In light of everything that happened at No. 21 Auburn on Saturday night, it’s important to take stock of it all, especially now, with a two-week break.
Because as bad as 17th-ranked Arkansas’ 56-3 loss to the Tigers was, the most realistic of outcomes for 2016 remain on the table. To be clear, this Arkansas team, with its roster and game plans, was never going to be a 10-win bunch. Everything would have had to break perfectly to do that. And if this year has been anything, imperfect is it.
Saturday was the epitome.
Auburn took advantage of every Arkansas weakness during the rout. Instead of Florida, LSU, Mississippi State and Missouri having to look at different film, they can all watch the Tigers demolition and see exactly how to attack the Razorbacks.
The worst elements were exploited time and again.
Arkansas’ defensive line is and was overrated. And while “overrated” doesn’t mean “bad,” they’re clearly a middle-of-the-SEC unit, unable to stop average-or-better running games and middling in pressuring the quarterback. They’re the first line of defense — pun, intended — in slowing backs and they allowed 543 yards rushing Saturday.
The linebackers are still not good. As often as it’s been said that Brooks Ellis is a competent or better one, he clearly needs a partner in crime to pick up his weakness — speed. Dre Greenlaw was it until the foot injury against Alabama, but even then, there were no backups. That showed against Auburn as Arkansas went, for the first time I’ve noticed this season, to a traditional 4-3 defense in hopes of both finding an alternative and slowing the Tigers running game. It didn’t work, either.
The safeties can’t tackle and can’t cover. Josh Liddell, for as smart as he may be, is slower, skinnier and not enough of a ball hawk. Santos Ramirez really wants to pop you, but with his shoulder. He doesn’t use his arms. De’Andre Coley is a hybrid of both, with less of their strengths.
The 543 rushing yards allowed are the most Arkansas has given up. That’s going back through 122 years of football. Just as concerning, going forward this season anyway, is the Razorbacks had only 26 in return.
Rawleigh Williams III entered the game as the SEC’s leading rusher, averaging 112 yards a game. He had 22 against Auburn. Quarterback Austin Allen had the night’s longest run: 11 yards. Devwah Whaley had 11 on 8 carries.
As good as Auburn’s front seven is, those totals are unacceptable. Arkansas’ offensive line, the weakest unit on the entire roster all season — and back to the spring, if you can remember that far — simply cannot sustain blocks against good players. The Tigers had 11 (!!!) tackles behind the line of scrimmage.
Wide receivers are fine, but when Allen doesn’t have time to find them, they’re neutralized to the point of being moot. Allen was sacked 4 times and during the second quarter, he took a hard and awkward shot that tweaked his knee. If the SEC’s leading passer is lost for any significant amount of time, it’s possible Arkansas doesn’t win another game this year.
Still, Arkansas has two more games in Fayetteville and another two against supposedly inferior opponents. Eight wins remain a possibility. Seven is likely, and what I projected before the season began. But six, and even five are possible after Saturday’s disaster.
If what coaches and players say is true — the whole “one game at a time” mantra — then Auburn won’t hold much water going forward. It’s an “L” and nothing more. Plus, with a bye week on tap, there is time to get healthy and focus on figuring out how to fix at least one of the few glaring problems. Just maybe not enough time to reach the now-ridiculous lofty preseason projections we were sold.
Coach Bret Bielema, after weeks of trying to convince himself things were OK, came clean after the game.
“We have a lot to be concerned about at this point.”