Friday, October 10, 2008

Special Guest Enemy: Razorback Expats

More Franklin stuff coming up soon, I promise, but Auburn does have an opponent to flail about against on Saturday. So it's Q&A time, this time with John and Stephen of the essential Arkansas blog Razorback Expats. As an expat myself, there's a certain kinship there, a kinship that's only gotten stronger as the Hogs have thrashed about like a dying fish in the first few games of the Bobby Petrino era. Auburn misery, like all misery, loves company, and like last year I'm more than glad to have the, uh, company of their answers below. As always, my Q's are in bold, their A's in quotes. Enjoy.

1. So how much hair do you have left after pulling out what I'm assuming is the majority of it during the Hogs' fourth consecutive trip (or so) inside Florida territory with no points last week? More seriously--what do the Hogs have to do to stop wasting drives?

"*Sigh* At this point in the season, we look something like this (minus the groovy earring).

Actually, one small benefit of having a terrible year is that after a few blowout losses in a row you tend not to get quite so worked up about this sort of thing. If we had McFadden and Jones and that Florida game were for, say, the SEC championship then we probably would have checked ourselves into a mental hospital by now. Instead, we've reached a much more zen state of's quite relaxing, actually (although we'd sacrifice a bit of our sanity to root for a relevant team).

To answer your real question, though, the Hogs need to stop shooting themselves in the foot. All season long, they've shown brief flashes of competence (or better), only to throw it away with an ill-timed penalty, turnover, dropped pass, etc. Execution is not our strong suit right now."

2. With the current brouhaha over Tony Franklin allegedly never being able to run "his" offense, you're required to tell me your honest reaction to Gus Malzahn racking up the points pinball-style over at Tulsa. Because it's quite possible we Auburn fans are going to see the same thing happen with Franklin in a couple of seasons.

"Honestly, we don't think about Gus Malzahn very much these days. So much water has passed under the bridge since that mess that it feels like it was about 10 years ago. Along with most Razorback fans, we feel pretty confident that the famed Bobby Petrino offense will kick in at some point (although probably not this year) so we don't feel too regretful about Malzahn not being in Fayetteville anymore. That whole situation was so divisive to the state and the fan base that it's probably best that we're starting over with a clean slate, anyway.

We were both pretty moderate about that whole Malzahn/Nutt/Mustain, etc. seemed like there was plenty of inappropriate behavior to go around on all sides, and we didn't get as worked up about it as many did. We generally wish Gus the best at Tulsa, although we're a bit concerned he might try to hang 100 on the Hogs when they play in a few weeks."

3. What's the mood like in the Hog fanbase at the moment? I'm imagining that everyone was prepared for a down year, but that "survive Western Illinois and ULM in late comebacks, then get annihilated by Alabama and Texas" wasn't exactly what folks had in mind, either.

"Yeah, we didn't exactly plan for a dramatic comeback against ULM to be the highlight of the season. Before the games actually started, there was a lot of optimism about how things might go (to the point of being a bit crazy) and people were feeling like the Hogs would really surprise some people.

But, since then I think people have, for the most part, readjusted their expectations and are prepared to lose a lot more games, if not (gulp) all of them (it still hurts to type that). We've read a few grumblings about Petrino here and there, but for the most part people are still very excited and optimistic about the future. Our team is super young this year, so they'll improve, and with Ryan Mallett coming in at QB there's reason to feel good about the future. When people do complain, it tends to be about Houston Nutt leaving the cupboard pretty bare (he apparently stopped recruiting around, say, 2005).

(Full disclosure: we have to admit that we predicted six wins this season. We were so much younger then.)"

4. So no Nutt, no D-Mac, no Springfield Mafia, no Theresa Prewett .... all that seems to be left over from the old days are the Casey Dick jokes. Do you like having your program finally returned to sanity or do you miss EDSBS (GIGGITY! [/obligatory]) posting about you, say, twice a week?

"Houston Nutt is a blogger's best friend, for sure, so on that level his absence makes our job at Razorback Expats is a little harder (although we really lucked out having him land at Ole Miss). If nothing else, the Arkansas football program has been extremely interesting over the last few years.

But, as fans we mainly just want to win, and if that means having a cold-blooded, shark-eyed coach who doesn't gesticulate wildly on the sidelines, we're ok with the tradeoff. (Although who doesn't love that now-legendary picture of Houston Dale praying on the sidelines at the end of our ultra-painful loss to Bama last year?)

However, we do miss D-Mac immensely. Man, that guy was fun to watch ... don't even get us started. I know we don't have to explain to you, because I'm sure Auburn fans felt the same way after Bo Jackson left ... they were both once in a lifetime players. (Wait ... Bo left?--ed.)"

5. What's been most encouraging about the start of the Bobby Petrino era? What's been least encouraging?

"Well, the most encouraging thing is that he hasn't left yet (JOKE) (and a damn good one at that, LOLZ.--ed.).

