Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Keeping Your Enemies Closer: Q n' A with Razorback Expats

So early this week I get an e-mail from John, one of the guys behind the sharp-as-a-tack Arkansas blog Razorback Expats, wondering if I'd like to do one of those newfangled Q n'A exchanges the hip kids are always going on about. Seeing as I'm currently rocking the ex-pat status myself and that we ex-pats have to stick together--though in spirit, mostly, not actual physical proximity, since being flung around all over the place is kind of, you know, the definition of the term--I agreed.

So here's the 10 questions the JCCW sent John's way and the solid-gold answers that came hurtling back. Q's in bold, A's in quotation marks. My 10 A's to their Q's should be along at their place soon UPDATE: are available here.

Without further ado ...

1. Look, we know how this is going to end. Auburn is red-hot and looking like what an SEC contender would look like if not for the whole LSU thing. Arkansas slogged their way past I-AA also-ran UT-Chattanooga and the hourglass looks just a few grains from empty on Nutt's ninth and final life. So McFadden's about to break loose for 493 yards, eight TD's and Auburn will lose to the Hogs by about 60 points as usual. Why do you think this scenario has played out so many times and is there any reason it won't play out again?

"I think I know what you’re going for here … the reverse jinx, right? A very tricky move, but I won’t fall for it! Our best player has bruised ribs, our three best receivers are all out, our QB’s confidence is shot, our defense is leaky, our coaching staff is in turmoil and the fans might storm the field (in a bad way) the first time we run it up the middle for 2 yards on a 3rd and 8. So, I’m sure you guys will do just fine. (trying a little reverse jinx of my own here)." (Why, I have no idea what you're talking about. I've never heard of such an idea. I am shocked--shocked!--to find gambling in this establishment.--ed.)

2. Assuming the outcome isn't perhaps completely pre-ordained, what single non-McFadden Hog's performance is most critical to your team's chances?

"I have to go with the obvious answer here and say Casey Dick. It’s the story of our whole season, really: Hog fans (and coaches) are learning the hard way that even if you have two legendary running backs you’re not going to win a lot of games in the SEC if you can’t at least occasionally complete a forward pass. Now that the initial shock of our floundering season has worn off, I’m considering it a grand experiment in offensive (pun alert!) football. Perhaps a grad student will write a paper about it someday.

Anyway, if Casey can hit a few throws down the field to keep the defense semi-honest (and it is possible…he actually does have his moments) we’ll be in pretty good shape.

Beyond Casey Dick I would say our entire secondary … we’ve had almost as much trouble stopping other teams from completing passes as we’ve had completing them ourselves.

Unfortunately it’s probably too late this season for the NCAA to change college football to a 7-on-7 game where passing is completely against the rules … otherwise we’d be hands-down favorites to win the national championship."

3. You guys' team inexplicably churns out overpowering offensive lines year after year (or, at least, lines that overpower Auburn year after year) despite the fact your coaching staff, no offense, sometimes seems better suited to churning out Blizzards at the local DQ. Who's the anchor on the 2007 o-line and is McFadden and Jones' continued ability to crank out the yardage the first several games because that line is good again, or just because the both of them are superhumans?

"Our center, Jonathan Luigs, is definitely a stud … I’ll even overlook the fact that on the first play of the UT-Chattanooga game last weekend he snapped the ball into the endzone for a safety. And our offensive line in general is solid … they certainly have plenty of run blocking experience by now.

The key fact, though, is that McFadden and Jones are indeed superhumans. You could probably line up five SEC bloggers in front of them and they’d still run for 100 yards each. But they’d surely be a lot more sore after the game …"

4. Putting aside your personal take on the matter, according to your tea leaves is it still possible at all that Nutt can still save his job? Is there any way he loses to Auburn and still saves his job?

"Short answer: no. Longer answer: hell no. I mean, I suppose there’s a one in a million shot that Arkansas will win out, that all the other SEC West teams will take turns beating each other, and that we’ll somehow wind up in the SEC Championship game and win it. Wait, did I say one in a million? Let me change that to one in a billion.

When the history of the Houston Nutt era is written, I think people will look back on this year’s Kentucky game as the straw that broke the camel’s back. If we beat Auburn, that might make people settle down for a short time but I don’t think it will stop the bleeding. If we lose to you guys, that will be five straight SEC losses and will only make things worse, obviously. If we follow that up with a defeat at Ole Miss then the National Guard will probably be called in to airlift Nutt and his family to safety somewhere far, far from Fayetteville.

Just for the record, I’m not a Nutt hater. I mean, like everyone else I think the Hogs would be better off changing coaches (after the season … not during the season or during a game as some would say) but I think the situation is a lot more complex than his more rabid detractors care to admit. For one, he really revived the Razorbacks’ sinking program when he started in 1998, and the Hogs have had some great moments under him. But lately it seems obvious that he’s run his course at Arkansas. More than anything I just feel kind of sad that it’s come to this point … a brutally ugly end seems inevitable."

