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College Football Weekend Preview: Swirling the Drain in Arkansas

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College Football Weekend Preview: Swirling the Drain in Arkansas

The season hasn't exactly gone according to plan at Arkansas after being ranked No. 10 in the Associated Press preseason poll.

With an experienced quarterback in Tyler Wilson and an NFL-caliber running back in Knile Davis returning to action after missing all of last season to an ankle injury, it was thought Arkansas would be in good shape, relying heavily upon an explosive offense.

And with home dates against both Alabama and LSU in 2012, the schedule makers looked down with fortune upon the Razorbacks, giving them an inside track to winning the SEC West.

Things went spiraling out of control before the season even began, however, when head coach Bobby Petrino got in offseason motorcycle accident, which brought to light an affair he was having with a young athletic department assistant and former Arkansas volleyball player.

Forced to fire Bobby Petrino, the university hired the enigmatic ex-Michigan State coach John L. Smith, which has turned out to be disastrous.

After back-to-back losses, first to the Sun Belt's Louisiana-Monroe in overtime and then to Alabama at home 52-0, Smith began a now infamous press conference by demanding the assembled media to smile.

That was after Wilson made headlines by calling out his teammates in front of the media following the Alabama game saying the Razorbacks "gave up." Wilson did not play because of a concussion suffered the previous week.

Since that time, Arkansas has lost back-to-back games to Rutgers and Texas A&M and now sits with a 1-4 overall record and 0-2 in SEC play. Its only win was in the season opener over an FCS opponent, Jacksonville State.

Brett Goode––the Packers long snapper, a Super Bowl champion in 2010 and a former Arkansas player––didn't mince words in an interview this week on Cheesehead TV's own Railbird Central when he gave Smith a vote of no-confidence.

"The season is not all lost yet," said Goode. "They're still able to kind of resurrect the outcome of the rest of the season if they're able to come together as a team, and that's going to be on the seniors. It doesn't look like the coaching staff is going to help them out in that aspect, so I'm putting all the onus on the seniors of that class being able to come out and hopefully resurrect it and have more wins to finish the season than they had to start it."

Asked if Arkansas should retain Smith as head coach, Goode said, "I don't think so. It's a tough decision, but I don't think the leadership is there from him. I think it's too much of a distraction. I think they've had enough distraction since what happened to Bobby Petrino, and I think it's time for him to kind of step down and let the other coaches and players take over the program, because you definitely don't need any more distractions than you have to deal with, and he's adding a few more distractions than we need."

Goode was far from taking a wait-and-see approach. Those were some strong words from someone close to the program.

Arkansas begins a four-game stretch beginning this week with a road date at Auburn followed by three consecutive home games against Kentucky, Mississippi and Tulsa, all very winnable games.

If the Razorbacks can make up some ground over the course of the next month, there's an opportunity to bring some respectability back to Fayetteville. If not, John L. Smith could and likely will be fired before the end of the season.

 

Where College Gameday Is At

The ESPN College Gameday crew is in Columbia, S.C. for matchup between a pair of unbeaten teams, fifth-ranked Georgia and sixth-ranked South Carolina. It's an SEC East showdown where the winner will get an upper hand at representing the division in the conference championship game.

Over the past couple seasons the West has gained a reputation as the better division in the SEC as Alabama and Auburn have combined to win the past three national championships, but the East is having a renaissance of sorts this season.

Along with Georgia and South Carolina, Florida is also unbeaten and the winner might provide the West with its toughest challenge since Tim Tebow left for the NFL.

While the records of both the Bulldogs and the Gamecocks are unblemished, both will be looking to prove themselves with a little more conviction than they have earlier this season.

Quarterback Aaron Murray has led an efficient Georgia offense, but there are questions about the defense after the Bulldogs gave up 44 points last week to a Tennessee team that has started 0-2 in the SEC this season. Linebacker Jarvis Jones might be the best defensive player in the nation and will be out to make amends on Saturday

South Carolina has yet to have a victory over a ranked team this season, so the jury is still out until they beat someone of national consequence. Quarterback Connor Shaw currently ranks 10th in the nation in passer rating (172.6), which is eclipsed within the SEC only by Murray (third, 183.48).

Prediction: Home-field advantage won't be enough for South Carolina as Georgia imposes its will on the Gamecock defense with a balanced offense and an improved defensive effort from a week ago. Bulldogs win 34-27.

 

The Wisconsin Connection

Wisconsin put together its most complete game of the season last weekend at Nebraska that, unfortunately for the Badgers, ended in defeat.

After a lackluster performance against inferior competition like Northern Iowa, Utah State and UTEP, it certainly was a surprise to see the Badgers take a 14-0 early in the first quarter on the road and lead by as many as 17 midway through the third quarter.

Ultimately, the Wisconsin defense couldn't effectively stop Nebraska quarterback Taylor Martinez either on the ground or through the air, and just as they've done all season, the Badgers running game couldn't get things going with any consistency. While he had 90 yards rushing, Montee Ball averaged just 2.8 yards per carry.

There is hope, in any case, that this might be an improving Badgers team. Wisconsin finally forced some turnovers and got enough good quarterback play from Joel Stave to keep them in the game.

