When the game time for Arkansas was announced late last weekend, I had a mind to put up a short post linking to previous early-kickoff debacles against the Razorbacks. I never had the time to go chase down the links (last week was exceptionally busy in the real world), but it would have looked something like this:
I could try and be cool here and rant about how I don't get how this keeps happening, but the truth is really pretty plain: Auburn just doesn't take playing lightly-regarded Arkansas teams seriously, and as you can see by perusing the above links (to which I could have added 1992 and 1995, even though the latter wasn't a day game), the results of that casual disdain are usually pretty ugly.
Arkansas 2009 was fundamentally no different from those embarrassments of years past. Auburn sauntered in to an early-kickoff game against an SEC opponent (in this case, on the road to boot), played uninspired, lackadaisical ball, and got killed.
Give all the credit where it's deserved: Arkansas had its act together on Saturday. They had a great game plan and they executed it well. Ryan Mallett, bereft of the pressure that had hounded him in a couple of bad outings, played like the NFL prospect he's so highly touted to be, and his receivers caught everything in their time zones. Better still for the Hogs, their defense completely stifled Auburn in the first half, and the successful passing game along with the big lead let the running game get on track for really the first time this season. It was as complete a win as you're likely to see.
Auburn, on the other hand, seemed to be looking for ways to screw up, and the Tigers generally found what they were looking for. Neither line played worth a damn; Chris Todd rarely had time to throw, and in the first half none of the backs had holes to run through. The defense took a huge step backwards in general. There was no pass rush to speak of, tackling was lousy again after showing marked improvement against Tennessee, and the secondary drew more pass intereference calls than I care to remember (some of them were even deserved).
Watching Auburn play Saturday was like a live demonstration of Murphy's Law: every dumb thing that could happen, did. Critical fumbles, stupid penalties, blown assignments. The two most productive players on the offense, Todd and Ben Tate, both blew plays that could have put the Tigers back in the game: Todd overthrew a nobody-near-him Terrell Zackery in the first half, and Tate fumbled inside the five in the third quarter.
The game was a gigantic misfire for the new coaching staff. No team as young and thin as Auburn has any business taking an SEC opponent lightly, and it was up to the coaches to get the team ready to play with intensity. Suffice to say, that didn't happen.
That's not to bury Gene Chizik and his staff just half-a-dozen games into their tenure. There isn't a coach in the world who hasn't had the same problem; Auburn's previous regime was rather infamous for it. The real question is whether the staff and the team will be able to learn from the loss, and have the ability to not repeat the same mistakes again.
I've heard more than a bit of grousing directed at defensive coordinator Ted Roof. While Roof certainly doesn't deserve a pass for what turned out to be a very poor game plan, it ought to be recalled that the guy really doesn't have a lot to work with this year. Auburn is way short of a solid two-deep on defense, and in terms of legitimate SEC players, the numbers are probably even worse than that. Roof had been doing a pretty fair job of working with mirrors to date; some of those mirrors are now just glittering shards on the fake turf of Razorback Stadium. It's going to be a serious challenge for Roof and his boss to patch things up for the rest of the season.