On an October Saturday when the Florida Gators proved they’re back and the South Carolina Gamecocks showed they’re for real, the Arkansas Razorbacks made their own statement.
These Hogs are not just going to hang it up and quit.
Granted, Auburn might be as far away from Tuscaloosa as it is Hong Kong right now. But the Tigers did play Clemson within seven points and LSU within two. They’re an SEC West power two years removed from a national title.
And they were at home at Jordan-Hare Stadium, a place where they win about 80 percent of the time.
Arkansas is not exactly the same team it was a week earlier. No, Saturday’s final score of Arkansas 24, Auburn 7 showed that the Razorbacks have, indeed, made a few strides – albeit painful ones forced by necessity.
It started with the coaching staff.
Offensive coordinator Paul Petrino moved upstairs to the booth for the first time all season and might have called his best game of 2012. Defensive coordinator Paul Haynes let go of a bend-but-don’t-break philosophy that hasn’t worked, and he turned the Hogs loose. Knile Davis, one of the most respected players on the team, was benched in favor of two running backs that have shown more than he has.
The moves showed up on Pat Dye Field.
Tyler Wilson was turnover-free, which he hadn’t been this year in his three games against FBS opponents. Trey Flowers, playing with a chip on his shoulder in his home state, led a defensive charge that produced eight sacks, while the battered defense found a way to produce not one takeaway, but an almost unimaginable five. And with Davis spending most of the game on the sideline, Dennis Johnson and Jonathan Williams ran for a combined 110 yards and two touchdowns and averaged 4.8 yards per carry.
Those are the numbers you need to win SEC road games.
Now, the Hogs (2-4, 1-2 SEC) return to Fayetteville with at least a little of the stain removed from their previous two conference games, and they face a Kentucky team that is struggling, to put it mildly.
The Wildcats (1-5, 0-3) lost to Mississippi State 27-14 on Saturday in Lexington, but the perhaps the worst news for Kentucky is that it also lost one of its quarterbacks of the future – one who was pressed into action because of a likely season-ending injury to the starter.
With Maxwell Smith out, Kentucky went with a two-QB rotation with true freshmen Jalen Whitlow and Patrick Towels. Towels lasted less than one half before injuring his right ankle. He spent the second half on the sideline wearing a protective boot and on crutches.
The Hogs, who have dealt with injuries to several star players, can certainly feel their pain.
The latest blow for the Hogs: Senior starting middle linebacker Alonzo Highsmith suffered a lower leg injury against Auburn in the first half and did not return to the game. He also spent the second half on the sideline wearing a protective boot. Coach John L. Smith didn’t divulge any details about the injury after the game, but said it’s “not good.”
There hasn’t been much good happen for the UA in a season derailed by Bobby Petrino’s motorcycle wreck. The Auburn game certainly wasn’t perfect.
But there was plenty to be happy about Saturday.
The Hogs’ hearts are beating, and they're still battling.