t take many losses. They may not gash Ole Miss for big yards, but they don’t need. Just present a credible threat.
Opposing QB talent: Where to start with Bo Wallace?
He originally committed to Arkansas State when current Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze was the A-State offensive coordinator. Wallace then left the Red Wolves after one year (and had some interesting comments directed at Freeze on the way out).
But after he led Eastern Mississippi Community College to a junior college national championship last season, it seems everyone was willing to forgive and forget. Mostly.
On the field, Wallace is an improvement over the last few chicken wings the Rebels have trotted out. He’s thrown for 1,351 yards and nine TD with 8 INTs, helping the Rebels rank six in the SEC in passing offense and seventh in passing efficiency.
QB grade: C. For the first time since the resurgence began, Arkansas will see an average quarterback – perfectly average. Better-than-average talent, less-than-average inside his helmet.
X-factor: Wallace’s ability to run. He can scoot a little bit, and the Hogs have had problems with mobile QBs. Wallace has run for 225 yards this year and ran for more than 400 yards last year in JUCO.
Hogs’ winability: Can win. Expect the Hogs to be favored at home.
Nov. 3, Fayetteville
Protect Wilson: Red alert. Tulsa leads the country with 4.71 sacks per game, led by linebacker DeAundre Brown (5-11, 217; 8 sacks T-most in the nation), and defensive ends Jared St. John (6-2, 250; 7 sacks) and Corry Dorris (6-3, 260; 5.5 sacks)
Chances for success: Let’s hope those numbers are product of week schedule, though Tulsa did have four sacks Iowa State, it’s only opponent from an AQ conference and only loss of the year.
Run effectively: Tulsa ranks 55th in the country in total defense and 17th against the run, but that number is skewed pretty heavily by the 241 yards they’ve taken away via sacks.
Opposing running backs have run for 964 yards on 237 carries in seven games, an average of 137.7 per contest and 4.1 per carry.
Opposing QB talent: Cody Green (6-4, 247 Jr.) is a Nebraska transfer and was 4-0 there in spot starts in 2009 and 2010. He was a prep blue chipper coming out of high school in Texas, but that potential has yet materialize into actual talent.
Green has thrown for 1,329 yards through seven games, completing 52 percent of his passes with 10 touchdowns and six interceptions.
Final QB grade: Mediocre. The Golden Hurricane don’t ask Green to do much, and he obliges.
X-factor: Tulsa’s running game. The Golden Hurricane rank 10th in the nation at 250 yards per game using a three-man running back committee.
Hogs’ winnablilty: Should win. Tulsa gave up season-high 42 points to Garrick McGee’s UAB squad (1-5) and 38 to Marshall (2-4).
Bottom line: Don’t make your reservations quite yet, but the Hogs should roll into the home stretch with something to play for.