5. It won't surprise you to learn that the terror of McFadden has me waking up in the middle of the night sweating, to use a time-honored phrase, like a whore on Pentecost. Particularly now that Quentin Groves' reign of horror is sidelined for this week, is there any Auburn player you live in fear of? If not, is there one broader aspect of Auburn's team / stratagems / uniform idiosyncrasies / etc. that does worry you?

"I’m particularly concerned that your coaching staff might deduce (and I hope I’m not giving away any secrets here) that the Hogs will likely run a lot more than they’ll pass, and will thus load up in the box to stifle our attack. Call me crazy, but if they watch enough game film they might figure that one out.

Seriously though, I know you guys have had a lot of injuries, but your defense is always so strong, and I worry that any team that could make the Almighty Tim Tebow (note: sarcasm) look mortal might do really bad things to poor Casey Dick.

One specific player I want to single out is Rodgeriqus Smith. Not that I necessarily live in fear of him (he did make some nice catches against Florida, though) but I just wanted to mention that name. Awesome."

6. D-Mac tosses you the keys to his ride and tells you
to just get it back to him two weeks later in one piece. Where do you go? Who do you take with you? What do you listen to? (And why, of course.)

"Wow, awesome question. It’s funny you should mention it, because D-Mac and I are actually good buddies and he loans me his car all the time.

In this case, Stephen (my fellow Razorback Expat blogger) and I will take the keys right after Thanksgiving dinner. We’ll pick up ex-Hog hoopsters Corliss Williamson, Scotty Thurman and Dwight Stewart and will drive through the night to Baton Rouge, where we’ll commence tailgating in the thick of the LSU fans (who will be rendered speechless by the power and beauty of the car). We then head into the game and watch the Hogs pull off a 44-42 upset for the ages; a win that somehow puts us in the SEC Championship game.

Next, we road trip over to Atlanta for the championship, where we watch the Razorbacks rout Florida, 59-6. Tebow is seen sobbing on the sidelines as early as the 2nd quarter. Finally, we turn northward and head up to NYC to watch D-Mac collect his Heisman from our front row seats. Then we hand back the keys and fly (first class) back to our homes.

During the trip we’ll mostly listen to the play-by-play audio from the Hogs greatest basketball games of the Corliss/Scotty/Dwight era, with an occasional mix of Pavement, the Beatles and circa-1993 Snoop to keep things fresh."

7. Any chance Marcus Monk pulls a surprise return from his recovery monastery and redacts his vow of 2007 silence this week? If not, who is Casey Dick going to be ... well, not passing to so much, but throwing in the generalish direction of most often?

"I would love to be wrong here, but it seems like there’s no way he’ll be back. Our trainer, Dean Weber, apparently has the rare gift of actually making injuries get worse as they go … first we heard that it was a routine injury and that Monk would be fine after the surgery. Then we heard he needed a second surgery. Now we’re hearing that it could be a microfracture injury that would knock him out for the season and beyond. For his own sake, I just hope he gets better eventually and is able to have a decent NFL career.

Monk is a great receiver, but after him we are REALLY thin at that position, and making things worse is the fact that the next best guys on the depth chart, Ben Cleveland, Crosby Tuck and Robert Johnson, are also hurt. Nobody will mistake Casey Dick for Joe Montana, but he certainly doesn’t have a lot of arrows in his quiver at this point.

To answer your question about where Casey will be throwing it, I’ll say (in order):

1. an empty spot on the field five yards in front of the intended receiver
2. an empty spot on the field five yards behind the intended receiver
3. the Auburn defensive backs"

8. Someone--the guy who flies banners over stadiums, whoever he is--decides he's going to let you fly a banner over the stadium Saturday for free. You can put any ol' message you want on it. What do you put on the banner? (and while we're here, what's your take on last Saturday's actual banner?)

"How about 'Visit' … or maybe to really get the fans on our side, 'Houston Nutt hates'. Either way, I suddenly feel drunk with power.

About the banner, I think it’s totally ridiculous and embarrassing. The state gets enough of a bad rap (occasionally deserved – our previous governor lived in a triple wide trailer for some time while in office) without stunts like this. To me, if you ever find yourself in a position where you’re actively raising money to fund an anti-coach banner to be flown over the stadium of your favorite team, you really need to reexamine your priorities in life and maybe get some new hobbies. For some slightly more eloquent thoughts on this, check out my recent post on the subject."

9. Does it tick you off that your defensive coordinator sent his own son (Adam Herring) to go play linebacker at Auburn? I mean, not even just not Arkansas, but an SEC West division rival? 'Cause if Billy Borges (note: not a real person) wound up playing QB for LSU, I'd be pretty steamed, I can tell you that.

