By this time Saturday night, the Arkansas game will be in the books. For better or for worse. At the moment though, we are about 20 hours away from kickoff, so let's close with some final thoughts before the game.
To begin with, it's a big game for us, and for the umpteenth time since Arkansas joined the conference, it will likely be the key game for us this season. Try as you may, you really cannot minimize the importance of this game. You win here, and you could be possibly be looking at nine wins, maybe even more. But if you lose here, suddenly you're 2-1 with Georgia, Florida State, Tennessee, LSU, and Auburn still on the schedule, and while you may still get 8-4, the odds are that you will not do any better than that. Bottom line: it's big.
I've been critical of Arkansas in the past, and I think rightly so because they are a team with a lot of concerns and shortcomings. But it's not like we're world-beaters either, we've got a lot of concerns and shortcomings in our own right. As I wrote in our conversation with the Hog Blogger, these two teams are probably much more similar than either fan base would like to admit.
So what about Arkansas? Yes they are one-dimensional, and in all honestly they are one-dimensional as hell. Aside from Navy and Air Force, they are with little doubt the most one-dimensional FBS team in the country. But you have to give them credit, they are as good of a one-dimensional offense as you'll ever find. I've said it before that Darren McFadden is the best tailback in the SEC since Bo Jackson, and I'm not going to change that now. Jones and Hillis, too, are fine players, and -- though I don't think much of Nutt -- the coaching staff utilizes them very well.
True, Alabama's defense has been surprisingly good in the first two games, but they haven't even seen anything that could legitimately constitute a preview to what they will see Saturday night when McFadden and company charge out of the South end zone. We'll see just how good this front seven is come Saturday. We've only given up sixteen points in the first two games, but that really doesn't prove that this defense is any good.
And Arkansas is going to pull out all of the stops. Considering how big of an impact this game will likely have on Arkansas' season, combined with Nutt's "uncertain" -- shall we say -- status, this could arguably be the biggest game of Houston Nutt's almost decade long tenure in Fayetteville. A loss here could potentially spell the beginning of the end for Nutt. In such a big game -- combined with a week off -- Nutt will pull out everything possible in the play book. Last year against us they ran a variation of the swinging gate play, and then against Auburn it was the hidden ball trick. Expect more of that tomorrow. McFadden will throw the ball at some point, probably multiple times, and only God knows what else Nutt and co. have up their sleeves. Nothing the Hogs do tomorrow -- no matter how outrageous it seems -- should surprise you even in the mildest way possible.
The truth of the matter is that this game, in all likelihood, will be a very close contest that could go either way. If the offense plays solid football with no turnovers, and the defense can relatively limit the Arkansas rushing attack, we probably win. On the other hand, if the Arkansas running game can really take off and our offense does like it did last week -- or hell, the last four years for that matter -- we'll probably go down to the Hogs.
Again, let us not minimize the importance of this contest. With a win here we're 3-0, and who knows how far we can go? Georgia lost last week, and the team that we thought they really played well against is currently getting smacked around by Troy. FSU was pounded around by Clemson, and then eeked out an ugly win over lowly UAB. Tennessee could very well by 3-3 when they come into Bryant-Denny, and even Auburn would probably be lucky to finish 8-4 with their piss-poor offense. If we beat Arkansas -- and I know the football Gods are probably plotting something terribly evil for merely suggesting the possibility -- this is suddenly a team that might legitimately be able to make a very serious run at 9-3 or 10-2 with a berth in the Outback / Citrus / Cotton. You have to figure that with a win over the Hogs, we probably have seven wins in the bag with a great chance in four other games.
It's a big one. Hope for the best.