Archive for the ‘College football’ Category

Aboard the Gus Bus

Friday, October 21st, 2016

Gus Malzahn’s Auburn Tigers take on the Arkansas Razorbacks late Saturday afternoon at Auburn.

Much like Hugh Freeze (whose Ole Miss Rebels lost to Arkansas last week in Fayetteville), Malzahn can thank Arkansas State for opening the door for what quickly became a job as a head coach in the Southeastern Conference.

Football fans across the country were stunned when the news leaked out in December 2011 that Malzahn — one of the most highly paid and innovative offensive coordinators in college football at the time — had accepted an offer to be the next head coach at Arkansas State in Jonesboro.

After all, Malzahn reportedly had turned down an offer a year earlier to be the head coach at Vanderbilt and was strongly considered for the job of head coach at Maryland.

By the end of the 2011, it was rumored that he was in the running for head coaching jobs at Kansas and North Carolina.

To understand Malzahn, you must drive through the soybean, rice and cotton fields of east Arkansas to the poor farming community of Hughes. The population in the 2010 census was 1,441 (it’s even smaller now), down from a high of 1,919 in the 1980 census.

The Hughes entry in the Encyclopedia of Arkansas History & Culture admits that the second largest town in St. Francis County is “typical of the towns in this part of the state, although it is not known for any major historical events or as the home of any significantly famous peple.”

That translates to “not much happens here.”

But it was at Hughes where Malzahn’s career as a coach began.

It was at Hughes where he first became a hot coaching commodity, albeit at the high school level.

It was at Hughes where Malzahn started to refine his coaching philosophies, further growing to love the sport and its challenges.

George Schroeder, a former Arkansas Democrat-Gazette sportswriter who went on to national acclaim as a college football reporter, was in Arizona in January 2011 as Auburn prepared to play Oregon for the national championship (a game the Tigers would win).

In a piece for the Sports Illustrated website, Schroeder remembered the time in 1994 when Malzahn brought his Hughes football team to War Memorial Stadium in Little Rock for the Class 4A title game.

“They’d arrived a few minutes late, and as they were about to take their seats high in the stands, the coach turned around, pointed to the state championship game unfolding below and addressed the stunning reality. The next day, his bunch would play for a title, too. ‘This,’ Gus Malzahn told the Hughes Blue Devils, ‘is the big time, guys.’ For those wide-eyed kids from a tiny farming community in the Mississippi River Delta, there was nothing bigger. For their 29-year-old, third-year head coach, too.”

Hughes lost to Lonoke the next day, 17-13.

“I thought I’d never be back,” Malzahn told Schroeder. “I thought I’d never get a chance again.”

He’s a man who still describes himself as “a high school coach who just happens to be coaching college.”

When asked to name the coaches he looked up to when he was getting started in the business, Malzahn doesn’t list college head coaches. He lists men such as Don Campbell of Wynne High School, Frank McClellan of Barton High School and Barry Lunney Sr., whose final two high school coaching stops were at Fort Smith Southside and Bentonville.

Malzahn was born in Irving, Texas, in October 1965. His parents divorced when he was 6. After a year in Little Rock and a year in Tulsa, his mother wound up in Fort Smith, where Malzahn lived from the fourth grade until his graduation from Fort Smith Christian High School in 1984. He loved sports and had decided by junior high that he wanted to coach for a living. He was a wide receiver and safety in football while also playing basketball and baseball.

“That’s just what I did,” Malzahn says. “I played everything.”

Malzahn also enjoyed coaching younger kids at the Evans Boys Club in Fort Smith. He coached soccer, baseball and football — basically anything that gave him a chance to be in a gym or on a playing field.

Malzahn was offered a football scholarship to Henderson State University in Arkadelphia after high school but decided to walk on as a football player for head coach Ken Hatfield at the University of Arkansas.

“It took me about two practices to figure out I wasn’t good enough to play at that level,” he says. “But I stuck with it for a year and a half.”

Malzahn transferred to Ouachita Baptist University in Arkadelphia, where his best friend from Fort Smith Christian, David Little, was on the baseball team.

After a semester, Malzahn moved to the other side of U.S. Highway 67 in Arkadelphia to play football at Henderson. Malzahn played during the 1988 and 1989 seasons for Coach Ralph “Sporty” Carpenter. Those were the final two seasons of a long coaching career for Carpenter, a colorful Hamburg native who died in 1990.

“Coach Carpenter was kind of a legend when I got to Henderson,” Malzahn says. “Everyone knew him or knew about him. It was one of those special deals to be a part of that group.”

Malzahn had married his girlfriend from Fort Smith, Kristi Otwell. Carpenter, known for taking care of his players both during and after college (it was Carpenter who gave a graduate assistant named Charlie Strong his first big break by getting him a job at Florida), eased the transition.

“I had just gotten married to Kristi, and he was really concerned about helping her, helping us and seeing that we had what we needed to succeed,” Malzahn says of Carpenter.

In 1991, Malzahn applied for a position as an assistant coach at West Memphis High School. That job went instead to a coach named Bobby Crockett, who left his job as an assistant coach at Hughes. Malzahn was hired to take his place.

“I didn’t even know there was a Hughes,” Malzahn admits. “It turned out to be a great place for a young coach. I could make mistakes and then learn from those mistakes.”

Hughes represented a bit of culture shock for a man who had grown up in Fort Smith and attended college at Fayetteville and Arkadelphia. He and his young wife lived in a mobile home with Gus teaching everything from geography to health. After one season as an assistant coach, Malzahn was promoted to head coach for the Blue Devils.

One of the most popular books in the country among high school coaches is a book Malzahn wrote. It’s titled “The Hurry Up No-Huddle: An Offensive Philosophy” and came out in 2003. Eleven years earlier, as the new head coach at Hughes, Malzahn bought a book titled “The Delaware Wing-T: An Order of Football.” In those early years, his offenses depended on the run.

Schroeder described that 1994 state championship loss to Lonoke: “In the final moments, the Blue Devils drove inside the 10. But a halfback pass misfired. A sure touchdown pass was dropped. Their last chance was intercepted. And the head coach still second-guesses himself. He knows he should have run the ball because there was still time and that was the Blue Devils’ strength. He remembers the awful empty feeling, that this was his one shot at the big time.”

After one more season at Hughes, Malzahn was hired a Shiloh Christian, a private school in Springdale that opened in 1976 as an outgrowth of the First Baptist Church. In 1986, Texas native Ronnie Floyd came to the church as its senor pastor. In addition to growth at the church, the dynamic, driven new minister oversaw growth at the school.

A winning football program was important to Floyd, especially since his son Josh was the quarterback.

The athletic director at Shiloh was Jimmy Dykes, now the head women’s basketball coach at Arkansas. When Malzahn saw a note asking him to call Dykes, he knew what it was about.

Gus and Kristi Malzahn headed from the Delta to the Ozarks.

It was at Shiloh that Malzahn moved from a run-oriented offense to the wide-open passing attack for which he would become known. He was the Saints’ head coach from 1996-2000. His 1998 team set what at the time was a national record with 66 passing touchdowns, and Josh Floyd almost set a national record with 5,878 yards of offense (5,221 passing yards and 657 rushing yards).

Malzahn, the man who had feared he would never get back to War Memorial Stadium for a state championship game, led the Saints to four consecutive title appearances. They lost 54-30 to Frank McClellan’s Barton Bears in 1997, defeated Hector 49-14 in 1998, defeated Carlisle 47-35 in 1999 and lost 30-29 in overtime to Rison in 2000.

Following the 2000 season, Malzahn was Springdale’s choice to replace veteran head coach Jarrell Williams.

“What people don’t remember is there were still a lot of questions about whether I could coach in the state’s largest classification,” Malzahn says. “I guess I was the only one crazy enough to try to fill Coach Williams’ shoes. He was Springdale football.”

Malzahn said the memory of Williams cast a long shadow during the 2001 season.

“The job I did wasn’t good enough for the people of Springdale, and I knew it,” he says.

Across town, Shiloh was winning another state championship without him, defeating Augusta 34-20 in the 2001 title game.

By 2002, though, Malzahn had the Bulldogs in the state championship game, where they lost to Barry Lunney Sr.’s Fort Smith Southside Rebels, 17-10.

Gus Malzahn was well on his way to being an Arkansas high school coaching icon at age 37.

Malzahn’s legend grew at Springdale when his 2005 squad went 14-0, outscored its opponents 664-188 and routed West Memphis 54-20 in the state championship game at War Memorial Stadium in front of the largest crowd to ever watch a high school event in Arkansas.

Gus Malzahn had come a long way from Hughes. Sportswriter Kurt Voigt even wrote a book about that 2005 Springdale team.

Hundreds of thousands of words have been written in Arkansas about what happened next.

Malzahn joined Houston Nutt’s staff at Arkansas in December 2005. Many believed that Frank Broyles, the school’s athletic director at the time, had forced Nutt’s hand.

Nutt mispronounced Malzahn’s name at the news conference that was held to introduce the new coordinator, and Malzahn was never fully accepted by his fellow Razorback coaches (some of whom derisively referred to him as “high school”) even though Arkansas won the Southeastern Conference Western Division championship in 2006.

With the tension evident, it surprised few people inside the state when Malzahn accepted an offer from the new head coach at Tulsa, Todd Graham. The two men had become friends when Graham was coaching a high school powerhouse in Allen, Texas. Graham had purchased a video Malzahn hosted on the hurry-up, no-huddle offense and discovered they had some of the same ideas.

With Malzahn as offensive coordinator, Tulsa ranked first nationally in total yards per game and third in passing in 2007. The Golden Hurricane became the first college team to have a 5,000-yard passer, a 1,000-yard rusher and three 1,000-yard receivers in the same season. In 2008, Tulsa led the nation again in total yards, averaging 570 yards per game while ranking second in scoring.

It didn’t take Auburn’s new head coach, a defensive specialist named Gene Chizik, long to move Malzahn back to the SEC in December 2008. The Tigers finished the 2009 season ranked 16th in total offense and 17th in scoring after having been tied for 110th in the country in scoring the previous season.

In 2010, Auburn won the national championship, quarterback Cam Newton won the Heisman Trophy and Malzahn won the Broyles Award as the top assistant football coach in the country.

No assistant coach in America had a higher profile. Some reports had Vanderbilt offering him as much as $3 million a year to be its head coach.

Malzahn later told me he had no regrets. He believed acceptance of the Vanderbilt job in December 2010 would have taken his focus off preparing for Auburn’s appearance in the national championship game. Auburn increased his annual salary from $500,000 to $1.3 million, making him perhaps the nation’s highest paid assistant football coach.

At Arkansas State, Hugh Freeze had moved up after one season as ASU’s offensive coordinator to replace Steve Roberts. Prior to the 2011 football season, Freeze was best known as the man who had coached Michael Oher at Briarcrest Christian School in Memphis. Oher was the subject of Michael Lewis’ 2006 book “The Blind Side” and the 2009 movie of the same name in which Freeze was portrayed by actor Ray McKinnon.

There was excitement surrounding Freeze’s hiring, but even the most optimistic Red Wolf fan could not have predicted the success that would follow. ASU went 10-2 during the regular season, won the Sun Belt Conference championship and earned a spot in a bowl game at Mobile, Ala. Freeze parlayed his instant success at ASU into the head coaching job at Ole Miss, where he replaced Nutt.

