In my opinion nowhere in sports is momentum a bigger factor than in college football. Young men can do exrtaordinary things when they are excited and think they are pre-ordained to succeed. Conversely, young men also become unhinged when things go wrong and they think whatever can go wrong, will. Well if there was ever a daythat big Mo played a huge factor in a win, yesterday was it.
After watching the game again, it was astonishing to see how close things were going into the second qtr. We looked disjointed and ill-prepared in the 1st QTR but we were still only down 6-0 at that point. A poster earlier this week worried about our depth and the potential for injuries with the early start time, given that the players haven't had the natural warm-up that a mid-day or evening game provides. That was a very profound observation because I think it REALLY hurt Chris Todd. Having come off shoulder surgery, it most likely takes Chris a little longer to get loose and get that free and easy motion you need to have to throw the ball with accuracy. Chris clearly didn't have that yesterday, frequently missing his target when they got open. The most damaging miss came on our second series after Arkansas picked its way down the field on the way to a TD and a 6-0 lead. On the ensuing series from deep in Tiger territory, Terrell Zachery deked his defender and found himself wide open streaking towards the 50 yard line. Chris found him immediately but air mailed it 5 yards past Zachery, where if he catches it he easily scores and we most likely take the lead. Virtually nothing is more demoralizing than a quick strike TD from 70 or more yards, it literally will suck the air out of a stadium and induce the fear of it happening again the rest of the day, both in the players and the fans. We had a golden opportunity to seize big Mo and give a tremendous lift to our defense but instead of being up 7-6, we were still down 6-0 and 2 plays later, the Hogs were driving back the other way.
What happens the rest of the day if Todd hits that home run to Zahery? We'll never know, but my guess is that it totally loosens up the Arkansas D and allows Tate to begin his big day (184 yds!!) a Qtr and a half earlier. Arkansas was not as good as they looked yesterday but Chris just couldn't get things going yesterday the way he had earlier in every other game. Once the 2nd Qtr started, big Mo chose to side with the home team, and with some help from the officials on some questonable interference penalties, and Mario Fannins kidney punch fumble, the rout was on. By the end of the half Arkansas had an insurmountable lead but to Coach Chizik's credit, the boys came out ready to play and got close enough to make those in attendance start squirming in their seats. After 2 long range quick strike TDs, big Mo was decidedly on our side and ready to put a rear naked choke hold on the Hogs and Petrino, alas it was not to be. Poor Chris got asked to do something he never does, take a snap from under center on a 4th and inches. Not overly surprising, Chris fumbled the snap ending our coemeback and Big Mo's temporary affair with us. Like any jilted lover, Big Mo decided to make us pay for our indescretion by jumping back in bed with the Hogs and help them finish us off.
Yesterday I was hyper critical of Todd's play, saying that he was killing us by holding onto the ball too long on passing plays, missing open receivers, and later fumbling at critical junctures of the game. All of which were true. Chris routinely held the ball for 4 or 5 seconds, which is an eternity when the defense is rushing 5 or 6 defenders. When Chris did find an open receiver he often double clutched and loaded up his pass, which usually led to an overthrow. But Chris Todd wasn't the reason we lost. His play simply underscored how critical he is to the success of our team. Earlier in the season I opined that I knew Chris Todd could not carry this team. What I should say, is that Ben Tate can't carry this team. Ben had 184 yards yesterday and we got humbled. Chris is the lynchpin to the success of this team. Every defense we play is going to put a minimum of 7-8 defenders in the box against us to stop Tate and McCalebb and dare Chris Todd to beat them. When Chris is on and hitting the open receiver, he is one of the most dangerous QB's in all of college football. That being said, Chris has to make our opponents pay for playing the run. If he doesn't , what happened yesterday is the result. Most importantly, when our passing game is ineffective our defense spends an inordinate amount of time on the field which, with our depth issues, is fatal. Arkansas had a 17 minute(!!!) time of pessesion advantage, holding the ball almost two thirds of the game. That killed us last year and doomed us again yesterday. While Chris' inability to drive the team really hurt us, it was incumbent on Coach Roof and Coach Chizik to make something happen on the defensive side of the ball, to pressure Mallet or force a turnover. We did neither, and what I was afraid would happen before the game, came to fruition. Mallet and Smith picked their way down the field on several long drives, keeping our offense off the field and wearing out our wafer thin defense. We couldn't afford for either to happen. Throw in the critical fumbles and you have a big win for the Razorbacks and return to reality for the Tiger faithful.
The good thing is that I see what happened yesterday as something totally correctable and a result of a few missed opportunites that snowballed on us. To our credit, we didn't quit and had we finished the drive on the 4th and inches fumble we very likely could have comeback to win the game, as we would have only been down by 3 or 4 points. We still have an explosvie offense and we still have a porous and thin defense. Woe unto Kentucky next week, as its a night game and I expect Chris will be nice and loose and hopefully a litle tighter on his timing and his throws. I'm betting he will be fine and we will get back on the winning track. What we don't know at this point is how will Coach Chizik respond to the loss and what adjustments will he make? I must admit I am very dissappointed at the defensive scheme they chose to employ, especially after Alabama showed us how ineffective Mallet was when pressured. Granted our defense doesn't hold a candle to Bama's but Mallet did show he wasn't very sharp throwing the ball at times and that was without any pressure. What would have happened if we had actually gotten some guys in his face? I know the concern is that blitzing forces opposing linemen to chop block and cut legs out from under oncoming linebackers but you can't play scared. Besides, having your defense on the field for 38 minutes is just as likely to lead to injuries as you obviously are playng more and fatigue late in the game leads to poor technique which makes it even easier to get injured. That is what killed our defense last year and will kill us again if we don't control the ball for at lest half the game.
At the end of the day, its just one game where Big Mo whooped up on us and reminded us of what we already knew. If we don't take measures to keep our defense off the field ,we are going to pay for it with a loss. We're not a great team, but outside of Alabama I think we have the ability to win every game we play. LSU showed it'smettle last night, stagnating FLorida's offense, but they are definitely beatable. Ole Miss is showing they aren't as strong as many thought ,and UGA may be in complete meltdown mode by the time we play them. Hopefully this is a good learing experience for us and we can rebound to put some rather impressive wins together on the way to the Iron Bowl showdown, where even and 0-11 team can win. What is important is that we rebound quickly and take the fight to Kentucky in a raucous Jordan Hare stadium.
WarEagle and have a great week.