The good folks over at Razorback Expats asked us to participate in a Q&A exchange for the game this weekend, and we were more than happy to oblige. Their answers to our questions are below, and be sure to head over there for my responses to their questions. (ed- they can be found here.)
Hard to say for sure, but I think it might help us a bit (although not to the point of being game-changing). The coaching staff switched their focus from Texas to Alabama last Thursday, so that gave us a couple of extra days to prepare. With all the freshmen on this year's team, having more time is always good.
Then again, it might benefit the Hogs a small amount against Bama, but on an overall level it also hurts us because we lose the extra time to prepare for Florida...and I'm sure we could use the help for that one. Of course, the way the season has gone so far we could probably use a bye week or two before every conference game but apparently the SEC doesn't want to extend the season into next spring.
2) I haven't had a chance to actually watch Arkansas play this year so I don't know firsthand; were the two wins really that close?
Yes, and if anything they were even closer than they seemed. Against Western Illinois - a D-IAA team, mind you (we have a personal boycott against the term 'FCS') - we were behind the whole game and actually were down 10 with less than 10 minutes left. Then our offense started clicking and we ended up pulling it out in the last two minutes. It wasn't the most relaxing experience.
Louisiana-Monroe was even crazier...we were actually behind 24-6 late in the 3rd quarter but eventually stormed back to take a 28-27 lead (the game wasn't over until ULM shanked a field goal as time was expiring). Of course, we did do eight points better than you guys against them, so there's always that consolation.
The good news for us is that no lead is safe against the Hogs! The bad news is that we almost lost to two squads who would get routed by the 3rd teams of most SEC schools.
3) Dick and Luigs are probably the only two players on the team that most Alabama fans will be able to name off the top of their heads. Who else should we know about going into Saturday's game?
Our breakout star this season might be D.J. Williams, the sophomore tight end who's thrived in Petrino's system so far. He caught the game-winner against ULM, and has already grabbed 10 passes for 169 yards this year (a full season's worth of action for a tight end under the old regime).
Starting RB Michael Smith is the Pete Myers to Darren McFadden's Michael Jordan. He's a quick little guy...we need him to find a way to get some yards, although obviously that will be tough against Bama's defense.
Freshman receivers Jarius Wright and Joe Adams have shown good potential so far, and on defense we need DT Malcom Sheppard to have a good game.
4) How well has Petrino's system been working with the talent he inherited? How has it gone over with the Arkansas fanbase?
Offensively, I'd say it's been going pretty well. Granted, the teams we've faced so far haven't exactly been the 1985 Chicago Bears, but we put up 500+ yds against ULM and Casey Dick has thrown for more than 300 yds in each game (this is actually the 3rd sign of the apocalypse). Defensively, we need some work...we've been getting gashed by pretty much any runner who can stand upright and hold onto the ball.
So far Petrino has been a big hit with the fanbase. Although pre-season expectations were what I considered to be absurdly high, I think most people are more than willing to cut him some slack for whatever happens this season. The cupboard was left pretty bare, and I think Arkansas fans are so happy to have someone running a 21st century office that for now they'll overlook details like a string of blowouts at the hands of various top 10 teams.
5) What have the Razorbacks been able to do this year that you didn't really think they'd be capable of?
It's not a huge huge surprise, given Petrino's reputation as a QB guru, but I didn't think I'd ever be typing "Casey Dick" and "consecutive 300 yd games" in the same sentence. Casey looks really good so far.
6) What HAVEN'T the Razorbacks been able to do that you are disappointed in?
Well, the #1 thing we haven't been able to do is decisively beat a couple of weak teams. Calling that a disappointment might be a little strong, because we at least made nice comebacks to pull out the wins, but it doesn't bode well for a brutal schedule that features five games against schools currently ranked in the AP top 10 (including our next four in a row).
Beyond that, it's a young team and they're still very mistake-prone. Despite racking up all those yards in the first two games, we haven't done a great job of converting the offense into points so far.
7) Fill in the blanks portion of the Q&A: If Arkansas does BLANK, they will win on Saturday.
Hmm...we need a lot of things to fall our way so this is going to be a lot of blanks. I'll say we need to:
- continue the strong passing game now that we're facing an A-list opponent
- establish the run, at least a little bit
- step up the defense, and remind John Parker Wilson of this moment at least a couple of times
- force some turnovers (the next turnover we get will be our first for the season)
- eliminate sloppy mistakes on both sides of the ball
- execute on special teams, especially the kicking game (another weak spot so far this year)
The obvious answer is that if we don't play a lot better than in the first two games we'll lose, and it could be ugly.
A bit more specifically, we'll need to convert the offense into points and simply play better all around on defense (getting some turnovers is key, too). Last year it seemed like Wilson threw for about 800 yds against us, so that certainly can't happen again.
Beyond that, my assessment is that you guys are simply a better team this year, so we'll probably need a lucky break or two to get the crowd going and the players feeling it. If that happens, who knows?
At any rate, thanks for the Q&A and best of luck on Saturday (although not too much luck).