Despair on the part of ASU followers turned to elation when Malzahn made the decision to return home to Arkansas.

In late 2010, Arkansas State athletic director Dean Lee had called Malzahn at Auburn to ask him about Freeze.

At the end of the conversation, Lee joked: “You wouldn’t want to come back to Arkansas, would you?”

When Freeze left for Ole Miss, Lee again talked to Malzahn to pick his brain about possible successors. Once more he joked: “You wouldn’t want to come back to Arkansas, would you?”

This time, there was a long pause.

“I would consider that,” Malzahn finally said.

On Dec. 8, 2011, Malzahn called Lee in his office. They had a second long conversation that Thursday night once Lee had gotten home.

Malzahn had decided he was ready to be a head coach at the college level. He hadn’t been offered the job at either North Carolina or Kansas, and the thought of returning home to Arkansas was appealing. The pay would be much less than he was making at Auburn. He knew that.

On Friday, Dec. 9, 2011, Lee and Malzahn talked three more times by phone.

By 10:30 a.m. that Saturday, Lee was on the way to Auburn in his personal vehicle.

Paranoid that Malzahn’s home was being watched by the media, Lee had taken the ASU license plate off the front of the vehicle and removed the Red Wolf bumper stickers.

For three hours that evening, Lee visited with Malzahn and his wife in their home. He then pulled out late in the evening. Too nervous to sleep, Lee drove straight back to Jonesboro, arriving at 6:45 a.m. Sunday.

By then, ASU President Chuck Welch and Gov. Mike Beebe, an ASU graduate, were in the loop. By the following Wednesday, Malzahn was being introduced as the next ASU head coach before a large crowd at the Convocation Center in Jonesboro.

Things had moved quickly.

“I’m an Arkansas guy,” Malzahn told me soon after arriving in Jonesboro. “I’m still a high school coach at heart, and I’m a firm believer in being able to win at the major college level with high school talent from Arkansas. Kristi and I loved Auburn, but we were 10 hours from our family and friends. This is my chance to come back and build something big, to put it on the national map.”

Little did he realize how soon Auburn would be calling him back to the SEC.

Malzahn led the Red Wolves to a 9-3 record and a Sun Belt Conference championship as quarterback Ryan Aplin thrived in his offense, passing for 3,342 yards and 24 touchdowns.

To the east at Auburn, the alumni had grown weary of Chizik despite that national title just two seasons earlier.

Malzahn got the call. He would never have the chance to build what he had described as the “Boise State of the South” at Arkansas State, but the opportunity to be a head coach in the SEC West was too much to resist.

On Nov. 16, 2013, Auburn faced a fourth-and-18 against Georgia with 36 seconds left. Malzahn called a play named “Little Rock,” and quarterback Nick Marhsall hit Ricardo Louis on a tipped 73-yard pass to give Auburn the win.

Two weeks later in the Iron Bowl, Auburn returned a missed field goal 100 yards for a touchdown on the final play of the game against Alabama in one of the great finishes in college football history.

Auburn beat Missouri in the SEC championship game and led Florida State 21-3 in the national championship game before falling 34-31.

Malzahn seemed to be living a charmed life.

Things have been tougher since then.

Auburn was 8-5 in 2014, losing in the Outback Bowl.

The Tigers were just 7-6 in 2015, needing a victory in the Birmingham Bowl for a winning season.

There was lots of grumbling earlier this year when losses to Clemson and Texas A&M were sandwiched around a win over Arkansas State. Some speculated that Malzahn wouldn’t finish the season. The heat has eased somewhat with three consecutive victories going into the game against the Razorbacks.

Regardless of what happens the rest of the season, it has been quite a ride for the coach who thought “I would never get a chance again” after Hughes lost to Lonoke at War Memorial Stadium in 1994.

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College football: Week 8

Thursday, October 20th, 2016

It was a good third Saturday in October for the three largest football programs in the state.

Arkansas beat Ole Miss, 34-30.

Arkansas State downed South Alabama, 17-7.

And UCA destroyed McNeese State down in Lake Charles, 35-0.

So those who had fallen off the Razorback bandwagon following one-sided losses to Texas A&M and Alabama are back aboard. For now.

Auburn looms on The Plains late Saturday afternoon in yet another ESPN-televised contest for the Hogs.

One of the loudest crowds in school history seemed to will Arkansas to its victory over Ole Miss, the third consecutive year for the Razorbacks to beat the Rebels. Arkansas dominated in time of possession, 40:38 to 19:22, while outgaining the Rebels 429-403. A big factor in time of possession was Rawleigh Williams’ ability to run on the Rebs. He carried the ball 27 times for a career-high 180 yards against the school to which he initially had committed.

Arkansas has now topped 400 yards of offense in six consecutive games.

Hugh Freeze is 2-3 against the Hogs since leaving Arkansas State in Jonesboro for Ole Miss. Arkansas leads the overall series, 34-27-1.

What to make of Auburn?

It’s hard to tell.

People were falling off the Gus Bus right and left when the Tigers lost two of their first three games at home, losing 19-13 to Clemson and 29-16 to Texas A&M. Those two losses were sandwiched around a 51-14 victory over Arkansas State.

The 18-13 win against LSU that cost Les Miles his job has been followed by victories of 58-7 over Louisiana-Monroe and 38-14 over Mississippi State.

The pressure on Gus Malzahn has eased for now.

We were 5-3 on the picks last week, making the record 40-16 for the season.

Here are our picks for Week 8:

Arkansas 30, Auburn 28 — This has the makings of an entertaining game. Auburn has had two weeks to prepare. The Tigers played their first five games at home, went to Starkville for the win over Mississippi State and now return home for the game against the Hogs. Three of the final four Southeastern Conference games on their schedule — against Ole Miss, Georgia and Alabama — will be on the road. Thus the pressure is on Auburn to win this game. Last week, in picking Ole Miss by two points, we wrote: “Don’t be surprised if Arkansas wins. But, as noted, there’s going to have to be better blocking and better defensive line play for that to happen.” Indeed, Arkansas was better along both the offensive and defensive lines last week. The Razorbacks will have to be better up front again this week in their first true SEC road game.

UCA 29, Lamar 19 — The Bears were impressive at a place where it’s traditionally difficult to win. It was, in fact, the first time McNeese State had been shut out at home since 1987. It was the first time for McNeese to be shut out by another Southland Conference team since 1988. UCA is 5-1 overall and 4-0 in conference play, its best start since joining the Southland Conference in 2006. The Bears took full advantage of five Cowboy turnovers. The visitors from Conway led 14-0 at the half, scored on the first possession of the third quarter and led 28-0 at the end of the third quarter. Now, they return home to Conway to face a Lamar team that lost its first three games and has now won three consecutive contests. The losses were by scores of 38-14 to Coastal Carolina, 42-0 to Houston and 44-31 to Sam Houston State. The wins (all conference games, making Lamar 3-1 in the Southland) have been by scores of 38-14 over Southeastern Louisiana, 38-10 over Abilene Christian and 32-31 over Northwestern State of Louisiana.

Southern University 40, UAPB 20 — These are sad days at UAPB. A disgruntled homecoming crowd of 10,501 looked on at Golden Lion Stadium last Saturday afternoon as the Golden Lions fell 40-7 to an Alabama A&M team that had come in with just a 1-5 record. The Golden Lions dropped to 1-5 overall and 1-3 in SWAC play. This week sees UAPB head south to Baton Rouge to take on a 3-2 Southern University squad in its homecoming game. Southern lost 38-21 to Louisiana-Monroe and 66-21 to Tulane to open the season and has since run off victories of 64-6 over Alabama State, 59-31 over Alabama A&M and 28-24 over Jackson State.

Harding 49, East Central Oklahoma 25 — The Bisons appear to be on their way to their first Great American Conference championship and an 11-0 regular season. A week after destroying nationally ranked Henderson in Arkadelphia, the Bisons went to 7-0 with a 63-17 victory over a Southeastern Oklahoma team that had come into Searcy with a 4-2 record. The lead was only 17-14 at the end of the first quarter, but then the Bisons ran off 35 unanswered points in the second quarter. A Thursday night game will see Harding travel to Ada, Okla., to play a 1-6 East Central Oklahoma team. Harding is one of 10 remaining undefeated teams in NCAA Division II, is ranked seventh nationally in Division II by the American Football Coaches Association and is the only team in Division II to rank in the top five in scoring offense and scoring defense. Harding rushed for 557 yards in last year’s 62-20 victory over East Central. This one should be a lot like that.

Henderson 31, Southern Arkansas 27 — The 6-1 Reddies are ranked 15th nationally in Division II but will receive a strong challenge from a 5-2 Southern Arkansas team that was upset in four overtimes at Ouachita last Saturday. Henderson dismantled UAM, 45-17. The Reddies outrushed the Boll Weevils 295-105 as Jaquan Cole scored three touchdowns on the ground. Henderson and Southern Arkansas meet at a neutral site in El Dorado on Saturday afternoon in the Murphy USA Classic. Last year in Arkadelphia, Henderson drove 94 yards in the final two minutes to post a 29-28 victory over the Muleriders. Expect this to be another close game.

Ouachita 39, UAM 32 — Ouachita has been riddled with injuries, including some of its star players. Its quarterback, best receiver and best running back are all out. Down to their fifth-string tailback (they had to pull the redshirt off a freshman), the Tigers somehow outlasted Southern Arkansas, 40-37. The Muleriders went ahead 27-24 on a field goal with just 1:30 left in regulation. With 2.8 seconds left, a Ouachita receiver was able to get out of bounds at the Mulerider 32. Ouachita’s Cole Antley then kicked a 49-yard field goal to send the contest into overtime. Both teams scored touchdowns in the first overtime. In the second overtime, Antley missed a 21-yard field goal (just a yard more than an extra point) that would have won the game. Both teams had field goals in the third overtime. Southern Arkansas missed a field goal in the fourth overtime, and Antley hit one from 36 yards out to win it. It’s homecoming at UAM as the 4-3 Tigers take on the 2-5 Boll Weevils. Because Ouachita has so many players missing, expect the Boll Weevils to keep it close with a chance to win at the end.

Arkansas Tech 34, Southeastern Oklahoma 23 — Tech started the season 2-3 but has posted stellar back-to-back wins, 49-17 over Ouachita and 55-14 over East Central Oklahoma. The Wonder Boys appear to be hitting their stride as Jabyes Cross, who started the season as a wide receiver, improves weekly at quarterback. Last season, Tech scored 43 points in the first half against Southeastern and wound up winning 57-37. In last week’s win against East Central, the Wonder Boys had 613 yards of offense, tying for the sixth-highest total in school history. Southeastern will counter with the running of Devlon Wortham, who needs just 37 yards to become the GAC’s all-time leading rusher.

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Hugh Freeze’s big chance

Friday, October 14th, 2016

Hugh Freeze brings his nationally ranked Ole Miss football team to Fayetteville on Saturday to take on the Arkansas Razorbacks.

If Freeze is honest with himself, he will probably be thinking that he might not have had the chance to be a head coach in the biggest, baddest college football division of them all — the SEC West — if not for the opportunity another Arkansas school provided him.

