The last time the college football world saw the Arkansas Razorbacks play on an autumnal Saturday, Woo Pig Sooie was sauteed.
The Hogs were roasted over an open fire pit by Auburn in a 56-3 game which brought a niagara of humiliation pouring down on Bret Bielema. What made the slaughter that much more complete — and completely unbearable from an Arkansas fan’s perspective — is that Auburn didn’t even need to throw the ball. The Tigers didn’t hit 90 yards passing in that contest. They simply reared back and punched the Razorbacks in the mouth, again and again and again. The depleted, worn-down state of the Arkansas roster — especially in the trenches — made it easy to dismiss BERT and his boys.
It’s amazing what a bye week will do.
It’s true that a bye week — the lack thereof heading into the Auburn game, and the ownership of it before this past Saturday’s Florida game — mattered a good deal for Arkansas. If one was to inquire what a fresher, healthier, more physical team looked like, the Razorbacks offered convincing evidence on Saturday. They were a reborn team, a group completely different from the hollow shells which shuffled through a 53-point loss against an Auburn team which — by the way — had trouble puncturing Vanderbilt’s defense at home on Saturday.
Yet, for all the powers of rest and recuperation, Florida was not exactly a tired team heading into this game. The Gators’ postponement of the LSU game and a scheduled bye week before the Cocktail Party against Georgia meant they had played just two games the previous month. Coach Jim McElwain had plenty of time to polish his game plan and install all sorts of goodies to confound the Arkansas brain trust. Gator quarterback Luke Del Rio, able to survive Georgia, presumably shook off a measure of rust. He did not enter Fayetteville, Arkansas, without recent game action upon his return to the lineup.
Arkansas was empowered by a week off, but Florida had no particularly good or evident reason to fall flat on its face. Yet — and this does not diminish the Hogs’ magnificent performance one bit — that’s exactly what happened.
Florida didn’t merely get beaten. The Gators’ offense didn’t score a single touchdown while giving one up. The final score was 31-10 for Arkansas, but with each team snaring a pick-six, the offensive score was 24-3. Viewed strictly from the vantage point of both offenses, Arkansas’ offense scored a net of 17 points — 24 scored, 7 allowed. Florida? Minus-4 points: 3 scored, 7 allowed.
This was the team leading the SEC East? This was the team which easily outclassed Georgia and Kentucky (though not the team which is now likely to win the division, Tennessee)?
We’re going to learn a lot more about Arkansas this upcoming Saturday against LSU. If the Hogs punk the Bayou Bengals, we’ll be able to look at this game versus Florida as a true turning point in UA’s season. Until then, however, this game stands out more as a reflection on the SEC East.
When Texas A&M lost to Mississippi State earlier on Saturday, the outcome revealed how low the SEC West’s ceiling is. This game was an indication of how low the SEC East’s floor is. In that sense, this is a “bookend” result.
Arkansas — revived on both lines, especially on defense — did exactly what it had to do and should be commended for the kind of steady performance Bielema has generated in Fayetteville in previous Novembers. Yet, one can acknowledge that point and view Florida’s feeble effort with great disapproval. The idea that Arkansas was going to play better should have been expected. The idea that the Arkansas defense — torched for 56 points by Auburn — was good enough to limit the Gator offense to three points is something which should be entirely unacceptable to McElwain and offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier.
The SEC West thumped the SEC East — it’s not so much a verdict on the West, but an indication of how far the East has fallen.