1) The hiring of Bret Bielema was met with a good deal of excitement this off season. Has any of that shine wore off or do most Arkansas fans understand this will be a longer term project?
I think that most fans understand that this is a long-term rebuild for Bielema. With that said, however, it's definitely fair to say that he's lost some of his preseason luster. Even rebuilding projects come with first-year expectations, and right now Bielema is failing to meet milestones. Just one SEC win would have bought him a ton of leeway, and he's down to his last game. Against LSU. In Death Valley. Not really a recipe for success.
2) If there's a sliver of hope in Fayetteville, it's that both Jonathan Williams and Alex Collins look great. Can you draw some hope from the fact that they've been productive despite featuring the league's worst passing attacks?
Absolutely. Both Williams and Collins, along with true freshman Korliss Marshall, provide lots to be excited about regarding the running game next season. They each bring something different to the table. Williams is the bull that can will himself to extra yardage, Collins is the slasher who can turn a two-yard-gain (or loss) into 15 or 20, and Marshall is the speedsteer who can take it to the house if he can get to the corner. All that's missing is a minimal passing attack to open things up the tiniest amount.
3) It seemed like Brandon Allen came with at least some positive expectations this season. What's gone wrong? Is it the system or just him not executing?
More than anything, chemistry is probably to blame, and there are several factors playing into that. Allen is under his third offensive coordinator in three years, he has had to deal with an ever-changing lineup of undependable receivers this season due to injury, and last, there certainly seems to be an issue with consistency in playcalling. In short, there is no trust within any one component. Allen doesn't trust his receivers. His receivers don't trust themselves. And Offensive Coordinator Jim Chaney doesn't seem to trust anyone. It's just a total mess.
4) Other than the young RBs, are there other young talents that have Hog fans optimistic for the future?
Lots. Most of the players that are standing out are freshmen. Hunter Henry is a true freshman tight end who creates a matchup nightmare due to his size, speed, and hands. Freshmen offensive linemen Dan Skipper and Denver Kirkland both took over starting roles midseason and have not looked back. On the other side of the ball, freshman tackle Darius Philon and freshman linebacker Brook Ellis have come on strong during the last half of the season. Winning has been elusive, but it cannot be said that there are not impressive young players getting lots of experience for the Razorbacks
5) Defensively, it's been a rough go as well. Chris Smith stands out as a pass rusher, but after that who are your big play makers?
The aforementioned Philon and Ellis are two to keep an eye on. Additionally, end Trey Flowers is a big-play guy on the defensive line. Things get sketchy in the back seven, but Jared Collins and DJ Dean (both freshman) have taken over the starting cornerback roles in recent weeks and have risen the level of secondary play, if only modestly.
6) The Hogs were never an ace recruiting team under Petrino, but did he really leave the cupboards that bare, or is this just a case of his players not fitting into what Bielema is trying to accomplish?
The is definitely an issue with getting performance out of Petrino's players. This is almost certainly a problem of attitude, but it's hard to watch 11 games without coming to the conclusion that some of those guys just flat-out don't have enough talent to play on the level they are playing on. Bielema has never been known as one to pull in highly ranked classes, either, but he puts a ton of guys into The League. With a guy like that, getting "his guys" seems to be paramount to obtaining success. I believe that nearly every standout the Hogs have this season is a true freshman brought on by Bert.
7) Any final thoughts on the game with a prediction?
Let's see, kickoff is at 1:30, so that means I should be dulling the pain with whiskey by 2:00. I just don't see how Arkansas could have any more fight left in them. I'll say 44-17 LSU.
8) Losing 8 straight, well frankly, it sucks. How much moon shine did it take to get through that stretch?
One more card-punch at the liquor store and I get a free pint of Ancient Age.
Thanks for having me, and Woo Pig Sooie!