I’ll always remember the day of Nov. 29, 2010. Freeze had come to the capital city to speak to the Little Rock Touchdown Club, and I was in my usual spot just to the right of the podium at the Embassy Suites as he spoke.

On that late fall day, his life began to change.

The club was meeting for the final time that season. It was the Monday after Thanksgiving, and several hundred people had gathered for lunch to hear the first-year offensive coordinator at Arkansas State University.

Freeze, who does a lot of motivational speaking, was at the top of his game. The crowd was impressed.

Freeze was scheduled to leave the state after the speech and hit the recruiting trail. He never made it.

Things were changing quickly in Jonesboro.

The Jonesboro Sun reported that morning that Steve Roberts’ future as ASU’s head football coach was in doubt. Roberts didn’t participate in the Sun Belt Conference’s weekly teleconference with the other league coaches that day.

At 1 p.m., just as Freeze was finishing his speech in Little Rock, the ASU athletic department announced that a 4 p.m. news conference would be held on campus.

At 2 p.m., ASU wide receiver Dwayne Frampton posted this to his Twitter account: “My head coach is fired.”

Dean Lee, the ASU athletic director at the time, made it official at the 4 p.m. news conference. Roberts, whose final two seasons in a nine-year stint as the Arkansas State head coach had ended with 4-8 records, was out. The killer had been a loss at home to lowly Western Kentucky, which had tied the game on the final play of regulation and then won in overtime with a two-point conversion play.

As news of Roberts’ departure made its way across the state, a cry went up from those who had heard Freeze speak in Little Rock (a crowd that had included some of the state’s most influential business leaders; the Little Rock Touchdown Club is a place to see and be seen): There was no need for a search. The best man for the job was already on the staff.

Lee couldn’t help but hear the outpouring of support for Freeze.

“It was a snowball effect that came out of Little Rock that day,” Freeze told me when I visited with him in Jonesboro on a rainy morning the following spring. “There were great comments, and I was gratified to hear them. I have no doubt they were helpful in the process.”

Three days after the Little Rock Touchdown Club meeting, Freeze was hired as ASU’s new head coach. Among those in attendance at the news conference was an old Freeze friend from Memphis, Sean Tuohy.

“As we began preparing for our search, we knew Hugh was someone we would have to interview,” Lee said. “From the first time I met him, it was evident he’s a man of character and substance. He also happens to have an outstanding football mind.”

Freeze was instructed to cancel his recruiting trip and remain in Jonesboro.

“We had three meetings over those three days,” Lee said. “We came to the conclusion that this was the guy who could take our program to the next level.”

I contacted my friend Brett Norsworthy, a Forrest City native who hosts a daily sports talk show on WHBQ-AM, 560, in Memphis, to ask if Freeze could win at the NCAA Division I level.

Here’s what he told me back then: “Hugh is ready. He distinguished himself at Ole Miss during the not-so-distinguishing era of Ed Orgeron. Hugh was the de facto leader of the coaching staff and of the team by the time the Orgeron years were coming to an end. He had full command of a team that had Michael Oher, Dexter McCluster and Mike Wallace. They all went to the NFL in no small part due to Hugh Freeze.”

Ah, Michael Oher.

Freeze followed Oher to Ole Miss after Orgeron signed the player Freeze had coached at Briarcrest Christian School in Memphis.

In his 2006 book “The Blind Side,” author Michael Lewis described Briarcrest.

“Its founder, Wayne Allen, had long been distressed by the absence of the Bible from public schools; the white outrage over busing was a chance to do something about it,” Lewis wrote. “In the year after the court decision — on Jan. 24, 1973 — that forced the city to deploy 1,000 buses to integrate the public schools, the parents of white children yanked more than 7,000 children out of those schools.

“From the ashes arose an entire, spanking new private school system. The Briarcrest Christian School — originally named the Briarcrest Baptist School — was by far the biggest. It was a system unto itself: 15 different campuses, inside 15 different Baptist churches. Its initial enrollment was just shy of 3,000, and every last one of them was white.”

Freeze, a Mississippi native, spent 13 years there as a coach, teacher and administrator. In football, he was the offensive coordinator and defensive backs coach from 1992-94 as Briarcrest teams reached the state semifinals twice.

He was the head football coach from 1995 through 2004. He led Briarcrest to six consecutive state championship games and won four of those — 1998, 2001, 2004 and 2005.

His record as a girls’ basketball coach was an eye-popping 305-63.

But it took more than that to make Hugh Freeze famous outside of Memphis. It took “The Blind Side” — first the 2006 book and then the 2009 movie.

In the movie, Coach Freeze became Coach Cotton. The coach was portrayed by Ray McKinnon, a Georgia native who later moved to Little Rock. Briarcrest became Wingate Christian School in the movie.

Oher was the poor black boy adopted by prosperous whites, Sean and Leigh Anne Tuohy. In the movie, Sandra Bullock played Leigh Anne and won the Academy Award for best actress. The film, directed by John Lee Hancock, was nominated for best picture.

Freeze urged the school’s principal to admit Oher and first taught Oher the sport of football.

Lewis described the coach this way (based on the period when Oher entered the school in 2002): “Freeze was only 33, and with his white-blond hair and unlined face might have passed for even younger than he was — if he weren’t so shrewd. His shrewdness was right on the surface, so it had an innocent quality to it, but it was there just the same. Slow to speak and quick to notice, Hugh Freeze had the gifts of a machine politician. He was a man of God — if he hadn’t been a football coach, he said, he’d have liked to have been a preacher — but he was also, very obviously, adept at getting his way on earth without any help from the Almighty. He’d coached at Briarcrest for eight years.”

To find the genesis of what became “The Blind Side,” one must go back to the 1970s in New Orleans, where Michael Lewis and Sean Tuohy grew up.

Lewis was the son of a corporate lawyer, J. Thomas Lewis, and a community activist mother, Diana Monroe Lewis. He attended high school at the private Isidore Newman School before going on to college at Princeton.

Tuohy’s father, Edward “Skeets” Tuohy, was the legendary basketball coach at Isidore Newman. The Tuohy Gymnasium there is named in his honor.

Tuohy and Lewis stayed in touch through the years, and Lewis decided there might be a book in the Oher story.

“I enjoyed the time I spent with Michael Lewis, but it didn’t mean much to me at first,” Freeze said. “I was focused on my job. Suddenly, though, the book is on The New York Times bestseller list and people are calling from all over. Let me make clear that Michael Oher was not the first kid I fought for in order to them into Briarcrest. I fought to get a lot of kids in that school. I also want to point out that I took a pay cut when I went to Ole Miss. For the first six months, I basically sat behind a desk as a clerk.”

Freeze’s original title when he first headed to Ole Miss in February 2005 was assistant athletic director for football external affairs. After one season, he wound up on the field as a receivers coach and the recruiting coordinator during the 2006 and 2007 seasons.

When Orgeron was fired at the end of the 2007 campaign, Freeze served briefly as the interim head coach. He was hopeful that the Rebels’ new head coach, Houston Nutt, would leave him on the staff.

Nutt had other plans.

“I had hoped to stay on with Coach Nutt,” Freeze said. “Pete Boone (the Ole Miss athletic director) offered to let me stay there as an assistant athletic director, but I wanted to coach.”

There were a handful of assistant jobs available to him at other Division I schools, but Freeze decided to try his hand at being a college head coach, albeit at a tiny college. The offer came from Lambuth University in Jackson, Tenn., a Methodist college that began in 1843 as the Memphis Conference Female Institute.

Lambuth had fewer than 400 full-time students, but its administrators had big dreams of a football program that would move from the NAIA level to NCAA Division II and maybe eventually to NCAA Division I.

Freeze accepted Lambuth’s offer in January 2008.

“His contacts and knowledge will move our program forward in a positive direction, hopefully making Lambuth an NAIA power once again,” athletic director Ken Brown said at the time.

Looking back on his stint at Lambuth, Freeze said: “I was impressed with the vision they had for their football program. I really wanted to find out if I had what it takes to make it work as a college head coach. It ended up being two of my most enjoyable years in coaching.”

Freeze found success as he used a no-huddle, spread offense. He was 20-5 in his two seasons at Lambuth. He was the American Football Coaches Association Southeast Region Coach of the Year in 2009 when the Eagles went 11-0 during the regular season. They advanced to the second round of the NAIA playoffs and finished 12-1. Lambuth averaged more than 40 points per game that season, ranked ninth nationally in total yards per game (465), ranked first in the nation in fourth-down conversions, fifth in passing offense and eighth in scoring offense.

There was, however, a major problem. The school was almost broke.

At one point, Freeze went three months without pay.

In April 2011, Lambuth’s board of trustees voted to shut the school down.

“I don’t know that I would have left had it not been for those problems,” Freeze said. “I stayed a second season because I felt obligated to the families of the kids I had talked into attending school there.”

He knew that to support his family — Freeze and his wife Jill have three daughters (Ragan, Jordan and Madison) — he would need to move on.

Just after Christmas 2009, Freeze accepted an offer to become the offensive coordinator at San Jose State.

“This gives me a chance to do something I’ve always wanted to do,” he said when he accepted the job. “There are only 119 of these coordinator positions in the nation, and I couldn’t pass it up.”

Freeze had interviewed for jobs at Arkansas State, Arkansas, Louisiana-Monroe and Murray State. He felt a connection to the new San Jose State head coach, Mike McIntyre, who was heading west after two seasons as the defensive coordinator at Duke.

The problem this time was that his Southern family didn’t like California.

Frankly, neither did Hugh Freeze.

“My three kids thought I had moved them to a foreign country,” Freeze said.

Freeze is Southern to the core. He was raised on a farm in north Mississippi. His father was a high school coach for 37 years.

“I knew I didn’t want to milk cows for a living,” Freeze once told me. “I saw the influence my dad had on kids’ lives and decided that’s what I wanted to do.”

When Freeze was about to begin his junior year in high school, his father decided to take two years off from coaching to work for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and continue farming on the side.

“He thought it was best that I earn everything on the field,” Freeze said. “I was a quarterback, and he wanted to watch my games rather than coach them. He just thought that would be best.”

Freeze graduated from Senatobia High School in 1988, attended Northwest Mississippi Community College for two years and then transferred to the University of Southern Mississippi. He met his wife at USM, graduated in the spring of 1992, got married in July 1992 and began coaching at Briarcrest that fall.

After two months at San Jose — his first time to live outside the South — Freeze realized he had made a huge mistake. Fortunately for the Freeze family, the coaching carousel began to spin.

Roberts had hired Clay Helton at Arkansas State when the new Memphis head coach, Larry Porter, chose not to retain Helton. After just two months in Jonesboro, Helton jumped at the opportunity to be an assistant at USC, where he’s now the head coch.

Roberts called Freeze, who had spent the first two months of 2010 on the West Coast.

“The moving van had just arrived in San Jose,” Freeze said. “My mom and dad were out there. But I knew working in Jonesboro would be a better fit. Steve was straightforward about his situation. He knew it might be his last season if things didn’t work out. I was willing to take that chance. This was the region of the country in which I wanted to coach, so I walked away from a four-year contract at San Jose State.”

