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September 19, 2018

Impact of CSU loss unknown

This article was published September 10, 2018 at 4:00 a.m.

Historically, early-season upset losses like Arkansas just suffered can define an entire season's outcome.

The 13-point favorites of the mighty Southeastern Conference led, 27-9, with 7:28 left in the third quarter and netted 299 yards rushing. Yet, they lost, 34-27, to the previously 0-2 Colorado State Rams of the Mountain West Saturday night in Fort Collins, Colo.

Certainly, the then No. 8 Razorbacks losing their second game of 2012 in Little Rock to decided underdog Louisiana-Monroe comes to mind. Those Hogs of interim coach John L. Smith skidded to a 4-8 record, all but officially changing Smith's interim tag to begone at season's end to lame duck the instant that Louisiana-Monroe won in overtime.

Arkansas fans recall coach Jack Crowe's one and done 1992 with the third-year head coach fired the day after the season-opening 10-3 upset loss to The Citadel.

And while they closed rather than opened a season, the Missouri meltdown and Belk Bowl blunders that coach Bret Bielema's 2016 Razorbacks suffered, losing 24-7 and 24-0 halftime leads at Missouri and in the Belk Bowl to Virginia Tech, caused a hangover from which the Bielema regime never recovered in its 4-8 overall/1-7 in the SEC swan song of 2017.

However, the Razorbacks have rebounded from similar defeats. It was all doom and gloom for Danny Ford's 1995 Razorbacks opening losing to underdog SMU. Then they won the next four, including at Alabama, en route to winning the SEC West championship.

Even that 3-7-1 1992 team that Crowe coached for a game would, under interim coach Joe Kines, rout South Carolina the next week in Columbia, S.C., and later stun then unbeaten Tennessee in Knoxville, Tenn.

Only two games into this young season, the first was a 55-20 victory in Fayetteville over lower division Eastern Illinois, there's obviously still time for new coach Chad Morris to right this ship.

However it's also possible this Arkansas ship just hit the football season equivalent of the Titanic's iceberg.

Given the short stick of inheriting a 4-8 team, most presumed that for a relatively realistic goal of a 6-6 minimum to qualify for a bowl game, these Razorbacks must win their four non-conference games and somehow eke out two SEC wins.

Maybe Vanderbilt in Fayetteville and in Little Rock the Ole Miss Rebels they edged last year in Oxford, Miss.

Oh, yeah. And maybe even a long shot over those Texas A&M Aggies that have beaten Arkansas every year since joining their old Southwest Conference rival in the SEC in 2012.

Now, an 0-3 SEC start seems likely. The Aggies just played No. 2 Clemson to the wire in a 28-26 loss. On Sept. 29 in Arlington, Texas, they are sandwiched on Arkansas' SEC schedule between No. 7 Auburn and No. 1 Alabama.

Reeling off the Colorado State loss and beset by a 2-0 North Texas Mean Green team of Conference USA quarterbacked by the nationally acclaimed Morris Fine, these Hogs even in Fayetteville this coming Saturday have no guarantees for their final non-conference game other than Tulsa's Oct. 20 visit.

Morris knows the opportunity lost in Fort Collins. And while appropriately giving the Rams, and especially their quarterback K.J. Carta-Samuels and superb receiver Preston Williams credit, Morris said he and his Razorbacks players and coaches must "take a look in the mirror" reflecting on what went wrong and make good his postgame vow that "we're going to get this fixed."

One rueful look may include, even though punting the Rams back to their four, Morris not going for it on fourth and inches starting the fourth quarter at the 50 behind a rushing attack that Colorado State had not stopped.

As Arkansas punted, it seemed the Rams sensed the Hogs had become more afraid of losing than confident of winning. They responded accordingly. Coach Mike Bobo's Rams mounted a 96-yard touchdown drive to close the score to down just 27-24.

"Looking back on it, you almost wish I would have went for it on fourth down," Morris said. "We were back and forth on the headsets. Because they were creating some momentum; didn't want to give them a short field."

It should have worked given the Arkansas defense' first half success and Colorado State's poor field position.

Despite the regime change, winning isn't yet a habit for these Hogs. They wallow 3-11 against their last 14 Football Bowl Subdivision opponents starting with the Missouri meltdown and Belk Bowl blunders in 2016.

Sports on 09/10/2018
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