The Arkansas Razorbacks had an open week last week.
I can’t say they enjoyed it. You don’t enjoy much in the midst of a five-game losing streak when almost everybody — players, coaches, fans, media — are questioning everything.
The standing joke is that “Open” entered the week as a four-point favorite.
The cruel part of that is that’s the same standing joke that folks used about Rice in the late Southwest Conference and Vanderbilt and/or Kentucky in the Southeastern Conference.
One fan, who obviously had some sort of epiphany, reasoned on one talk show that the problem is the Hog players are arriving at the game listening to music, maybe the wrong kind. Taking away the earphones before the game might help them play better.
Yes. It has come to that.
A friend approached me the other day saying, “David, I knew this was going to be a tough year, but I had no idea. I just had no idea things were that bad.”
I’m not sure that Bret Bielema and his staff, with only a spring to evaluate players going against each other, knew the full extent of what was left in the cupboard either. Or maybe, by closing most practices, they disguised things and hoped they could coach ‘em up.
A perfect storm of bad developments hit the Razorbacks: A severely challenging schedule of back-to-back games against some of the top teams in the SEC. Former coach Bobby Petrino’s apparent disinterest in recruiting some of the best athletes for defense. A long list of attrition of major recruits from the days of the hard-driving Petrino. Thus, a void of SEC-caliber players at linebacker and in the secondary.
Now, we’ve discovered that the UA receivers are just average or need a lot of development. Quarterback Brandon Allen, whom the coaching staff designated as the clear No. 1 in the spring, may not be a great fit for Bielema’s style of play. And he hasn’t had much help.
UA fans have seen an offense that has appeared helpless and one-dimensional at times, unable to be as versatile as possibly Bielema would like. They’ve seen a defense lacking in fundamentals. Tackling is often about taking the proper angles and the UA defenders either lack the speed, the instincts or are not clear about angles.
The reality has hit UA fans with a cruel slap. This Razorback team going into the open date is not a very good football team.
It’s questionable whether the core issues can be fixed in an open date. It’s questionable whether some issues can be fixed in one recruiting cycle.
Auburn, one of the surprise teams in the SEC, is coming to town this week, likely highly motivated with former UA assistants Gus Malzahn, Tim Horton and other coaches with Arkansas connections on the sideline.
The coaching connections will be part of the discussion, but the real issue is players — and which players on either team will make plays. The reality is the Hogs will be in a dogfight to win any of its remaining games.
This season is a lesson in patience.
But to have patience, Hog fans must have some hope.
The challenge before Bielema and his staff is not necessarily to deliver wins on the short term but hope for the long term.
(Sports columnist David McCollum can be reached at 505-1235 or firstname.lastname@example.org)