For as disappointing as the season has been, Wisconsin is still capable of accomplishing all of its goals as long as they can take care of business in the Leaders division of the Big Ten, and it starts this weekend against Illinois.

The Badgers host a Fighting Illini team that's just 2-3 on the year and lost its Big Ten opener last week to Penn State. It's possible the Illini are even more flaky than Wisconsin.

Prediction: Wisconsin shows steady improvement and is able to get by Illinois. A win will set up an even more important game the following week against Purdue. Wisconsin wins 35-14.

 

Player Q&A

Photo courtesy of Louisiana Tech athletic department.

This week's exclusive interview is with Louisiana Tech center Stephen Warner whose Bulldogs are 4-0 and is coming off back-to-back wins over Illinois and Virginia.

Question: What did it mean to Louisiana Tech to beat schools from BCS automatic qualifying conferences in back-to-back weeks?

Warner: "It means a lot. ... When I first got here, we weren't a really good road team, and now we've kind of turned into where we're almost better on the road than at home just because of our mindset. Basically, it's an us-against-the-world type of mentality, and it's really helped us in all of our games that we've been playing on the road."

Question: You have another game against a BCS automatic qualifying school next week in Texas A&M. How big will that game be?

Warner: "We know every game is important. When you look at UNLV this week, we have to have all our attention focused on them. As you see every year in college football, any team can beat any team on any given day. We know that. So we're coming into this week with our minds ready and excited to be able to get that chance to get that fifth win. Texas A&M down the road, somebody we would have played at the beginning of the season had it not been for a rescheduling. We're excited to play them, but we're really excited to play this week to get that fifth win."

Question: Give me a preview of the UNLV game this weekend. What are you going to have to do to win?

Warner: "I feel we're really going to have tempo. We say that every week. Our offense is based on our tempo and going fast and wearing the defense down. I feel it's the same this week. I think we really need to go fast, use our run game and our screen game to go to hash to hash and really be able to open up some weak spots on their defense and things like that."

Question: Is there a feeling this team could crash the BCS party this season?

Warner: "I feel like this team has a lot of potential, but potential is only as good as what you make of it. We've got to go into every game thinking about that game and not worry about the BCS or going 12-0 or anything like that. We've got to go in and say, 'This is what we need to do to get better this week. This is what we need to do to win the game this week, and we've got to play this way.' And all that stuff will take care of itself if we just focus every week and then come out prepared to play games and play our best against our opponents. We'll be fine down the road with all that."

Question: I heard you call the cadence for the offense. Why you and not the quarterback?

Warner: "With me being a little bit closer to the O-line, especially in louder stadiums, we feel that it gives us a little bit of an edge on them being able to hear me. And we also feel like it helps us with our tackles on these edge rushers. We feel like when I'm able to give the snap count, it's easier to get defensive ends to almost jump my count, because they can hear me better. So they start to get used to it, and then when they get used to it, we can change it up to a different count and maybe get one of them to jump offsides or be able to get back quicker on them to be able to pick up the pass rush a little bit better."

Question: You made the watch lists for the Lombardi, Outland and Rimington awards. Is it your goal to be a finalist or win one of those?

Warner: "Obviously I'd love to be a finalist for any one of those prestigious awards. Those are great awards and great O-linemen, and I'm in it every year to be a part of one of those awards. Right now I'm just trying to help out team win and play my best. And if my best is to be awarded to be a finalist for one of those awards, I'd be really appreciative of that."

Question: What is your best quality, the absolute best thing you bring to your team?

Warner: "I really feel like one of the best things I bring is my leadership every day. I try to be a good leader vocally both on and off the field. I try to perform well in school and keep my grades up and coming out here every day and working my hardest. Maybe not necessarily yelling and screaming all the time and trying to hype guys up, it's showing with my play, coming out here and going to work every day and not letting the worries of the day affect how I'm playing on the practice field. I'm helping myself get better and the rest of the team get better for that week's game."

 

What Happened Before Saturday

Despite falling behind 14-0 at Utah on Thursday evening, USC rallied for a hard-fought 38-28 victory.

Just more than three minutes into the game, Utah went up 14-0 thanks to two turnovers that involved one of the top center prospects in the nation, Khaled Holmes. Bungled snaps led to the two turnovers and an early lead for the Utes.

Thanks to the quarterback to receiver combination of Matt Barkley to Marqise Lee, however, USC slowly came back for the victory, including an 83-yard hookup for a touchdown in the fourth quarter that extended the Trojans' lead to 10 points.

Barkley finished the evening by completing 23 of 30 passes for 303 yards with three touchdowns and no interceptions while Lee hauled in 12 passes for 192 yards and the one aforementioned score.

With the win, USC improved to 4-1 on the season and 2-1 in conference play while Utah dropped to 2-3 and 0-2. For the Trojans, they're very much still in the hunt to represent the South in the Pac-12 title game but Utes will be hard pressed to even qualify for a bowl game the way their season is going.

***To see which NFL teams are sending scouts to college football games this weekend, check out the website of NFL Draft analyst Chris Steuber.***

Brian Carriveau is the author of “It’s Just a Game: Big League Drama in Small Town America,” a member of the Pro Football Writers of America and an editor at Cheesehead TV. To contact Brian, email carriveau@uwalumni.com.

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