Arkansas played a home game in the state of Texas Saturday.
As odd as that might sound, the Southwest Classic, a throwback to the old Southwest Conference days, is always a focal point on the Razorback schedule. The rivalry with the Aggies dates back to 1903 with Arkansas holding a 41-28-3 lead in the series.
With the game being held in Arlington at AT&T stadium, it gives both teams a chance to play in a major market venue, with a slight nod to Arkansas’ favor, being from out of state and the facility owned by former Razorback Jerry Jones. This game had a recorded attendance of 67,339, a significant number of fans for a neutral site game.
The game was highly contested, and Arkansas was able to move the ball at will, especially early. Once again, Arkansas dominated the play clock almost 2 to 1, had a back go for over 150 yards in Alex Collins, and still managed to lose in overtime. The stats can be found most everywhere, but here is a quick rundown.
Arkansas led in total offense 457 to 423, rushing yards 232 to 65, and first downs 25 to 17. The Hogs held the daunted Aggie defensive line in check for most of the game, but allowed their first two sacks of the season. Arkansas seemed to have the game in hand with about eight minutes to go. Again, they seemed to find a way to miss opportunities that should be automatic. We again saw the pattern of Brandon Allen missing a wide open receiver short at a clutch moment in the game. This team is good, but defensively they put the pressure on the offense to cover for them.
The secondary for the Hogs had a rough day. The Aggies scored late on complete blown coverage. It has become a trend for this group. However, the move of Brooks Ellis back to the middle at the Mike Linebacker was significant. Though the defense gave up large plays in passing game, the middle of the field appeared to not be the issue. Again, tackling on the outside allowing for yards after catch turned ugly. It was eventually the deciding factor in the game.
Blame is being focused on Coaching and on Quarterback Brandon Allen, yet his numbers are among the best in the conference. He set the mark at AT&T Stadium for an FBS program with a completion percentage of 80 percent. If there is one issue, it is that once per game he will miss the open receiver on a big play. It has happened every week, and may in the future. However, if your team is controlling the time of possession, your running backs are gaining massive yardage, one throw a game is not the difference between 1-3 and 4-0. The next man up at receiver, Drew Morgan had 155 yards on 8 receptions. his performance was impressive in the void left from several injuries. The problems are on the defensive side of the ball, and those players took it personally. They were the last to leave the field. Say what you will about Beilema, he didn't rush those heartbroken players from the field. He let them feel losing on big stage. He stood and waited for the last player to exit, followed them in, and went to his press conference. He was dejected, stating he was “tired of getting a pat on the back.” Again, a game they felt they should have won was gone. On possibly the largest stage in the sport, they blew a late lead and lost in overtime. They lost in overtime for the second straight year in the Southwest Classic. It should sting. However, looking at the losses though the eyes of today, this team is still not far away. It needs to improve pass defense tremendously. When that happens, they can beat anyone. Until then, they can be beat by anyone.
The story from Saturday is not just another loss. It is the process. It is the next man up mentality this team is adopting. It is the leaders that are being developed, which was witnessed by the fact Jonathan Williams, the much heralded running back lost for the season, made his way to the field to encourage a banged up Alex Collins heading to overtime. They are becoming a team. They have some potential. Before the season is over, they will beat someone they were not expected to. At this point, bowl eligibility is the focus, and it will not be an easy route. The fan base may be frustrated, but they will follow improvement, and that is just what they saw on Saturday. Improvement, to the point they feel they should have won against a ranked opponent. They now begin a series of tough road games, starting next week in Tennessee.
@jamievarnell (Twitter and Periscope)