Despite the 4-8 record, the ASU offense that Freeze coached was ranked among the top two teams in the conference in scoring offense, passing offense, total offense, pass efficiency, red zone offense and first downs. ASU ranked 43rd nationally in total offense and 46th in scoring offense out of 120 teams. Sophomore quarterback Ryan Aplin thrived under Freeze’s system as he set school records for total offense, passing yards, passing touchdowns and completions.

The rest is history.

The Red Wolves went 10-2 in 2011, won their first Sun Belt Conference title in six years and averaged 447.8 yards per game on offense to rank 28th nationally and first in the conference.

On Dec. 5, 2011, it was announced that Freeze would be the new head coach at Ole Miss, replacing Nutt.

In 2012, the Rebels were 7-6 and won the BBVA Compass Bowl at Birmingham.

In 2013, Ole Miss was 8-5 and won the Music City Bowl at Nashville.

In 2014, the Rebels were 9-4, upset Alabama and lost in the Peach Bowl.

In 2015, Ole Miss was 10-3, again upset Alabama and moved to third in The Associated Press poll and later beat Oklahoma State by a final score of 48-20 in the Sugar Bowl.

In the movie “The Blind Side,” coaches such as Orgeron, Nutt, Lou Holtz, Nick Saban, Tommy Tuberville and Philip Fulmer played themselves. The scene where the coaches are recruiting Oher was shot in one day in Atlanta.

Freeze was there for a cameo, playing the role of an assistant to Nutt.

His one speaking part: “Wow.”

Wow indeed.

Thanks to the opportunity provided him by Arkansas State, it has been quite a ride the past six seasons for Hugh Freeze.

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College football: Week 7

Thursday, October 13th, 2016

Alabama is no doubt No. 1.


Admit it.

The outcome was never really in doubt last Saturday night at Donald W. Reynolds Razorback Stadium in Fayetteville.

Nick Saban is now 10-0 as the Alabama head coach in games against Arkansas. The Tide has won 18 consecutive games, dating back to last year’s loss at home to Ole Miss early in the season.

Yes, Austin Allen passed for 400 yards (the most ever for a Razorback quarterback against an Alabama team), but it wasn’t enough to overcome the three interceptions by Minkah Fitzgerald and his 114 yards in return yardage. Five Razorback turnovers led to 28 Alabama points in the 49-30 loss.

Meanwhile, Alabama’s offensive and defensive lines dominated the line of scrimmage as the Tide outrushed the Hogs 264-73.

Alabama’s defense and special teams are (as Houston Nutt might have said) special. The Crimson Tide leads the country with nine non-offensive touchdowns. Alabama has scored non-offensive touchdowns in eight consecutive games.

Arkansas is going to have to get a lot better on both lines of scrimmage to make it three consecutive victories over Ole Miss.

We were 3-3 on the picks last week, making the season record 35-13.

Here are the picks for Week 7:

Ole Miss 39, Arkansas 37 — It’s safe to call Ole Miss the best 3-2 team in the country. The Rebels’ losses were by scores of 45-34 to Florida State in the opening game of the season and 48-43 to Alabama on Sept. 17. The Rebels were far more competitive against the Crimson Tide than the Hogs were. The Ole Miss wins have come by scores of 38-13 against Wofford, 45-14 against Georgia and 48-28 against Memphis. The game is in Fayetteville (yet again Arkansas has an evening slot on ESPN). Don’t be surprised if Arkansas wins. But, as noted, there’s going to have to be better blocking and better defensive line play for that to happen. One difference could be that Ole Miss has had two weeks to get ready for this game.

South Alabama 29, Arkansas State 25 — These two teams are difficult to figure out. South Alabama has the Sun Belt Conference’s two best nonconference victories — 21-20 over Mississippi State in Starkville to start the season and 42-24 against a San Diego State team that was ranked at the time. Yet the Jaguars are 0-2 in conference play with losses of 24-9 to Georgia Southern and 28-23 to Louisiana-Lafayette. The other game was a 41-40 nonconference victory over Nicholls State. Arkansas State started the year 0-4 with nonconference losses of 31-10 to Toledo, 51-14 to Auburn, 34-20 to Utah State and 28-23 to UCA. Then on Wednesday of last week, the Red Wolves scored in the final seconds to upset Georgia Southern, 27-26. Expect Saturday night’s game in Jonesboro to be close.

UCA 27, McNeese State 24 — The Bears travel Lake Charles, La., a place where it’s always tough for a visiting team to win. This doesn’t appear to be a vintage McNeese State squad, however. The Cowboys are 3-3 overall and 2-2 in the Southland Conference. The victories were by scores of 33-3 against Tarleton State, 42-35 against Incarnate Word and 38-13 against Nicholls State. The losses came by scores of 30-22 to Louisiana-Lafayette, 31-28 to Stephen F. Austin and 31-24 to Southeastern Louisiana. UCA, which is 4-1 overall and 3-0 in the Southland Conference, has had two weeks to prepare for the game. The lone loss was 35-29 to Samford back on Sept. 10. The wins have come by scores of 56-13 over Houston Baptist, 24-10 over Northwestern State of Louisiana, 28-23 over Arkansas State and 58-27 over Abilene Christian.

Alabama A&M 15, UAPB 13 — It’s 1-5 Alabama A&M going to Pine Bluff to take on 1-4 UAPB on Saturday. You tell me who’s going to win because I don’t have a clue. A&M’s lone victory came by a score of 35-16 against Mississippi Valley State in the second game of the season. The losses have been by scores of 55-0 to Middle Tennessee, 41-20 to Prairie View A&M, 59-31 to Southern University, 34-31 to Texas Southern and 42-19 to Alcorn State.

Harding 38, Southeastern Oklahoma 21 — The 6-0 Bisons, ranked eighth nationally by the American Football Coaches Association in NCAA Division II, have an excellent chance now to finish the regular season undefeated. Southeastern Oklahoma comes to Searcy on Saturday night with a 4-2 record. None of the Bisons’ final four opponents have a winning record at this point. Last Saturday, Harding headed to Arkadelphia to take on a Henderson team that was 5-0, the defending Great American Conference champion and No. 5 in the country. The Bisons led 35-0 at the half and didn’t even use star quarterback Park Parish in the second half. Harding had two defensive touchdowns in the first half and scored two times in the last five seconds of the half. The final score was 35-3. Southeastern has victories over Ouachita, Oklahoma Baptist, Southern Nazarene and Northwestern Oklahoma and losses to Henderson and Southwestern Oklahoma. The Savage Storm is good enough this year to keep this one close for three quarters or so.

Henderson 57, UAM 22 — The 5-1 Reddies, who dropped from No. 5 to No. 15 in the AFCA poll, will take out their frustration in Arkadelphia on Saturday afternoon against the 2-4 Boll Weevils from UAM. The Weevils are coming off a 31-17 defeat at the hands of a Southern Nazarene team that had entered the game with an 0-5 record. The other UAM losses have been to Northwestern Oklahoma, Arkansas Tech and Harding. The two Weevil victories were over 2-4 Southwestern Oklahoma and 2-4 Oklahoma Baptist.

Southern Arkansas 40, Ouachita 23 — The 5-1 Muleriders are on a roll. Southern Arkansas went to Oklahoma Baptist last week and returned home with a 52-7 victory. The Muleriders had 289 yards passing compared to just 34 for Oklahoma Baptist. The Ouachita Tigers started the season 3-1 and were receiving votes for the Top 25, but they’ve been decimated by injuries. In its homecoming game at Arkadelphia on Saturday afternoon, Ouachita will be missing its quarterback, two running backs, a tight end, its best wide receiver and its best offensive lineman. And that’s just on the offensive side of the ball. At least three people will be missing from the secondary for the 3-3 Tigers, meaning Mulerider quarterback Barrett Renner should have a field day. SAU’s only loss has been at Harding. In addition to Oklahoma Baptist, there have been Mulerider victories over Southwestern Oklahoma, Northwestern Oklahoma, Arkansas Tech and Southern Nazarene.

Arkansas Tech 30, East Central Oklahoma 26 — The Wonder Boys evened their record at 3-3 with an impressive 49-17 victory at Ouachita last Saturday. It was the worst home loss for Ouachita in nine years. The Wonder Boys have found a quality quarterback in Jabyes Cross, who started the season at wide receiver. Cross was 12 of 15 passing against Ouachita for 265 yards and added 60 yards rushing. East Central has won nine of the past 11 games in the series. Look for an improving Tech team to get it done at home in Russellville against 1-5 East Central, whose only victory has come against Southern Nazarene.

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Lacewell: A bug all his life

Friday, October 7th, 2016

Larry Lacewell is proud to say that he has always been a bug.

He was a Chigger and a Redbug while growing up at Fordyce.

And then he played college football at Arkansas A&M (now the University of Arkansas at Monticello), where he was a Boll Weevil.

You’ve probably heard him on those radio ads for Delta Pest Control.

The news last month was sudden and shocking: At age 79, Lacewell had suffered a severe stroke at his home in Jonesboro and was battling for his life in the intensive care unit of St. Bernards Medical Center at Jonesboro.

Lacewell, however, has always been a fighter. He survived and is now undergoing rehabilitation in Chicago.

Lacewell was born Feb. 12, 1937, in Fordyce. It was during the Great Depression, and times were tough in the pine woods of south Arkansas. Lacewell’s father had grown up with Paul “Bear” Bryant, and the two men remained friends. It was the Bryant connection that allowed Lacewell to get a job as a graduate assistant at the University of Alabama for the 1959 season.

Lacwell returned home to Arkansas in 1960 for his first full-time job, coaching the freshmen football players at what’s now Arkansas State University. He went back to Monticello to coach the defense at his alma mater in 1962 and then began climbing up the coaching ladder as a defensive assistant — Kilgore Junior College in Texas (which won a national junior college championship in 1964 when he was there), Oklahoma, Wichita State, Iowa State.

In a 1995 story for D Magazine in Dallas, Skip Bayless chronicled how the paths of Lacewell, Barry Switzer (a Crossett native), Jerry Jones (a North Little Rock native) and Jimmy Johnson (a University of Arkansas graduate) crossed through the decades: “Switzer and Lacewell competed against each other in sports. Switzer, says Lacewell, went on to play football in ‘the big city,’ in Fayetteville at the University of Arkansas. But Switzer couldn’t stay away from his roots, sometimes hitchhiking to Monticello to hang around with Lacewell. … The paths crossed, the ties bound.

“At Arkansas, Jerry Jones and Jimmy Johnson were coached by Switzer. Later, while Jones went off to make his first million, Johnson began his coaching career as a high school assistant in Picayune, Miss. Meanwhile, Lacwell had become defensive coordinator at Wichita State and needed an assistant. Switzer recommended Johnson, who worked under Lacewell at Wichita State, then followed him to Iowa State (where Johnson was best man in Lacewell’s wedding) and on to Oklahoma, where Lacewell was defensive coordinator to Switzer’s offensive coordinator. When head coach Chuck Fairbanks left for New England and the NFL, he recommended Switzer over Johnson as his successor.

“Johnson’s first head coaching job was at Oklahoma State, where he didn’t have the talent to beat Switzer’s OU in five tries. But after Johnson took the University of Miami job in 1984, he was 3-0 against Switzer. Meanwhile, Switzer and Lacwell had a falling out, and Lacewell eventually became head coach at Arkansas State, then defensive coordinator at Tennessee. Jones, running up the score and the millions in oil and gas, kept in touch with Johnson and Switzer, who after he was fired in 1989 became something of an entrepreneur himself, investing in some 80 companies.”

