LITTLE ROCK — Less than a week from Arkansas’ opener, there is a question mark involved for the first time in 11 years.
The Razorbacks were the clear choice vs. Tulsa, New Mexico State, Missouri State, Troy, Western Illinois, Tennessee Tech, and Jacksonville State. Picking USC over Arkansas in 2006 was equally easy.
The Trojans had routed Arkansas in Los Angeles the previous year, knocking out 246 yards on their first eight plays and racking up 28 points in a total of 92 seconds. The column published the morning of the 2006 game said that if quarterback John Booty was proficient and the USC defense was what it was supposed to be, the Trojans probably win by 10-14 points.
The final was 50-14.
Arkansas vs. Louisiana-Lafayette next Saturday is up in the air because of circumstances on both sides:
—The Ragin’ Cajuns have a proven quarterback in Terrance Broadway and a close call on the road against once-beaten Florida in front of almost 87,000 says they won’t be intimidated by a hog-calling crowd in Fayetteville.
—Arkansas is breaking in quarterback Brandon Allen, plus there are other questions at the skill positions on offense, and a revolving door at linebacker.
Both Broadway and the 27-20 loss to the Gators deserve a closer look.
ULL’s quarterback at the start of 2012, Blaine Gautier was injured in the second game of the season and sidelined for the season after the fifth game. Through the first five games, Broadway was 45-of-77 and 135 yards rushing. After that, he was good on 161-of-238 and ran for 634 yards. In seven of those eight games, he completed 63.4 to 71.9 percent.
Broadway’s ability to throw and run is of particular concern considering Arkansas’ state of flux at linebacker. Recently, linebacker coach Randy Shannon explained a variety of position moves by saying that everybody wants to know who is first team and who is second team, but the point is to get the best players on the field. “We may have a weak side linebacker and the guy on the strong side is not doing well so we move that guy,” he said. “We don’t develop a depth chart. We develop bodies and people that can help us win.”
ULL’s loss at Gainesville was not one of those games where a big underdog scores late to make the game appear competitive. The first paragraph of The AP story said: “Florida players jumped around on the sideline, then rushed the field in celebration.”
The Cajuns put together two 77-yard scoring drives in the second half against a defense that was No. 5 in the country and scored 17 unanswered points to take a 20-13 lead. The Gators needed a 39-yard pass to set up the tying touchdown with 1:42 to play. With 13 seconds remaining, ULL was waiting on overtime when Will Muschamp called time, forcing a punt. Florida cornerback Loucheiz Purifoy got his right hand on the kick and Jelani Jenkins returned it 36 yards for the victory.
“Anytime you see the seventh-ranked team in the country storm the field like they won the Super Bowl to beat you, you know you’re doing some good things,” said ULL coach Mark Hudspeth, whose name came up regularly last year when Arkansas and other SEC programs were looking for a new coach.
A nine-loss team in 2010, ULL has won nine each of Hudspeth’s first two years.
On the Arkansas side, Allen has been on track to be the Razorback quarterback for years and will not make mistakes that encourage the visitors. A bigger concern is defending against Broadway and tackling running back Alonzo Harris, who ran for 881 yards last year.
Hopefully, Arkansas will kick off on Saturday. The sooner we get some answers about the defense, the better.
Harry King is sports columnist for Stephens Media’s Arkansas News Bureau. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.