This time last week, the Louisiana-Monroe Warhawks were supposed to be an easy stepping-stone to a wonderfully electrical, high-profile showdown against Alabama.
Markham Street, home of miracles, is not supposed to turn into nightmarish Elm Street.
Reality struck Saturday night.
Cynicism, with hurricane-force wins, has blown optimism away, replacing it with a chilling cold front after the Warhawks’ 34-31 victory in overtime, rallying from a 28-7 deficit in the second half.
What unnerved the state was this was no fluke. ULM was the best team, the dominating team the second half. Put on neutral uniforms and I’m not sure the Warhawks (particularly with a terrible kicking game) looked entirely like the SEC team, but the Hogs surely looked like the Sun Belt team in the second half.
And that whoosing sound you’ve heard for two days in the air of optimism sucking out of an energized fan base, originally stuffed with dreams of championships and Heisman Trophies. The Hogs now go into the game against Alabama bruised and battered, mentally and physically, with its their fan base drained of confidence and energy, replaced with barrels or frustration and rage. It’s now both a fragile team and fan base.
• The Hogs do not have a championship-caliber Southeastern Conference defense. A plugger of a quarterback (Kolton Browing), with floating, high-arcing passes and nice scrambling ability gave them fits. The UA defenders didn’t play play with their eyes, took poor angles to the ball and made all kinds of fundamental mistakes. Some of the defensive woes reflect priorities in recruiting. University of Central Arkansas coach Clint Conque and his staff quickly realized the importance of putting many of their best athletes on defense very quickly after seeing the athleticism in the Southland Conference.
• Paul Petrino does not seem to have the play-calling instincts, particularly for on-field adjustments as his brother, Bobby.
• Note to Hog fans: It was the hire that did Bobby Petrino in, not the affair.
• If the Hog offensive line can’t protect its franchise quarterback, Tyler Wilson, and open holes for Knile Davis against a Sun Belt team, it doesn’t bode well for the rest of the season.
• The UA doesn’t have the receiving corps it had a year ago.
• Is Tyler Wilson, in essence, really the interim coach, particularly as far as leadership?
• The Razorbacks, particularly if they get pounded by Alabama or are without Wilson for any length of time, are vulnerable to almost any team on the schedule.
• It was a bad night all around for the UA: Some of the fans, with a loss of perspective, embarrassed themselves by reportly sending insulting and disgusting tweets to players; coach John L. Smith didn’t do the tradtional postgame handshake with ULM coach Todd Berry (he says he couldn’t find him) and UA officials and the athletic training staff made national laughingstocks of themselves with such silliness as referring to head injuries as “above-the-shoulder injuries.” Will we soon hear of “below the earlobe injuries” for a neck or shoulder? Or “above the wrist but below the elbow injury” for a broken arm? Or an “above the foot” injury for a broken leg?
UA fans, coaches and officials made Saturday night a feast for feeding Murphy’s Law. Fans are even ranting about losing ESPN’s “GameDay” this weekend.
What followed was the typical, cliche and expected reaction from the coaches, “We’ve just got to go to work and get better.”
The lingering question is how much better can this team get?
After two games, it doesn’t look like an SEC contender. Some now question whether the Hogs could even win the Sun Belt.
Sports columnist David McCollum can be reached at 505-1235 or firstname.lastname@example.org