As the defensive coordinator at Oklahoma, Lacewell reportedly was the highest-paid assistant coach in the country. He even had his own television show. After the falling out with Switzer, Lacwell served as a volunteer adviser to the Arkansas State program in 1978 before being named the school’s head coach in 1979. His first five teams at ASU went 4-7, 2-9, 6-5, 5-6 and 5-5-1. Then the Indians went on a run that saw them go 8-4-1 in 1984 (advancing to the second round of the 1-AA playoffs), 9-4 in 1985 (advancing to the second round of the 1-AA playoffs again), 12-2-1 in 1986 (advancing to the 1-AA title game) and 8-4-1 in 1987 (advancing to the second round of the 1-AA playoffs).

One of my favorite Lacewell stories concerns his scheduling a game against what turned out to be Bryant’s final team at Alabama in 1982. Lacwell was trying to build the ASU program and needed the guaranteed payout Alabama could offer.

Bryant, Lacewell and the late Logan Young of Memphis (a businessman and bon vivant who was close to both programs) were in Las Vegas for some rest and relaxation, and Bryant happened to mention over drinks late one night that he had an open date he needed to fill.

“Why don’t you play Larry’s team?” Young asked.

“Yeah, coach, that would be great for us,” Lacewell chimed in.

After much urging, a tired Bryant agreed to the game. Young made the two men shake on it.

The next morning, as they went to the airport, Bryant delivered the bad news.

“Larry, I was not thinking straight last night and agreed to something I shouldn’t have agreed to,” Bryant said. “I’ve known you since the day you were born, and I’ve always been a man of my word. But I just can’t do it.”

“Come on coach, we need this game,” Lacewell responded.

Bryant said: “Larry, I can’t play Monticello. My folks would string me up.”

Lacewell exclaimed: “Coach, I’m not at Monticello! That’s where I played! I’m at Arkansas State!”

The game was played at Legion Field in Birmingham in October 1982.

While his team warmed up, Bryant would lean against a goalpost as dozens of photographers took his photo.

Lacewell went out to stand by Bryant that day but didn’t say anything.

Finally, the towering Bryant looked down at the much shorter Lacewell.

“You’re scared, aren’t you? “Bryant asked.

“Yes sir, coach, I am,” Lacewell answered.

Bryant smiled and said, “Hell, you ought to be.”

Alabama won, 34-7. Bryant could have made it much worse, but you don’t pick on old family friends.

In 1986, I had left my job as the assistant sports editor of the Arkansas Democrat to become the newspaper’s Washington, D.C., correspondent.

ASU defeated Sam Houston State, 48-7, in the first game of the 1-AA playoffs on a Saturday.

My phone on Capitol Hill in Washington rang the following Monday. It was Wally Hall, the newspaper’s sports editor.

“Do you want to write sports one more time?” he asked. “Arkansas State is going to Delaware for the second round, and it would be cheaper for you to drive over there from Washington than to have me fly someone up for the game.”

I jumped at the opportunity.

As I checked into my hotel in Delaware the following Friday evening, I ran into Larry Lacewell and Logan Young, who invited me to dinner with them. Arkansas State won the next afternoon, 55-14, and later lost by a score of 48-21 to Georgia Southern in the national championship game at Tacoma, Wash.

Lacewell’s final two teams at Arkansas State went 5-6 in 1988-89, and Lacewell took a job as the defensive coordinator at the University of Tennessee for the 1990 and 1991 seasons. In 1992, his old friends Johnson and Jones hired him as the scouting director for the Dallas Cowboys. He remained in Dallas until 2004.

At a 1984 coaches’ convention in Dallas, Lacewell had urged Johnson to leave Oklahoma State for Miami.

“Jimmy asked me what I thought he should do,” Lacewell said in an interview years later. “I said, ‘Jimmy, have you ever beaten Oklahoma or Nebraska?’ I knew the answer. Then I said, ‘Sooner or later, your alumni are going to figure out that you ain’t beat them. Have you won a national championship? You can win one at Miami.'”

Lacewell became a bit of a fixture in Dallas. In an address to the Little Rock Touchdown Club after retiring from the Cowboys, he said: “I left the Cowboys due to illness and fatigue. Bill Parcells was sick and tired of me.”

Lacewell, though, remained a trusted adviser to Jones. Many say it was Lacewell who helped talk Jones into hiring Switzer in 1994 when Jones and Johnson fell out despite two consecutive Super Bowl wins for the Cowboys.

Lacewell told Bayless: “I honestly believe if I’d said it just wouldn’t work, he wouldn’t be here. But Jerry basically asked me, ‘Will he screw it up?’ and I said, ‘No, he will not screw it up.'”

Bayless wrote: “Originally, says Lacewell, Johnson wanted him to serve as a buffer between Johnson and Jones. Yet Johnson wanted Lacewell to be a loyal buffer. And Johnson, it appeared, thought Lacewell was siding more and more with Jones, who spent more and more time conferring and socializing with Lacewell.

“Says Jones: ‘Larry influenced my decision (to part with) Jimmy without saying a word. All I had to do was observe the way Jimmy began to treat Larry after Jimmy had been the best man in his wedding.’ The flip condescension and the arrogant insensitivity grated on Jones. The Johnson-Lacewell relationship grew so strained that Lacewell refused to spend much time around training-camp practices before the 1993 season. … Yet when Jones fired Johnson, Lacewell went from Johnson’s frying pan back into an old line of fire. Talk about mixed emotions.

“It had been a long time since it happened, about 16 years, and maturity and a deeper spiritual awareness have given Lacewell a better perspective on why it happened. But it did happen, and suddenly Lacewell was faced with having to work closely with the childhood friend (Switzer) who had an affair with his wife.”

Bayless went on to write: “The afternoon Switzer’s hiring was announced, Lacewell told me, ‘The good Lord put us on the earth to forgive and forget.’ Lacewell has forgiven the affair but can’t completely forget. He and Switzer have worked productively, mostly because of their professional respect for each other. Switzer, who leans heavily on Lacewell’s advice, says, ‘Larry Lacewell knows as much about this game as anyone I’ve ever been around.’

“Around the office, he and Lacewell can still laugh and tell stories, like the time in an Oklahoma City airport bar that Switzer decked a guy for making fun of Lacewell’s shoes. But Lacewell draws the line at running with Switzer after hours as they once did. ‘I have different priorities now,’ Lacewell says. ‘My family is more important to me.'”

Lacewell was inducted into the Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame in 1996. He’s a member of the Hall of Honor and the Ring of Honor at Arkansas State. He’s also in the UAM Sports Hall of Fame.

After returning to Arkansas, Lacewell and his wife divided their time between homes at Jonesboro and Hot Springs. He was a fixture at Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame events and often commented on my Facebook page.

Asked about Jerry Jones, Lacewell told The Oklahoman several years ago: “Jerry is probably the most remarkable person I’ve ever been around. He’s the eternal optimist. I’ve never seen anyone like him in my entire life. The world can be falling apart, and he would think the sun is shining. He’s great. He’s a brilliant person. People keep saying the Cowboys need to hire a football man. Jerry has been in the business more than 20 years. Good Lord, I have to believe he’s just as much a football man as Tex Schramm and Gil Brandt after 20 years. Jerry doesn’t get enough credit because he goes on the sidelines and talks as much as he does.”

Of Jimmy Johnson, Lacewell said: “Jimmy was an extremely smart, calculated person who knew what he wanted and how to get there. Jimmy frankly was lucky the year he had 500 draft choices following the trade with the Vikings. That’s hard to screw up when you have that many picks. But Jimmy had an eye for talent. No doubt, when he left it hurt us. I was still learning what I was doing. Gradually, we all improved as a scouting department.”

Lacewell remembers the 1966 season at Oklahoma fondly.

“I coached the freshman team,” he told the Oklahoma City newspaper. “We played real games. I was the head coach. I was such a good coach I had Steve Owens on that freshman team, and Kansas State beat us. They hadn’t beaten anybody. I thought I was a big shot coach and was tired of coaching only the freshmen. I stupidly left for Wichita State. Fortunately they hired me back a few years later.”

He called the chance to return to Oklahoma in 1969 the greatest thing to ever happen to him.

“Other than 1970, when they wanted to fire all of us, from 1971 on it was an incredible run,” Lacewell told The Oklahoman. “I came from a small town in Arkansas. To suddenly be a big shot and have the only television assistant coach’s show in the country, drive a Cadillac and coach a great defense was a thrill. I was such a good coach I made the Selmons great, Rod Shoate great, Randy Hughes great. It was amazing how great I was. Seriously, we had such terrific players that I feel blessed to have coached them.

“I’ll always be thankful to Barry because he saved all of our jobs in 1970 when we went to the Wishbone. Barry studied the Wishbone so hard and knew it so well that helped us get to where we needed to be. Barry never gets enough credit for being the one who helped get the program rolling again. Everyone knows Barry and I had our problems, but it wasn’t quite what people thought. But it wasn’t good. At the same time, I don’t believe you walk away from a relationship where you could use the word ‘love’ to describe how much we respected one another. We had known each other since I was in the eighth grade. We came from similar backgrounds. We had great admiration for each other. It was pretty easy to repair our friendship. It has flourished over the years.”

Best wishes to Larry Lacewell, a colorful Arkansan if there ever were one, as he recovers from his stroke.

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College football: Week 6

Tuesday, October 4th, 2016

What a Saturday it was in college football.

In the Southeastern Conference, it was a day that saw Tennessee stay undefeated on a hail Mary.

It was a day that saw Texas A&M remain undefeated after giving up a 75-yard touchdown run to South Carolina on the first play from scrimmage.

And it was a day that saw Alabama stay undefeated with its expected win over that basketball school known as Kentucky.

Now, No. 1 Alabama rolls into Fayetteville for the 6 p.m. ESPN game Saturday against Arkansas.

It was a beautiful Saturday morning at War Memorial Stadium in Little Rock last Saturday for the scrimmage against Alcorn State. The Razorbacks ended a three-game losing streak in the capital city with the 52-10 victory, outgaining Alcorn State on the ground, 353-155.

The game was historic in the sense that it was the 150th win for Arkansas at War Memorial Stadium. Arkansas teams are 150-60-4 at the stadium and 167-67-4 overall in games played in Little Rock.

I’m among those hoping that the Little Rock tradition can continue past 2018. As I watched the enthusiastic fans in the packed end zones, I realized that many of these are people who never otherwise would see the Razorbacks play.

And where else but War Memorial can you still see the Wave?

Alcorn State was a yard away from cutting the Arkansas lead to 10 points at halftime, but a fumbled shotgun snap kept it 24-7 at the break, and the Hogs cruised home from there.

The real story of the day in the SEC came between the hedges in Athens, Ga.

Tennessee (5-0, 2-0) rallied from a double-digit deficit for the fourth time this season. The Volunteers went ahead for the first time in the game when they recovered a Georgia fumble in the end zone with 2:56 remaining. The Bulldogs (3-2, 1-2) went back ahead on a 47-yard touchdown pass with just 10 seconds left.