"Not really … would you want your son to play for Reggie Herring? (OHHHHH SNAP!--ed.) Ha. Just kidding, that was a cheap shot. I’m more bugged that you guys have at least a couple of contributors – Kodi Burns and Lee Ziemba who are Arkansas natives (unlike Adam Herring). Our state is small enough that we can’t afford to let any good players slip away like that.

About Herring, though, I’d be more upset if our defensive line coach Tracy Rocker sent his son to play for Auburn (hypothetically … his son is in elementary school), because he’d probably be a great player (although I suppose it’d be hard to blame him, given that Rocker and Auburn have a bit of a history together). Hey, does Rocker have any eligibility left? If so, would it be weird for him to suit up against his alma mater for a game?" (Honestly? It's kind of weird enough already. Thank goodness he did use up his eligibility, yes. Though supposedly he's applying or a medical redshirt--ed.)

10. The bottom line: what's the general mood in Hogtown approaching this game and do you find yourself more or less optimistic than the people in line with said general mood?

"The mood is dark. Ugly. Grim. Bitter. Wait, let me get my thesaurus … exorable. It’s not a happy time in Hogland. Our win against you guys last year kicked off a brief glory period that lasted roughly six weeks and now seems like about 10 years ago. Since then it’s been a steady downward spiral with three straight painful losses to end the year and two more to begin this season. That extremely lackluster win against UT-Chattanooga definitely didn’t make anybody feel better.

Of course, I live in California (the whole 'expat' thing) where, somewhat shockingly, Razorback football isn’t exactly watercooler topic #1, so I probably shouldn’t speak for the entire mood of the state. Who knows … it’s possible that there’s a hidden undercurrent of Houston Nutt love that will blossom for all to see this Saturday (but I doubt it).

Personally, I’ve started to make my peace with it all. The Alabama loss hurt pretty bad, but after awhile you get sort of numb (I reserve the right to change my tune here if we eke out another heartbreaking 4th quarter loss). I definitely am not super optimistic about the Auburn game (or more importantly, the rest of the season) but I will admit that the crazy fan in me is still holding out hope that we can pull off something like last year. That feeling will probably grow as we get closer to kickoff time, thus setting me up for the heartbreak mentioned earlier."

Wow, that's ... that's dark, yo. Have to say it's a testament to the cloud that enveloped this program this past off-season that a team that very easily could be 2-0 in the SEC right now (no last-second TD? no snake-eyes roughing the kicker call? That's all it would take) could inspire such pessimism, especially when facing a coach they've gone 4-4 against with repeated blowout upsets in situations very similar to Saturday's. I think there's hope ... but with all due respect to John, Ido fervently hope it doesn't get fulfilled this particular Saturday.

Major, major thanks again to John and Razorback Expats and the JCCW of course wishes the Hogs the best of luck come this weekend.


J.M. said...

I had no idea about the banner flyover in Hawgsville. Things sound dire over there. Great exchange -- I'll be checking for the salvo on the Expats site.

United Method said...

Jerry, your shameless pride at the fiesty spirit of arkansas and the possible implosion of Auburn makes me proud. too bad john saw through your ploy. I guess we'll have to rely on Cox's throwing arm now. w00t!

KennyBanya said...

Enjoyed the Q&A

I don't think some people realize that Arkansas is 3 point favorite in this game.

Regardless of mood, they match up very well with Auburn (a defense built to stop the spread offense) and I would hardly consider it a grand upset. Obviously Vegas agrees.

I think we can win, but our LB's are going to need to play like they weigh 240 instead of the actual 212. Otherwise they will get swallowed by 400lb Hog guards.

One thing that makes me feel good is that this is the most physical secondary we have had since Rogers and Rosegreen (maybe more so).

The deciding factor in the game will be if Etheridge, Brock, Powers, and Lee can keep the big runs in the 8-10 yard range instead of the 15-80 yard range.


I want to wish AU good luck on Saturday. Hopefully we will have a clean, hard fought SEC classic.

Side note: I was at our game in Auburn last year, and its awesome when that eagle does its lap around the stadium.

Oinkville said...

Those ex-pat guys didn't leave Arkansas... we kicked them the hell out.

Joe Blow said...

This is probably the best blog exchange I've seen. Hats off to both of you!

Jerry Hinnen said...

Late in responding to this thread, but a hearty "Good game" to the Hog fans in here. Rare to see a thriller in this series; usually decisive wins one way or the other.

Oinkville, have to say you made a mistake in that case. Those guys can write.

Kenny, great point about physicality of our secondary. Helped a ton vs. UF, too, in holding down YAC.

JB, thanks.