Seriously though, although he took the job fairly late in the recruiting season he managed to grab a pretty decent haul of young players. Some in-state blue chippers who had committed to schools like USC came back into the fold, and we certainly never would have gotten a player like Mallett with Nutt at the helm. Also, he's brought an overall level of organization and professionalism to the program that we haven't been used to seeing. As noted earlier, we're still pretty optimistic that this will all pay off eventually.

A discouraging thing is that some of the players just don't seem to be playing all that hard. One thing about the Nutt era is that even when his teams sucked they came right at you. Some of the guys this year aren't doing that ... minor details like tackling just aren't being done very well right now. Whether it's a matter of Nutt's guys not buying into the new system or what we can't really say, but it's a little disconcerting."

6. Auburn's offense colliding with the Arkansas defense seems to be the "resistable force meets movable object" clash to end all resistable force meets movable object clashes. Assuming Arkansas has to "try" to take away something from the Auburn offense--the Tigers may do a bang-up job on their own--what are they going to focus on stopping and do you see them having any success?

"Defensive coordinator Willy Robinson very rudely hasn't returned our calls seeking comment on his exact game plan. But, if the Hogs' season is any indication, if he concentrates on stopping the run, he will a) ensure a big day for the Auburn QB and b) not stop the run. And if he concentrates on stopping the pass ... well, you get the picture.

In fairness, Arkansas' defense did look a little better against Florida, keeping the Hogs within striking distance well into the third quarter. Unfortunately, the roof caved in during the fourth quarter and when all was said and done, Florida had racked up 514 yards of total offense, split almost evenly between rushing and passing.

Statistically speaking, Arkansas has looked worse against the run, yielding 208.4 rushing yards a game compared to 179.6 passing yards a game. Still, any type of offense is capable of having a huge day against the Hogs (A theory the Nallsminger offense will strenuously put the test, no doubt--ed.)."

7. After years of dynamic Hogs at the skill slots--Jones, D-Mac, Monk, etc.--the Arkansas skill guys this year seem fairly anonymous aside from Dick, who we're all familiar with. (*insert joke of choice regarding "yo mama" here*). Break 'em down for us.

"Casey Dick started out well, throwing for 318 yards and 323 yards in the Hogs' first two games. Granted, the opponents – Western Illinois and Louisiana Monroe – weren’t exactly Top 10 quality. Still, this is a guy who had never thrown for more than 228 yards in a single game before this year. He looked downright awful against Alabama and Texas, and was respectable against the Gators, throwing for 220 yards and completing 24 of his 38 passes.

Emerging out from under the considerable shadows of McFadden and Jones, junior RB Michael Smith has had a nice year. He has a tendency to get suspended for a game here or there, but when he's on the field, he's good. So far, he's averaging just over 100 yards of rushing per game. He's on the smallish side, which leads to some concerns about his durability.

As for receivers, sophomore tight end D.J. Williams has had some nice moments, hauling in 124 receiving yards and two touchdown passes against Louisiana-Monroe, for instance. And freshman receiver Joe Adams turned in some nice work against the Gators.

Overall, though, the Hogs' offense is very young and has been way too prone to costly dropped passes and other ill-timed mistakes. We doubt your defensive coordinator is waking up with night sweats this week."

8. Auburn's had some giant problems on special teams the last few weeks, but it looks like Petrino's not going to let your kicker take any FG longer than a chip shot. And no more Jones. Could Auburn actually win this week's special teams matchup?

"Giant problems the last few weeks!?! Arkansas has had giant special teams problems the last few years!! We'd say it's extremely likely that Auburn will win this matchup.

Sophomore kicker Alex Tejada has been to field goal kicking what Rick Ankiel was to pitching. Successful point-after attempts are cause for raucous, drunken celebrations among Hog fans these days. By almost every measuring stick, special teams play has been woeful this year - although fairness compels us to point out that Dennis Johnson has been pretty solid on kick returns (he's had a lot of practice)."

9. Even on the road, this looks like easily the most "winnable" game of the last four for the Hogs. What are the expectations? Will anything other than a win be acceptable?

"We would say that the fans' expectations are pretty low at this point. Ours certainly are. This is a rebuilding year, no way around it. Any Hog fan who is demanding that this team notch a road SEC win against a top 20 team should seek professional help right away (although, as noted in our answer to question #3, Arkansas fans are not always known for having a firm grasp on reality).

As for what's acceptable against Auburn, we would like to outscore either your offense or defense. Outscoring both of them combined is more than we can really hope for, but if our offense can score more points than your defense does then that will be a small moral victory."

10. Aaaaaand finally, this game is going to mean a little bit extra to Tuberville because of the whole, you know, Petrino thing. Does it mean anything in particular, do you think, for Petrino?

"Who knows? We thought the thermonuclear blast of media outrage that was released when he left the Falcons for Arkansas was completely over the top, but we'll be the first to admit that he's probably not the nicest guy in the world and that he radiates all of the warmth of HAL 9000. Whether that means he's looking to stick it to Tuberville or whether he even remembers interviewing for the job, we have no idea."

Thanks again to John and Stephen for their insight and the JCCW does recommend, as always, their work at Razorback Expats.

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