An excessive celebration penalty forced Georgia to kick off from its 20, and a long return left Tennessee just 43 yards away from the promised land. Joshua Dobbs was able to get the ball in the end zone from there, and Tennessee had perhaps its most amazing comeback since the Stoerner Stumble at Knoxville in 1999 (I still get a headache thinking about the end of that game, which spurred the Vols to a national championship).

So it is that ESPN GameDay will be at the Texas A&M-Tennessee contest rather than in Fayetteville.

So it is that CBS will cover Texas A&M and Tennessee at 2:30 p.m. rather than Arkansas and Alabama.

An evening game on ESPN, though, is still good exposure for the Arkansas program. The top evening crew of Joe Tessitore, Todd Blackledge and Holly Rowe will be calling the Hogs for the third time this year. They earlier called the win over TCU and the loss to Texas A&M. Arkansas will be back in a 6 p.m. ESPN slot for its game against Ole Miss.

We were 6-1 on the picks last week, making the season record 32-10. Here are the picks for Week 6:

Alabama 30, Arkansas 22 — Alabama was sluggish early in its 34-6 win against Kentucky. The score was tied 3-3 at the end of the first quarter. Don’t expect the Tide to be sluggish in Fayetteville this Saturday night. That said, I have the sense that Arkansas will hang around, especially if Austin Allen has a stellar game at quarterback. For the first time since the Razorbacks joined the SEC in 1992, an Arkansas quarterback has passed for multiple touchdowns in each of the first five games. Granted, Allen has yet to play against a defense like Alabama’s defense. But he’s due for a breakout game if (and this is a big “if” considering the beating he took against Texas A&M) his offensive line will give him some protection.

Georgia Southern 33, Arkansas State 29 — Poor Red Wolves. They started the season 0-4, including a loss at home against UCA. Now, they have to play a home game on a Wednesday night when the Baptists in northeast Arkansas are supposed to be in church. College football should never be played on a Wednesday night, though that’s a subject for another day. Georgia Southern comes to Jonesboro with a 3-1 record and the nation’s fourth-ranked rushing offense. Using the triple option, Georgia Southern averages 317.8 rushing yards per game. There’s great tradition at the school. Georgia Southern won six FCS national titles and is 19-8 since moving into the FBS in 2014. The Arkansas State defense has given up an average of 239.3 rushing yards per game in losses of 31-10 to Toledo, 51-14 to Auburn, 34-20 to Utah State and 28-23 to UCA. The Georgia Southern wins have come by scores of 54-0 over Savannah State, 24-9 over the South Alabama team that beat Mississippi State to open the season and 23-21 over Louisiana-Monroe. The one loss was at Western Michigan, 49-31.

Harding 25, Henderson 24 — It’s 5-0 Henderson hosting 5-0 Harding for the Great American Conference lead in Arkadelphia on Saturday afternoon. Harding coasted through the month of September, outscoring its first four opponents 193-35. In a well-played football game by both teams on the first day of October, things became more difficult. Harding had to come from behind midway through the fourth quarter to defeat Ouachita in Searcy on Saturday night, 24-20. Ouachita had knocked off nationally ranked Bison teams in each of the previous two seasons. With its starting quarterback and best running back out due to injuries, Henderson struggled in a 27-20 victory over 2-3 Arkansas Tech. Both injured players are expected to return for this week’s game. Henderson now has a 24-game road winning streak overall and a 25-0 road record against GAC teams since the conference was formed in 2011. But the Bisons knocked the Reddies off in Arkadelphia two years ago, so they know they can win at Carpenter-Haygood Stadium. This has the makings of a classic.

Ouachita 39, Arkansas Tech 34 — Even in defeat, the 3-2 Tigers played their best game of the season at Searcy against Harding. Ouachita’s offense managed to score 17 points in the first half against what was the top-ranked defense in NCAA Division II coming into the game. The Tigers have proved tough to beat at Cliff Harris Stadium since the stadium opened in 2014 (when Ouachita went undefeated in the regular season). The only losses there have come in the second round of the NCAA Division II playoffs in 2014 and to Henderson, the GAC champion, in last year’s Battle of the Ravine. Tech is feeling better about itself after keeping it close against Henderson. Expect this one to go down to the wire.

Southern Arkansas 23, Oklahoma Baptist 19 — The Muleriders are off to a 4-1 start with victories of 21-17 over Southwestern Oklahoma, 33-14 over Northwestern Oklahoma, 28-21 over Arkansas Tech and 37-20 over Southern Nazarene. The loss was to Harding, 35-14. Oklahoma Baptist, which struggled last year as it made the move from the NAIA to NCAA Division II, is 2-3. The victories have both been close ones — a 19-15 upset of Arkansas Tech and a 36-34 victory over East Central Oklahoma in triple overtime. The losses have been by scores of 38-7 to Harding, 42-22 to Southeastern Oklahoma and 31-27 to UAM. It should be a win, but it won’t be easy for Southern Arkansas, which needs a victory to stay one game behind the Harding-Henderson winner.

UAM 40, Southern Nazarene 30 — Nazarene is right where most people expected it to be at this point in the season: Winless. Its five losses have come by scores of 46-0 to Arkansas Tech, 63-7 to Harding, 23-6 to East Central Oklahoma, 45-14 to Southeastern Oklahoma and 37-20 to Southern Arkansas. In addition to its victory Saturday against Oklahoma Baptist, the Boll Weevils won an earlier game against Southwestern Oklahoma, 35-28. UAM’s three losses have been by scores of 59-56 to Northwestern Oklahoma, 38-31 to Arkansas Tech and 57-7 to Harding. The Weevils should even their record at 3-3 on Saturday.

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The Shockers at War Memorial

Friday, September 30th, 2016

Thanks to Nate Olson of Simmons Bank for his help on this story. For more, please go to our Simmons Bank blog at

Thousands of Arkansans have memories of University of Arkansas football games they’ve attended through the years at War Memorial Stadium in Little Rock.

Those who were there on Oct. 24, 1970, will never forget when the Wichita State Shockers came to town.

As far as football games go, Arkansas’ game against Alcorn State from Mississippi at War Memorial Stadium this Saturday likely won’t be memorable.

But a ceremony on the field should be.

Surviving members of Wichita State’s 1970 football team will attend the Arkansas-Alcorn State game. A plane crash that killed 31 people is at the heart of this story.

Why Arkansas?

Why Little Rock?

Why War Memorial Stadium?

Read on.

Chuck Dicus, a former Razorback and a member of the College Football Hall of Fame, now heads the Arkansas Game & Fish Foundation in Little Rock. A business associate met a former Wichita State football player named John Potts, and they began talking about what happened in 1970. The business associate mentioned her conversation to Dicus this spring and said he should reach out to Potts.

Dicus called, and the idea of a reunion with both teams in attendance was born.

On Oct. 2, 1970, two chartered planes left Wichita to carry the Wichita State football team to a game in Logan, Utah, against Utah State.

Most of the starters were on what was known as the Gold plane.

Others were on what was known as the Black plane.

Olson picks up the story at that point: “While in Denver, several players on the Gold plane asked their pilots to take a scenic route. The players wanted to pass over the Eisenhower Tunnel, on which they had worked as part of a road crew the previous summer. When the plane tried to reach a higher altitude, the cargo load proved too heavy. The plane became trapped in a box canyon, clipped the trees for 400 yards and crashed. Some passengers survived the initial impact but perished when the aircraft burst into flames.

“The Black plane stuck with its original flight plan, which called for it to fly north for 60 miles to avoid the tallest mountains before heading west to Utah. In Logan, the Black plane was sitting at the airport as the players wondered where the other plane was.”

Ray Burford, a player who was on the Black plane and is now a vice president and commercial loan officer for Simmons Bank in Wichita, remembers one of the players joking, “Maybe they crashed.”

Olson writes: “The players knew something was wrong when airport officials pulled assistant coaches off the aircraft for a discussion. When the coaches came back on the plane, they were visibly shaken. Burford says the team was taken to a hotel where the surviving players spent the night. The coaches made the players stay in their rooms to avoid the reporters who had gathered to cover the story. The team boarded a bus for Salt Lake City the next day and took a commercial flight back to Wichita. The bus broke down on the way. When they arrived at the airport, some players opted to drive home. Burford says the days that followed the crash were spent at memorial services for players and staff members. Despite the grief, the players voted to continue the season.”

The NCAA didn’t allow freshmen to play in varsity games in those days but made an exception for Wichita State.

An Oct. 10 home game against Southern Illinois was canceled.

An Oct. 17 home game against Cincinnati was rescheduled for later in the season.

That meant that the Oct. 24 game against Arkansas at War Memorial Stadium would be the Shockers’ first game since the crash.

Bruce James was an All-American defensive end on the 1970 Arkansas squad and now lives in Little Rock. He remembers the Razorback head coach, Frank Broyles, telling him that he would start but only play four downs. Broyles later told members of the scout team and walk-on players that if they could get to Little Rock, they would play. For many of them, it was the lone varsity game in which they would compete.

“The Shockers took a commercial flight from Wichita to Little Rock,” Olson writes. “The only available flight brought the team to Little Rock a day earlier than normal road trips. Players were allowed to explore downtown Little Rock. Little Rock residents left cards and other memorials at the team hotel. James says he remembers that the captains, including one survivor on crutches, had tears in their eyes. When the Shockers took the field, the crowd stood and gave them an ovation that Burford says ‘felt like 10 minutes.’

“James recalls that a number of Arkansas fans decided to root for the underdogs. Burford says the Shockers left the field proud of their effort. Wichita State discontinued football in 1986, but there’s a constant reminder of that 1970 team on campus. A monument was built soon after the tragedy, and Burford says that every year the surviving players gather for a memorial service. This year that service will be held in Little Rock on Sunday following the Arkansas-Alcorn State game.”

Kevin Crass, a Little Rock attorney who now chairs the War Memorial Stadium Commission, was a young boy from Pine Bluff in attendance at the 1970 game.

“There have been some great moments at War Memorial Stadium, but that has to be right up there,” Crass says.

When the Gold plane crashed about 1 p.m. on Oct. 2 on Mount Trelease, which is 40 miles west of Denver, there were 31 people killed — 14 players, 14 staff members or boosters and three crew members. Twenty-nine of them died at the scene. Athlete John Taylor and trainer Tom Reeves died later in hospitals.

Eight players and the co-pilot survived.

The Wichita State athletic director and his wife were killed.

The Shocker head coach and his wife also were killed.

The chairman of the Shocker Club and his wife were killed.

A Kansas state representative and his wife were killed.

A couple who had won a Shocker Club membership drive and were awarded the trip to Logan were killed.

Burford says he often thinks about the day of the crash. He also thinks about that night in Little Rock later in the month, the sea of red in the stands and the sustained standing ovation.

“It just shows so much about this city, the state and Razorback fans,” James says. “Everybody here wanted them to know how much they cared. It was an awesome moment. It made me proud to be a Razorback.”

The former Arkansas and Wichita State players will participate in a tailgate party Saturday morning and then be honored on the field.

“I see it as an opportunity for our team to show their team how much we respected them and still do today,” Dicus says. “They’re still going through it every single day, and it’s going to be a moving, emotional time.”

Burford, who was a sophomore in 1970, was playing messenger guard with sophomore Richard Stines, who died in the crash. The two players would rotate with the play call.

