Scoop and score.
Scoop and score.
You have to scoop and score!
I found myself muttering that over and over as I went to bed at midnight. I’m sure I was joined by Arkansans in all 75 counties along with Arkansas expatriates across the country.
A lot has been said and written about Southeastern Conference dominance over the Big Ten. After all, Ohio State (with the collapse of Michigan, it’s now by far the premier program in its conference) was 0-9 against the SEC in bowl games. The streak started with a 35-6 loss in the Sugar Bowl to Bear Bryant’s Alabama Crimson Tide on Jan. 2, 1978. The most recent of the nine losses came three decades later — Jan. 7, 2008 — in the same stadium, a 38-24 loss to LSU in the national championship game.
Along comes Arkansas, though, which is now 0-4 against the Big Ten in bowl games since having joined the SEC.
Houston Nutt’s first team in 1998 had that glorious 8-0 start but then lost two of its final three regular-season games to Tennessee and Mississippi State. On Jan. 1, 1999, Arkansas fell 45-31 to Michigan in the Citrus Bowl.
Arkansas made it to the SEC Championship Game in Atlanta in 2002 but was blown out by #4 Georgia, 30-3. That was followed by a truly dismal performance in Nashville as the Hogs lost 29-14 to Minnesota in the Music City Bowl.
Nutt’s 2006 team came into the final game of the regular season with a 10-1 record and a chance to make it to a BCS bowl game. But the Razorbacks lost to LSU, 31-26, at War Memorial Stadium. They then lost 38-28 to No. 4 Florida in the SEC Championship Game (I’m still mad, Reggie Fish) and laid an egg with a 17-14 loss to Wisconsin in the Capital One Bowl on Jan. 1, 2007.
Arkansas doesn’t have a stellar bowl history. Far from it. The school is 12-23-3 in bowl appearances after last night.
But as I sip my second cup of coffee on this cloudy Wednesday morning, things have a bit different feel than they did following the bowl losses to Michigan, Minnesota and Wisconsin during the Nutt years.
In those years, the seasons ended with the thought that perhaps Arkansas just didn’t belong in the top tier of college football.
With Bobby Petrino locked in — he recruits nationally and the university is committed to building facilities that match his aspirations — there’s the feeling now that this program will be back in BCS games, perhaps on a fairly regular basis.
Petrino, the master play caller, had the perfect play called to start the game, and Joe Adams dropped what should have been a touchdown pass from Ryan Mallett.
It was an omen of more bad things to come in the first half.
With the Hogs down by 21 points as the end of that dismal first half approached, you could just hear television sets clicking off across the country.
The Razorbacks cut the margin to 18 points by intermission and then chipped away toward what coulda, woulda, shoulda been one of the great comebacks in school history — one of those games you would tell your grandchildren about.
Here’s how Peter Finney, the aging New Orleans columnist who has seen more Sugar Bowls than anyone in the media, reported it in this morning’s Times-Picayune: “What else can you say. When it looked like Ohio State’s pain, and Coach Jim Tressel’s, might continue for who knows how long, Buckeye Solomon Thomas picked off a Ryan Mallett pass, turning a nightmare into a long-awaited dream. Amazingly, in the final minute, the interception followed a blocked punt that put the Arkansas Razorbacks in position to pull off one of the most unbelievable comebacks in Sugar Bowl history. But the Hogs fell short, 31-26, after being down 28-7 in the first half of a game dominated by two quarterbacks. Terrelle Pryor was a deserving winner, and Ryan Mallett was a gallant loser. They painted a picture of two warriors who kept carrying their teams in different ways.”
Mallett did so much for Arkansas during the past two seasons that it’s truly a shame his college career couldn’t have ended as the man who finished “one of the most unbelievable comebacks in Sugar Bowl history.” Of course, his receivers did him no favors in the first half.
“Ryan has done an unbelievable job with his leadership, his competitive spirit,” Petrino said. “He lifts everyone around him to compete and play better.”
Scoop and score! The Hogs should have been ahead seconds earlier. Mallett should have never been on the field to throw that interception.. I have a feeling I’ll remember that missed opportunity as long as I remember Reggie Fish. It’s probably not healthy.
Arkansas’ 0-4 record against the Big Ten in bowl games likely will lead to snide remarks from the likes of Paul Finebaum in Birmingham. But the Razorbacks were where Alabama and LSU and Florida were not this year — in a BCS game. As stated, you get the feeling they will be back, especially if the coaches in Fayetteville can begin recruiting defensive talent to match the quarterbacks and receivers the Petrino system is sure to attract.
There is plenty to build on.
— We saw the potential of Tyler Wilson at quarterback in the game against Auburn.
— Knile Davis will only be a junior next season. He had 139 yards on 26 carries last night, his fifth consecutive rushing effort of more than 100 yards. Davis rushed for 1,183 yards during the regular season despite having gained only 294 yards during the first six games.
— Kicker Zach Hocker will only be a sophomore next season. He’s the real deal, isn’t he? He kept the Razorbacks in the game with field goals of 20, 46 and 47 yards. He was 56 for 56 on extra points this season and 15 of 18 on field goal attempts. Not bad for a true freshman.
— Punter Dylan Breeding will only be a junior next season. It’s hard to believe he began his college career as a walk-on. Petrino said earlier, “Dylan has had a good year for us. He has kicked some balls in the end zone this year or his net punt would be a lot better. He has changed fields for us. Anytime the game has been on the line, he has come up with a big punt for us.” Breeding played as big a role as anyone when it came to keeping Arkansas in the game last night. His 47-yard punt was downed at the Ohio State 1 in the first quarter. He had a punt to the Buckeye 18 in the second quarter. In the fourth quarter, he had punts downed at Ohio State’s 4 twice. Breeding punted seven times for a 43.7 avearge.
Here’s how John DeShazier began his Times-Picayune column: “The taunt washed over Ohio State prior to kickoff Tuesday night with Hog-headed Arkansas fans chanting ‘SEC! SEC!’ to remind the Buckeyes of an 0-9 record against Southeastern Conference teams in bowl games, hoping the roar might contribute to a physical hiccup or two once the game began in the Superdome. Turns out the Razorback fans — and the Razorbacks themselves — would have benefited more from the use of sticks and stones. A conference name did not harm Ohio State.”
Let’s make one thing clear: No one in the SEC should be ashamed to have Arkansas as a part of the nation’s best football conference. This is a program that’s going to be consistently strong.
I couldn’t say that with a straight face after the Citrus Bowl loss to Michigan.
I couldn’t say it after the Music City Bowl loss to Minnesota.
I couldn’t say it after the Capitol One Bowl loss to Wisconsin.
I can say it this morning.
By the way, the basketball team lost by 33 points down in Austin last night. SEC play opens Saturday against Tennessee.
Bring on spring football.