A sure indicator that a team is about to hit you with its best shot is when it wins the coin toss and takes the ball.
Ole Miss won the coin toss Saturday and took the ball against the University of Arkansas. The Rebels drove down the field, set the tone for the game and the Hogs were staggering from the beginning.
Arkansas knew what was coming and could never stop it.
Houston Nutt’s teams are characterized by physical play in the offensive line that opens seams for a running back who will get the ball over and over and over. That sets up play-action.
The Hogs were defeated Saturday by prototype Houston Nutt football.
The Rebels controlled the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball. Most observers figured they were going to pressure UA quarterback Ryan Mallett as much as possible. The game plan revolved on that the Rebels could force Mallett out of rhythm, to make poor decisions and to throw off his back foot more than he could take advantage of man coverage in the secondary. That strategy was enhanced by the way the UA receivers developed a case of stone hands.
UA coach Bobby Petrino summed it up well, "In key situations, they (the Rebels) seemed to win every battle."
This set up nicely as the perfect situation for Nutt to slap his former team.
It was a bigtime trap game for Arkansas.
Ole Miss was overrated at the beginning of the season. It is not a top-five team but is still pretty good. If its offensive line could establish control to open the seams for Dexter McCluster and the defensive front — more physical than what the Hogs were used to — could apply pressure, the Rebels had a great chance.
Was Arkansas distracted by the uplift it got from its performance against Florida or by officiating talk all week?
Hard to tell. The Hogs were clearly outplayed -— and outcoached — for a number of reasons.
I think the UA-Florida game told more about Florida than Arkansas. The Gators are good, but not that eye-popping, seemingly invincible good. Quarterback Tim Tebow is a great leader but his statistics this year are pretty average. The Gators are living on breaks, and in some observers’ opinions, are being braced on the shoulders of SEC zebras. Florida and Tebow have done just enough to win so far, much of the time while teetering on a tightrope.
What the UA did against Florida was encouraging to Hog fans. The Razorbacks played an OK game with some occasional great sparks. They did not play a great game. One close and keen observer of UA football, one who has been reliable for years, told me last week that that game shouldn’t have generated the optimism that it had throughout a state that was hungry for every morsel of optimism.
That brings us to two key thoughts as we look at the remainder of the football season.
Every week is a different situation. Every game is different because of the matchups. For example, I don’t think Florida has as physical of offensive line as Ole Miss and the Gators certainly don’t have a back with the game-breaking ability as McCluster.
It’s dangerous to compare scores and how one team plays against another in a given week. It’s difficult to compare teams. It’s tricky to compare conferences. It’s almost impossible to predict how college youngsters are going to play from week to week. Nobody plays its best for 11 or 12 weeks.
Every game has its special touch, a different scenario. And teams just match up with other teams differently.
Plus, I’m not sure there’s a great, obvious No. 1, sure pick to the national title game this season. Possibly, there’s not even a surefire top two.
Alabama is pretty good but doesn’t have that air of greatness some teams have and its quarterback play is inconsistent. Florida is very beatable.
And you could go on and on down the top 10.
That one-time bastion of excellence, USC, has already lost to Washington and barely escaped Oregon State. Texas can be impressive at times but does not have a great back. Quarterback Colt McCoy is still the key element of the running game. Iowa plays in an overrated conference and walked a tightrope against Arkansas State.
And I’m not sure that TCU is not as good overall as anybody.
The national championship race is wide-open. When all is said and done, a key might be how what may be a bunch of one- or two-loss teams play in bowl games.
Everybody has warts and blemishes. The national title could be determined by who can create the best coverup.
(Sports columnist David McCollum can be reached at 505-1235 or firstname.lastname@example.org)