“You don’t process something like that,” Burford says of the crash. “It’s pretty tough. You lose your head coach and teammates, and three or four of those guys were people I had played against since I was in grade school.”

Burford had been scheduled to fly on the Gold plane. He instead got on the Black plane, which he had ridden earlier in the season. His parents were distraught after seeing their son’s name on the Gold plane flight manifest.

Gus Grebe, Wichita State’s radio play-by-play man, was on the Black plane. Burford gave Grebe a novel to read. During the refueling stop in Denver, a player told Grebe he should be on the Gold plane. Grebe declined the offer. He said he would stay on the Black plane since he had left the book there.

Burford knows the memories will come flooding back at War Memorial Stadium on Saturday.

“When we were in the locker room together, and then when we got the standing ovation, we knew we had done the right thing by playing,” he says. “We’re coming back to Little Rock to get a little bit more of that feeling again. It’s like coming full circle. It’s closure.”

Burford finished his college football career at Wichita State and went to professional training camp with the Houston Oilers of the NFL in 1974. He later played briefly for the Chicago Bears’ developmental team in Madison, Wisc.

Burford eventually returned to the Wichita area to teach and coach high school football. At the time, he was the youngest high school head coach in the state. After three years, a Wichita State booster hired him to work for a real estate development company. The company’s owner was killed in an accident a year later, and Burford took a job as the top assistant coach at Wichita North High School. Prior to the 1978 season, he was offered a job at what was then the Federal Land Bank. Burford left coaching for good. He worked for the Federal Land Bank for more than 12 years and later moved into commercial community banking.

Burford has been married for 38 years and has a daughter who lives in Charlottesville, Va. He says several of his teammates struggled for years to come to terms with the crash. Burford was determined to live life to the fullest after that fateful day.

“I took very few things for granted after that,” he says. “I appreciated things more than I had previously. … You looked at the opportunities going forward as God-given opportunities. We knew we better count our blessings and do the best we could.”

“It’s important that we as Razorback fans, and we as the Razorback team of 1970, show how much we think of them,” Dicus says of Saturday’s reunion. “Our hearts are still with them.”

Ed Plopa, a sophomore receiver on the 1970 team, told the Wichita Eagle: “They were so kind to ask us down, we need to be there. We’re very excited and, I guess, astounded by the fact that the Razorbacks think enough of us to invite us down there and be so hospitable.”

Paul Suellentrop writes for the Wichita newspaper: “Players on both sides of that 1970 game mark it as one of the most memorable experiences of their football careers. Newspaper accounts describe the crowd of 40,000 giving the Shockers a minute-long standing ovation. Telegrams and cards with well-wishes filled a training table in the locker room. Arkansas won 62-0. WSU played with 46 athletes, 39 of them freshmen and sophomores.”

In a 2005 story marking the 25th anniversary of the game in Little Rock, former player John Hoheisel said: “Just going out there, the standing ovation, it gave you butterflies in your tummy. You learn to appreciate people and, when things happen, how they’ll gather around you.”

In that same story, former player Bruce Featherstone said of the Arkansans they met on that trip: “People would start crying. They wanted to say something and didn’t know what to say. It was just overwhelming.”

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College football: Week 5

Wednesday, September 28th, 2016

So long, Les Miles.

Welcome back to the Southeastern Conference head coaching ranks, Crazy Ed Orgeron.

It was quite a week in the SEC.

Auburn’s Gus Malzahn relinquished his play-calling duties and traded in his visor for a cap. Auburn didn’t score a touchdown, but six field goals were enough for an 18-13 Tiger victory that cost Miles his job.

To the west in Arlington, Texas, it was ugly for the Razorbacks in the second half. Texas A&M 45, Arkansas 24 is one to forget.

The game:

— Marked the fifth consecutive time for the Aggies to beat Arkansas.

— Marked the sixth consecutive year for Arkansas to lose its SEC opener.

— Made Kevin Sumlin 5-0 as a head coach against Arkansas.

— Made Bret Bielema 0-4 as a head coach against the Aggies.

Austin Allen was 28 of 42 passing for 371 yards, but Texas A&M scored 17 points off Arkansas turnovers. The game marked the first time for the two schools to meet as ranked opponents since 2011. Arkansas leads the overall series, 42-29-3, and the series is tied 3-3 in games played at what’s now AT&T Stadium.

Little Rock gets its token game on Saturday as the Razorbacks play an Alcorn State team that lost earlier in the season to a UAPB squad that’s now 1-3.

We were 5-2 on the picks last week. We made the mistake of picking Arkansas. And, of course, we picked Arkansas State to beat UCA in Jonesboro. Who could have seen that upset coming?

The record for the season is now 26-9.

Let’s get to the picks for Week 5:

Arkansas 55, Alcorn State 14 — Look at the bright side. The 11 a.m. start allows you to have brunch at your tailgate party on the War Memorial golf course. Who doesn’t like brunch? Alcorn is the defending SWAC champion but has struggled this year. The first scheduled game against Bethune-Cookman at Daytona Beach, Fla., was called off due to severe weather. That was followed by a narrow 21-18 victory over Alabama State and losses of 45-43 in three overtimes to UAPB and 43-18 to Grambling. I have a feeling we’ll be seeing the dreaded Wave in War Memorial Stadium by the third quarter of this one.

UCA 29, Abilene Christian 19 — How about those Bears beating Arkansas State in Jonesboro? A crowd of 28,012 looked on as UCA won 28-23 to move to 3-1. ASU is off to an 0-4 start. It was the first time for UCA to defeat an Arkansas State team since 1937. And it was the first time for ASU to lose to an FCS team since the Thanksgiving Day loss to Nicholls State in 2001 that cost Joe Hollis his job. Arkansas State fell to the Bears despite leading 469-382 in total yardage. The Bears should be feeling good about themselves as they make the long trip to Abilene, Texas, this week to take on an 0-4 Abilene Christian team in a Southland Conference affair. Abilene Christian has lost 37-21 to Air Force, 55-52 to Northern Colorado, 27-24 to Houston Baptist and 41-30 to Stephen F. Austin.

Alabama State 15, UAPB 13 — Alabama State is 0-4 with losses of 26-13 to Texas-San Antonio, 21-18 to Alcorn State, 64-6 to Southern University and 31-27 to Texas Southern. UAPB fell to 1-3 when the Golden Lions lost 32-28 at War Memorial Stadium in Little Rock last Saturday afternoon to a Jackson State team that came in with an 0-3 record. Jackson State jumped out to a 15-0 lead and never trailed. So we have a Golden Lion team that upset the defending SWAC champions from Alcorn State on ESPNU but has also lost at home to an NCAA Division II squad. As usual, the Golden Lions are impossible to figure out. When in doubt, give a slight edge to the home team. This game is in Montgomery.

Harding 39, Ouachita 28 — Few series in college football have had games decided in the final minute for three consecutive seasons. That has been the case in this series with Harding winning at the end of the game in Arkadelphia three years ago and Ouachita winning with late scores in each of the past two seasons. Harding and Ouachita have been two of the Big Three in the Great American Conference since the GAC was formed in 2011. The difference is that Ouachita won conference titles in 2011 and 2014, and Harding has yet to win a conference championship (Henderson won league titles in 2012, 2013 and 2015). The Bison faithful think this is their year to bring the trophy to Searcy. They have Ouachita at home this week and Henderson in Arkadelphia next week. Harding is strong on both offense and defense. Ouachita has a stellar offense, but its defense struggles. Harding went to 4-0 on Saturday with a 57-7 victory over UAM. Ouachita is 3-1, having defeated Northwestern Oklahoma by a final score of 42-34 as sophomore Kris Oliver from Arkadelphia rushed for 237 yards and two touchdowns on 33 carries.

Henderson 40, Arkansas Tech 27 — The 4-0 Reddies remain in the Top 10 of NCAA Division II. Following a lightning delay of more than two hours on the road last week, Henderson took care of business against 0-4 Southwestern Oklahoma by a final score of 45-17. The Reddies are on the road again this week in Russellville. They have a 23-game road winning streak and a 24-0 road record against GAC teams since the conference was formed. That’s nothing short of amazing. Tech fell to 2-2 Saturday with a 28-21 loss at Southern Arkansas. The only hope for the Wonder Boys is that the Reddies already are looking ahead to Harding.

Oklahoma Baptist 37, UAM 33 — UAM dropped to 1-3 with its loss to Harding. The Bisons rolled to a 36-0 halftime lead and finished the game with 435 yards of offense, compared with just 131 yards for the Weevils. UAM had a negative 25 rushing yards, while the Bisons rolled up 378 yards on the ground. Oklahoma Baptist comes into Monticello with a 2-2 record. The wins have been by scores of 19-15 over Arkansas Tech and 36-34 (in three overtimes) over East Central Oklahoma. The losses have come by scores of 38-7 to Harding and 42-22 to Southeastern Oklahoma.

Southern Arkansas 41, Southern Nazarene 18 — The Muleriders improved to 3-1 with the win over Arkansas Tech. Southern Arkansas scored a touchdown with 7:24 left in the game to break a 21-21 tie. Southern Nazarene is 0-4 and is again the conference whipping boy. The losses have been by scores of 46-0 to Arkansas Tech, 63-7 to Harding, 23-6 to East Central Oklahoma and 45-14 to Southeastern Oklahoma.


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College football: Week 4

Monday, September 19th, 2016

The Razorbacks are 3-0 for the first time since 2013.

Arkansas’ 42-3 victory over my wife’s alma mater at Donald W. Reynolds Razorback Stadium last Saturday night was little more than a scrimmage. The Hogs outgained the Bobcats 467-105 and outrushed Texas State 226-22. That’s the fewest rushing yards allowed by an Arkansas team since the Texas Bowl in 2014.

Arkansas has scored 40 or more points in eight of its past 10 games.

The victory over Texas State makes Bret Bielema 39-4 as a head coach in regular-season nonconference games. Arkansas improved to 24-1 against schools currently playing in the Sun Belt Conference, and Texas State fell to 0-5 against schools currently playing in the Southeastern Conference.

Now it’s on to Arlington, Texas, for a battle of ranked teams that will air late Saturday night on ESPN. Texas A&M is the higher-ranked team, but Arkansas might be due after having lost the past two seasons in overtime to the Aggies.

We were 7-1 on the picks last week, missing only on UAPB’s upset victory at Alcorn State in three overtimes. That makes the record 21-7 for the season.

Let’s get to the picks for Week 4:

Arkansas 32, Texas A&M 31 — The Aggies gained national attention on the first Saturday of the season when they upset a UCLA team that came into College Station ranked No. 16. The 31-24 overtime victory occurred with a CBS national television audience looking on. Texas A&M had its own scrimmage a week later with a 67-0 victory over Prairie View A&M from the SWAC. Last Saturday, the Aggies went on the road for the first time this season and came away from Auburn with a 29-16 win. The Aggies had 478 yards of offense as Gus Malzahn’s Tigers fell to 1-2 overall and 0-1 in SEC play. Trevor Knight passed for 247 yards for Texas A&M. The previous two games between Arkansas and Texas A&M went into overtime. This latest edition of the series should prove just as entertaining.

