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Nate Olson

Colorado State win worth celebrating, offers hope for Hogs

This is a different chapter in Hogs football. It’s a time that includes the challenge of getting past hitting rock bottom.

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There was a time when an Arkansas football team wouldn’t celebrate a win against a Group of 5 program, let alone a win over such team that took a strong fourth quarter to pull out the win.

But this is a different chapter in Hogs football. It’s a time that includes the challenge of getting past hitting rock bottom.

So, last Saturday when the Hogs beat Colorado State 55-34 with 21 unanswered points in the fourth quarter, many of those players didn’t act like they had been there before as some critics suggested because they hadn’t.

After all, it’s only Arkansas’ fourth win in two years. Pardon them for being a little excited and wanting to party down at “Club Dub” as coach Chad Morris has tabbed the locker room celebrations following wins.

While I wasn’t keen on Morris declaring that he “wouldn’t apologize for a win” against FCS Portland State in the opener, I see nothing wrong with celebrating this win.

The Portland State victory was disappointing for some because it was hard to see any tangible improvement from last season.

Fans know with the difficulty of the SEC West schedule, improvement may not be seen in the 2019 record, but a bashing of an inferior opponent would.

When that didn’t happen, alarm bells sounded … and for good reason. It was reasonable to wonder if this team was any better than last season.

But the improvement could be seen last Saturday at home against CSU. A year ago, the Razorbacks faced a similar tight fourth quarter at CSU and wilted.

This time, Arkansas responded.

Senior tight end CJ O’Grady’s improbable tackle-shedding run after the catch for a 62-yard touchdown broke things open. The fact that Arkansas was tied with Colorado State after three quarters is alarming, but the ability to win the game with authority in the fourth quarter shows a positive difference between now and a year ago.

I know that CSU played a good portion of the game with its backup quarterback and the Hogs’ defense gave up a bundle of points, and it’s clear that the Rams’ defense is putrid.

Still, Arkansas showed maturity. As a whole, it has improved since the first game.

That’s the important thing this season — get better each week.

If those steps are big enough, it could lead to a couple of wins that aren’t expected. If it doesn’t, at least the team needs to be better than last year and ready to take a marked leap next season.

But Morris cannot afford  a repeat of last year’s hapless season.

Arkansas has a chance for another feel-good win and “Club Dub” celebration Saturday night with a home game against a struggling San Jose State team.

Arkansas is a heavy favorite like it was against Portland State in the opener. At this point in the season with junior Nick Starkel firmly entrenched as the starter, Arkansas needs to dominate the Spartans.

That means a lopsided score with the benches clearing by the third quarter, including the rotation of three quarterbacks.

Fans are clamoring to see talented freshman K.J. Jefferson in game action and his appearance would definitely be a highlight.

In fall camp, it looked like the Hogs defense had the advantage over its offensive mates. All of a sudden, with Starkel under center, the offense is turning a corner.

They will have another shot to score 50-plus points Saturday night. I’ll be taking a hard look at the defense. It hasn’t shown the improvement it needs to help Arkansas contain SEC opponents. The unit needs a strong showing against SJSU to gain some confidence that may have been lost the past two weeks.

If the offense continues its explosive ways, the defense doesn’t have to shut teams down, but it does need to make big stands and force turnovers.

Arkansas was all smiles last week and will celebrate back-to-back wins this week.

It doesn’t matter if the opponent is inferior or if the Hogs may get a dose of reality against Texas A&M next week. Progress is being made, and that’s worth enjoying and celebrating for  the moment.

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