Tonight in Little Rock the Arkansas Razorbacks of the mighty SEC presumably start cleansing their 2016 season-closing stench and presumably handily win their season-opener over the Florida A&M Rattlers of the lower level Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference.
Presumably is the operative word considering most Las Vegas betting boards don’t even display odds for this 7 p.m. game at War Memorial Stadium televised by the SEC Network.
Presumably remains the presumption even with the Rattlers last Saturday in Tallahassee, Fla. trouncing, 29-7 the Texas Southern Tigers of the MEAC comparable SWAC (Southwestern Athletic Conference).
It presumably will occur to Arkansas’ satisfaction unless Coach Bret Bielema’s Razorbacks automatically presume that to be so.
Overconfidence doesn’t seem likely for a team that claims to have worked so hard trying to erase their season-closing stigma of a 7-6 2016 campaign by losing 24-7 and 24-0 halftime leads to lose their SEC finale 28-24 at Missouri and the Belk Bowl, 35-24 to Virginia Tech.
However the 2012 Razorbacks of interim Coach John L. Smith weren’t supposed to lose to 30-point underdog Louisiana-Monroe in Little Rock. But they did.
And Bielema’s eventual 8-5 Liberty Bowl winning 2015 Razorbacks weren’t supposed to lose to Toledo in Little Rock. But they did.
Throw in that tonight’s weather, with rainy remnants of Hurricane Harvey possible, could become an equalizer, and the Razorbacks could find FAMU giving them the business if they don’t tend to business.
FAMU’s coach, former NFL offensive coordinator Alex Wood, knows much about doing business in Arkansas having coached Razorbacks quarterbacks and receivers for former Arkansas coach Houston Nutt in 2006 and 2007.
Wood is nationally respected as a capable coach and sports ingredients that vexed Arkansas last year.
Run-pass mobile quarterbacks so troubled the 2016 Razorbacks that Bielema promoted defensive backfield coach Paul Rhoads, the former Iowa State head coach, to defensive coordinator and switched from a 4-3 to 3-4 base defense.
Stanley completed 19 of 32 for 217 yards and a touchdown against Texas Southern and averaged 7.0 yards on his three carries including a 9-yard touchdown.
Rhoads was impressed even before last Saturday noting how Stanley figured in the 4 of the Rattlers’ 4-7 2016 campaign.
““He is a winner,” Rhoads said last Friday. “All four games that they won, he led them to victory. He was 4-3 as a starter. He is a very gifted athlete and dangerous with both his feet and his arm. He has great velocity, throws an accurate ball, but quarterback run game as well as quarterback scramble. He strikes fear in what he does.”
Wood was impressed with what Stanley did last Saturday and even more impressed with what he didn’t do.
“ He didn’t turn the ball over,” Wood said. “That’s a key for the quarterback and all of your offensive players.”
It’s especially key for a heavy underdog like the Rattlers tonight.
Like Bielema, Wood strives like the Rattlers did last Saturday to achieve run-pass balance against an Arkansas defense resolved to rehabilitate its against the run reputation sullied last year while also guarding against the big-play pass.
Stanley has at least one big play receiver, Brandon Norwood, 51 catches for 458 yards and four touchdowns last year and a 35-yard touchdown from Stanley against Texas Southern.
“Coach Rhoads said we’re going to have to play him like we play any SEC receiver,” Arkansas senior defensive back Kevin Richardson of Jacksonville said. “He’s got the talent. He’s got the skill. He can play.”
Offensively last season even as returning quarterback Austin Allen led the SEC in passing and running back Rawleigh Williams, since retired because of two major neck injuries, led the SEC in regular season rushing, the Razorbacks too often couldn’t run for the crucial red zone and third and one situations they absolutely had to have and too often failed to protect Allen from getting sacked or getting whacked even when delivering the pass.
FAMU held Texas Southern to 62 yards rushing last Saturday while it seemed Rattlers defensive ends Calvin Darville and Elijah Price spent as much time in the Texas Southern backfield as Texas Southern’s offensive backs.
Allen from last season is all too familiar with defensive ends like Darville and Price and counts on an offensive line growing up from last year’s inexperience to keep him upright tonight.
“They look like SEC defensive ends,” Allen said. “They played really hard and got after Texas Southern. We are ready for the challenge.”
Last year’s offensive line in the season opener started three who had never started a Razorback game and two returning starters not starting in the positions they played in 2015.
Arkansas opens tonight with a line returning six who have started and a starting five that have run first-team since spring ball.
Their experience shows, Allen said.
“Really you can tell it in their eyes when you get in the huddle how confident they are,” Allen said.
The Hogs claim to be confident both sides of the ball. They need to be so long as they don’t overdo it.