Opposing View: SEC legend Bob Holt thinks the Hogs have a shot

AN OPPOSING VIEW

The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette’s Bob Holt has always been legend in SEC writer circles. But his legend grew outside his peer group this past July at SEC Media Days in Birmingham.

Holt

Holt

Now a televised event, Bob became somewhat of a cult hero as he dominated as always the annual question-and-answer session with league coaches and players. People wanted to know who was the guy with the nasally voice asking all the questions. So prominent was Bob’s presence that AL.com’s Michael Casagrande did a story on him.

Well, I’m proud to say I knew Bob before he was a legend. Way before this fancy Interweb thing, we used to have an SEC writer’s network in which we exchanged notes on each other’s teams. As is his style, Bob would always supply 1,000 words for every 300 the rest of us shared in that format.

So who else would I seek to provide this week’s “Opposing View?” I asked Bob if he’d mind a providing a brief bio along with his answers about this year’s Arkansas Razorbacks, who Georgia will meet Saturday afternoon in Little Rock. Never one to duck an assignment, Bob was happy to oblige:

I’ve worked for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette since June of 1981 (when I was hired by the then-Arkansas Democrat) and have lived in Fayetteville most of that time and covered the Razorbacks.

I was born in Saginaw, Mich., and became a Detroit Tigers fan, moved to LaCrosse, Wis., and became a Green Bay Packers fan, then moved to Cape Girardeau, Mo., where late at night I could listen to the radio and hear Ernie Harwell calling Tigers games on WJR.

One of my greatest thrills was meeting Mr. Harwell, a Georgia native, in the late 1980s when I attended a Tigers-Rangers game in Arlington, Texas. He told me about calling high school games in the Atlanta area, including some games featuring Frank Broyles, the longtime Arkansas coach and athletic director.

I’m a proud graduate of the University of Missouri. Last week I again felt compelled to tell folks is not a football factory, but a fine institution of higher education where academics always are the focus.

You can follow Bob on Twitter like I do @BobHoltADG. Now that we’re familiar with Bob, let’s hear what he has to say about the Hogs and Saturday’s matchup in old War Memorial Stadium …

Q: So how are the Arkansas faithful feeling about Bret Bielema’s leadership and direction? Love him or reserving judgment during this honeymoon period?

Holt: Fans obviously want the Hogs to start winning some SEC games — one SEC game to start with considering the program has a 15-game conference losing streak — but any logical person can see the team is much improved this season in Bret Bielema’s second year on the job.

It’s still convenient to blame the Hogs’ 2-17 SEC record since the start of the 2012 season on former Hogs Coach Bobby Petrino and his well-documented motorcycle accident that revealed an affair with a young female staffer he had hired and resulted in Petrino’s firing.

I’m assuming people in Georgia don’t mind blaming stuff on Bobby Petrino, right?

So I do think Bielema is still enjoying a bit of a honeymoon, but the fans’ patience is being tested, especially with the close losses to Texas A&M and Alabama the previous two games when the Razorbacks couldn’t hold fourth-quarter leads. They also couldn’t hold fourth-quarter leads last season in losses to Rutgers, Mississippi State and LSU.

Q: How is Arkansas viewing Georgia’s situation at tailback? Do they feel like they’re getting a break if Todd Gurley doesn’t play or do they believe the Bulldogs to be just as an effective with Nick Chubb and company?

Holt: If you listen to the coaches, they make it sound like there is no drop-off from Gurley to Chubb. I’ll admit Chubb did well last week in his first start, but all due respect, he’s not Gurley — at least not yet.

Chubb averaged 3.8 yards on 38 carries against Mizzou for 143 yards. Gurley gained 229 yards on 35 carries against Clemson and South Carolina, so that seems like a pretty significant difference to me. But you won’t get coaches to admit that.

Some fans I’ve talked to, on the other hand, seem convinced Gurley will play against Arkansas, that he’ll be cleared at 2:59 p.m. Saturday — a minute before kickoff. Their theory seems to be Georgia is holding Gurley out on purpose to spring him on the Hogs.