Arkansas State 40, UCA 30 — It has been a rough start to the 2016 season for Arkansas State. The Red Wolves fell to 0-3 last Friday night with a 34-20 loss to Utah State in Logan, Utah. Utah State, which plays in the Mountain West Conference, is now 2-1. The home team jumped out to a 17-0 lead in the first quarter and led 24-0 at halftime. The Red Wolves had 354 yards of offense but also had 18 penalties for 129 yards. Even though UCA is an FCS team, the Bears might be able to hang around in Jonesboro on Saturday night, at least for three quarters. UCA moved to 2-1 overall and 2-0 in the Southland Conference last Saturday with a 24-10 win in Conway over 0-3 Northwestern State from Louisiana. UCA had 227 yards on the ground and a nine-minute advantage in time of possession. Antwon Wells led the Bears with 129 yards on 25 carries.

Jackson State 21, UAPB 19 — As usual, the Golden Lions are hard to figure out. They looked awful in an opening 44-0 loss to Tennessee State and then came home and lost to an NCAA Division II school, Panhandle State of Oklahoma. So what happened next? They ventured down to Lorman, Miss., last Thursday night to take on the defending SWAC champions from Alcorn State in a nationally televised game on ESPNU and came away with that 45-43 victory in three overtimes. Down by 16 points with 5:55 left in regulation, UAPB scored two touchdowns and converted two-point conversions after both of them to force overtime. The third two-point conversion of the evening won the game in the third overtime. Brandon Duncan passed for 505 yards for UAPB. Jackson State, this week’s opponent at War Memorial Stadium, is 0-3 following losses of 63-13 to UNLV, 40-26 to Tennessee State and 35-14 to Grambling. Can the Golden Lions make it two wins in a row? I never know what to expect.

Henderson 41, Southwestern Oklahoma 25 — The Reddies are 3-0 and continue to move up in the national rankings. They rolled to a 62-23 victory over 1-2 Northwestern Oklahoma in Arkadelphia last Saturday afternoon in a game that saw them take a 31-0 lead before Northwestern even had a first down. The Reddies outgained the Rangers 592-305. Southwestern Oklahoma was expected to contend for a conference title this year but has been a disappointment. The Bulldogs fell to 0-3 Saturday with a loss at Ouachita.

Ouachita 49, Northwestern Oklahoma 33 — The Tigers rebounded from their upset loss at Southeastern Oklahoma with a 48-28 win in Arkadelphia over Southwestern Oklahoma on Saturday night. Ouachita quarterback Austin Warford, a junior from Malvern, was named the Great American Conference’s offensive player of the week after rushing for 144 yards and passing for another 268 yards. Warford is the leading rusher in the conference and leads all quarterbacks in NCAA Division II in rushing yardage.

Southern Arkansas 29, Arkansas Tech 27 — Both teams are 2-1 and needing a win to realistically stay in the race for a conference crown. Tech, which finished 9-3 last year, opened with an easy victory over Southern Nazarene and then was upset at Oklahoma Baptist. Last Saturday night, the Wonder Boys struggled before finally posting a 38-31 win over 1-2 UAM. Tech quarterback Ty Reasnor threw for 330 yards. Southern Arkansas won its first two games against Southwestern Oklahoma and Northwestern Oklahoma before falling by 21 points at Harding on Saturday night. It was the 12th consecutive year for SAU to lose to Harding. We’ll give a slight edge to the home team.

Harding 50, UAM 28 — The Bisons are 3-0 and seem positioned to challenge Henderson for the conference crown. In the 35-14 win over Southern Arkansas on Saturday, Harding finished with 459 yards of offense, with 385 of that coming on the ground. The Harding defense, meanwhile, held the Muleriders to just 275 yards of offense. The game is in Monticello, but the Boll Weevils (who lost to Northwestern Oklahoma in the opener, upset Southwestern Oklahoma and then lost to Arkansas Tech) don’t appear to have enough athletes to hang with the Bisons.

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College football: Week 3

Tuesday, September 13th, 2016

I almost nailed the final score of Arkansas’ game at TCU.

I had it 40-38 in last week’s post.

It was 41-38.

The problem: I had the wrong team winning.

I ended last week’s prediction summary by writing that “it should be an entertaining game.”

That was an understatement.

My youngest son who was there (I was off broadcasting another college game in Oklahoma) told me that it was “one of the best college games I’ve ever seen.”

Granted, he’s only 19. Most of us have seen a lot more college football. But that doesn’t take away from one of the defining victories thus far in the Bret Bielema era. The Razorbacks ended a 14-game home winning streak for the Frogs, the third longest such streak in the country.

Yes, it was the sixth consecutive victory for Arkansas at Amon Carter Stadium, but this is not your father’s old Southwest Conference version of TCU. This is a talented team that Arkansas beat on Saturday night.

Consider the fact that in its last three true road games, Arkansas has won at No. 18 Ole Miss, No. 9 LSU and No. 15 TCU.

Call them the Road Hogs.

This was, by the way, the fifth victory by an unranked Arkansas team over a ranked opponent since the start of the 2014 season. It was the first time for Arkansas to face a ranked nonconference opponent since 2008.

After a stellar 9-1 record in Week 1, we took a beating in Week 2, going 5-5.

Lessons learned:

— Don’t underestimate Arkansas on the road.

— Pick against UAPB (even when playing a mediocre NCAA Division II team at home) until the Golden Lions win a game or two.

— The Great American Conference is going to be wild this year. There were three upsets in Week 2 with Southeastern Oklahoma beating Ouachita, Oklahoma Baptist upsetting Arkansas Tech and UAM defeating Southwestern Oklahoma.

Thus we’re 14-6 on the season.

Let’s get to the picks for Week 3:

Arkansas 45, Texas State 20 — Louisiana Tech put a scare into Arkansas in Week 1 at Fayetteville. Don’t expect a scare this week from a Sun Belt Conference team that has just one game under its belt in 2016, a 56-54 victory over Ohio in overtime. Texas State is my wife’s alma mater. I’m letting her know that the Bobcats are just coming to our state for that $1 million check. The game should give quarterback Austin Allen a chance to continue to improve. When was the last time an Arkansas quarterback threw a touchdown pass, caught a pass for a score (albeit a two-point conversion) and ran for a touchdown in the same game? Allen was 17 of 29 passing for 223 yards and three touchdowns against the Horned Frogs. Rawleigh Williams also should continue to improve after carrying the ball 28 times for 137 yards against the Frogs. And, heck, Dan Skipper might as well block another field goal attempt while he’s at it.

Utah State 37, Arkansas State 34 — It has been a rough start for the Red Wolves. On Friday, Sept. 2, they were whipped in every phase of the game against Toledo in a 31-10 loss at Jonesboro. Eight days later, they went to Auburn and fell by a final score of 51-14. Despite playing substitutes for part of the second half, Auburn finished with 707 yards of offense. Rushing accounted for 462 of those yards. It was the most yardage ever given up by a Blake Anderson-coached team. ASU plays another one of those awful Friday night games this week (Fridays should be reserved for high school football) with a long road trip to Utah State, which beat Weber State by a score of 46-6 to start the season and then fell 45-7 to USC in Los Angeles. The game, which will be televised nationally by the CBS Sports Network, will feature a Utah State team that has won 24 of its last 27 home games, including 13 of its last 16 against nonconference competition. The last time ASU went to Logan, Utah State won, 49-0. It should be much closer this time around despite the recent Red Wolf struggles.

Alcorn State 29, UAPB 13 — It appears as if it’s going to be a long year for the Golden Lions. They lost their opener, 44-0, to Tennessee State at Nashville and then came home last weekend and lost again. This time the defeat was at the hands of a Division II school (Panhandle State of Oklahoma) and not a very strong one at that. Panhandle State had lost 59-21 the previous week to Sam Houston State. Alcorn’s first game of the season against Bethune-Cookman in Daytona Beach was called off due to severe weather. Alcorn (which will play Arkansas at War Memorial Stadium on Oct. 1) is 1-0 following a 21-18 victory last week over Alabama State. We’ll go with the home team in this Thursday night game at Lorman, Miss.

UCA 28, Northwestern State 25 — The Bears are 1-1 following a 35-29 loss to Samford in Conway on Saturday night. It was a far cry from the 56-13 UCA home victory the previous weekend over Southland Conference foe Houston Baptist. The Bears play a third consecutive home game this week. The opponent Saturday is Northwestern State of Louisiana. Samford returned an interception and a fumble for touchdowns, building a 25-point lead by the third quarter. The Bears pulled back within six points with 2:11 left, but Samford then recovered an onside kick. Northwestern has opened the season with losses of 55-7 to Baylor and 21-18 to Incarnate Word.

Henderson 40, Northwestern Oklahoma 22 — This is the first half of an Arkadelphia doubleheader on Saturday that sees Henderson play in the afternoon and Ouachita play on the other side of U.S. Highway 67 at night. The Reddies struggled at home two weeks ago to beat a good Southeastern Oklahoma team, 13-11, and then went on the road to Ada, Okla., and rolled to a 34-7 victory over East Central Oklahoma. The Reddies led 27-0 at halftime. It was the 500th victory in school history. Jaquan Cole and Andrew Black each had two rushing touchdowns for Henderson. Northwestern Oklahoma kicked a field goal with four seconds left for a 59-56 win over UAM in the season opener but found the going much tougher in Magnolia a week later, losing 33-14 to Southern Arkansas.

Ouachita 41, Southwestern Oklahoma 35 — It’s not often that a team has 545 yards of offense and loses. That’s just what Ouachita did on Saturday night in Durant, Okla., as turnovers resulted in a disastrous second quarter in which the Tigers were outscored 24-0. Ouachita dominated the other three quarters, but it wasn’t enough, resulting in a 45-38 loss to Southeastern Oklahoma. Southwestern Oklahoma, this week’s opponent in Arkadelphia, jumped out to a 17-0 lead in its season opener against Southern Arkansas but wound up losing by four points, 21-17. The lingering effects of that collapse were apparent in Monticello last Saturday night as the Boll Weevils secured a 35-28 upset victory. This should be a high-scoring affair since both defenses have had their problems.

Harding 33, Southern Arkansas 27 — This is by far the game of the week in the GAC. Southern Arkansas is 2-0 with those wins over Southwestern Oklahoma and Northwestern Oklahoma. Mulerider quarterback Barrett Renner threw for 261 yards and two touchdowns in the victory over Northwestern. While SAU likes to throw the football, Harding runs (and runs and runs) out of its double-slot offense. The Bisons opened the season with 389 yards rushing in a 38-7 victory over Oklahoma Baptist at home. They then traveled to Oklahoma City for the second game of the season and had 478 yards of rushing on 72 carries in a 63-7 thrashing of Southern Nazarene. The winner of this game will join Henderson as an early favorite to capture the GAC championship.

Arkansas Tech 39, UAM 26 — Tech began its season with a 46-0 win in Russellville over Southern Nazarene. The Wonder Boys, who finished 9-3 last year with a victory over Eastern New Mexico in the Heart of Texas Bowl, had high hopes for 2016. That’s what made last Saturday’s 19-15 loss to Oklahoma Baptist (which was picked 10th out of 12 GAC teams in the coaches’ preseason poll) in Shawnee so shocking. That’s the same Oklahoma Baptist team that lost by 31 points to Harding in Week 1. UAM’s win over Southwestern Oklahoma was almost as surprising. The Wonder Boys might not be as good as we first thought. And the Boll Weevils might be better than we first thought.

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