So as a Mizzou grad, guess I have to believe Georgia held him out last week to lull the Tigers into a false sense of security — and look how well it worked!

Q: This will be my first trip ever to Little Rock and I’m looking forward to checking it out. What can you tell us about it? Didn’t the Razorbacks used to play a game there every year but then got away from that? And what’s the general feeling about the Arky going back there this year?

Holt: The Hogs have been playing annually in Little Rock since 1948, when War Memorial Stadium was built. They used to play more or as many games in Little Rock as in Fayetteville each season because War Memorial Stadium (capacity 54,120) was bigger than Razorback Stadium, which in the early 1980s had a capacity of about 40,000 before two major expansions brought its capacity to 72,000. Playing in Little Rock helped the Razorbacks build a state-wide fan base  over the years — even with Fayetteville tucked into the northwest corner of the state.

Some fans in northwest Arkansas would like to see Arkansas stop playing games in Little Rock, but there are a lot of fans (and recruits) in the central and southern parts of Arkansas, and also a lot of boosters and companies that contribute money to the program. So for now, at least, Arkansas is going to continue to play at least one game in Little Rock each season.

Bret Bielema seems to understand the importance of playing in Little Rock, and the Razorbacks — especially those from the area — get excited about playing there. War Memorial Stadium is in the middle of a public golf course, and the tail-gating there is legendary. Many fans arrive early in the morning on game day and spend of a lot of time getting “prepared” for the game. So it’s a pretty rowdy crowd and atmosphere.

Back in 1998, a few weeks after Arkansas rallied to beat Kentucky and Tim Couch 21-20 at War Memorial Stadium, then Wildcats Coach Hal Mumme was asked on the SEC call about playing at Florida and how loud the Swamp would be for Kentucky’s visit. Mumme said unprompted that Little Rock had the loudest stadium he’d ever experienced.

While northwest Arkansas seems like the midwest to me, Little Rock is a southern city and the state capital and is in the center of Arkansas. The River Market District in downtown Little Rock is a lively area — along the scenic Arkansas River — with many restaurants and bars. It also is near the Clinton Presidential Library, one of the state’s top tourist attractions. Little Rock Central High School is a national historic site because of the desegregation crisis in 1957 when President Eisenhower sent federal troops to Little Rock.

Q:  How do you view the matchups in this game? Are there some clear Arkansas advantages, in your opinion?

Holt: Arkansas’ strengths are its offensive line, running backs, and defensive line, but I don’t see the Hogs having clear advantages over Georgia in any area. The teams appear to be pretty evenly matched to me. The Bulldogs probably have a better passing game.

Q: Obviously the Razorbacks have lost 15 SEC games in a row. Looks like they’ve been tantalizingly close many times, including Alabama last week and Texas A&M earlier this year. What’s holding them back? And are they viewing Georgia as a prime opportunity?

Holt: Arkansas’ biggest problem has been a failure to finish games the right way. The Razorbacks have been outscored 38-0 in the fourth quarter (and one overtime period) this season in their three SEC losses to Auburn, Texas A&M and Alabama. They lost at Auburn 45-21 after being tied 21-21 at halftime, lost to Texas A&M 35-28 in overtime in Arlington, Texas, after leading 28-14 in the fourth quarter and lost 14-13 to Alabama in Fayetteville after leading 13-7 in the fourth quarter. The coaches understandably have been emphasizing playing better in the fourth quarter in practices and the Razorbacks would love to show they can finish against Georgia.

Q: And finally, how do you see Saturday’s game shaking out?

Holt: This figures to be a physical, in-the-trenches kind of game, similar to Alabama’s 14-13 win over the Hogs last week. This isn’t the Big 12 where teams win 61-58 without a bunch of overtimes. The Hogs have to win another SEC game some time, right? Maybe Saturday is the time and Georgia is the team.

I don’t predict scores, but I expect a close game. If the Hogs can limit the mistakes (turnovers, penalties and giving up big plays) that plagued them against Auburn, Texas A&M and Alabama, they’ll give themselves a good shot to beat the Bulldogs.

 


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