I am fresh out of adjectives–at least ones that I am willing to put into cyberspace under my name–to describe the pain of the 2012 Arkansas Football season.
Even when Arkansas senior runningback Dennis Johnson capped a clutch, manly drive to tie the game at 27-27 with Mississippi Saturday at Little Rock’s War Memorial Stadium with 2:09 left on the clock, a Mississippi win seemed to be inevitable. That is just the way Arkansas’ Season of Discontent has gone.
The Hogs’ much-maligned defense had played well for most of the game, but the 2012 Razorbacks have played (and been coached) just poorly enough to lose several times this season and the Rebel Black Bear game was no different.
With Mississippi facing a 3rd down and 9 from its own 38, Razorback Nation allowed itself to envision a stop and a much-deserved last second field goal drive for an Arkansas win.
But, for the 412th time this season, Arkansas Defensive Coordinator Paul Haynes and the UA defense showed a blitz too soon, and Mississippi quarterback Bo Wallace realized that, just as it was on the previous play, the middle of the field was wide open.
Wallace capitalized and found his best weapon–speedster Jeff Scott–for a far-too-easy 14-yard slant that kept Mississippi’s drive going. It was the last 3rd down Mississippi would face as the play sparked an 8-play, 61-yard drive that zapped the remaining time off of the clock, ending with Bryson Rose’s 31-yard, chip shot game winner as time expired.
The 30-27 win was Mississippi’s 2nd in as many league games after enduring a Houston Nutt fueled, SEC-record 16-game conference losing streak.
What We Saw
–Arkansas did just enough in every facet of the game….to lose. The offense sputtered for the bulk of the game. The defense played well for most of the day, but buckled at key times. The Special Teams were anything but–allowing a key blocked punt and losing the battle of field position all day, whether it was due to poor punts or worse punt returns.
–I am as big of a Tyler Wilson fan as you will find, but the Hogs’ star quarterback had one of the worst games of his career Saturday. He has been a great Razorback on and off the field and has led Arkansas to many great wins.
But, Saturday, he was off in a major way. It started on Arkansas’ first possession when, on 2nd and 7 from the Mississippi 10-yard line, Wilson missed runningback Jonathan Williams on a sure touchdown throw that Wilson could make in his sleep. Arkansas then settled for a field goal after a failed 3rd-down conversion.
Later, a beautiful 42-yard Wilson touchdown strike to senior tight end Chris Gragg gave Arkansas a 10-0 lead and appeared to signal a return to form for Wilson, but it was a fleeting feeling.
For much of the remainder of the game Wilson was late and/or inaccurate with his throws, and he compounded his physical errors with mental ones as he forced several pass attempts, with 2 of them resulting in easy interceptions.
In fairness to Wilson, for much of the day he was again without two of his biggest weapons–Gragg and former All-SEC runningback Knile Davis–who each sustained in-game injuries minutes apart in the 2nd quarter and didn’t return.
–UA JUCO transfer Austin Flynn is making a move. He continued his recent solid play and made several athletic plays on the edge against a fast paced, read-option oriented offense that offers plenty of opportunities for defensive ends and linebackers to make plays.
–Two crucial officiating decisions went against Arkansas Saturday. On 3rd and Goal from the Arkansas 1-yard line late in the first half, Mississippi made a late substitution that the Razorbacks coaching staff thought was illegal.
The officials took notice and discussed the substitution, but did not penalize the Rebel Black Bears. Scott ran for a touchdown on the next play.
Later, Wilson hit a wide open Austin Tate for an apparent 15-yard touchdown on a subtly tricky play that Arkansas had clearly been saving for the situation. Despite being told in pregame that Arkansas planned to run the play, the officials ruled that Arkansas did not have enough players on the line of scrimmage.
The TV announcers for the game–Dave Neal and Andre Ware–sided with the officials and said Arkansas clearly lacked a necessary player on the line of scrimmage. The Arkansas staff vehemently disagreed. Either, way, under the circumstances, it was a close call and a ticky-tack one to make at that point.
The wide receiver in question could have (and probably should have) “checked” with the line judge to make sure he was “legal”. On the other hand, Arkansas was trying to hit Mississippi with a quick strike that it correctly thought would be wide open and wanted to get the play off quickly before Mississippi recognized it was about to have a busted coverage.
–Arkansas senior wide receiver Cobi Hamilton continued his stellar campaign. Despite often drawing double coverage, The Mayor of Markham made his final trip to Little Rock a memorable one with a career-high 12 catches for 146 yards. On the season, Hamilton has 58 catches for 900 yards and 4 TDs with 4 games left to play.
What We Didn’t See
Arkansas Offensive coordinator Paul Petrino didn’t do Wilson any favors by stubbornly waiting until the 4th quarter to ride Dennis Johnson, who finished with 162 yards and 1 TD on 27 carries.
Mississippi often played 2 high safeties, giving Arkansas the chance to gash the Rebel Black Bears with the run. But, Petrino dialed up 46 pass plays even though Wilson was struggling. Johnson and Williams averaged 5.75 yards per carry on 32 attempts on the day.
When Petrino gave the ball to Johnson 3 consecutive times in the 4th quarter (the only time it happened all day) Johnson darted and then bulldozed for gains of 21, 20 and 5 yards to cap a game-tying rally in an impressive show of will.
What You May Not Have Seen
It’s easy to remember the last thing we saw and blame the Arkansas defense entirely for the loss. It’s also unfair.
Yes, the UA defense caved when it had a chance to put its stamp on the game. And, in a bottom-line business, the defense should take some of the blame.
But a close look at the numbers reveals that the Hog defense was solid for most of the game. Arkansas nabbed 2 turnovers and held Mississippi to 109 less yards than the UA offense but was undone by 3 Mississippi scoring drives (one at the end of each half and another following a blocked punt) that took a total of 4:31 and made up 158 of Mississippi’s 355 total yards.
On the Rebel Black Bears’ 11 other possessions, they gained a total of 197 yards and had 6 punts, 1 fumble, 1 interception, 1 touchdown and 2 field goals (one from 53 yards out).
The blocked punt by Mississippi safety Charles Sawyer in the 2nd quarter gave the Rebel Black Bears momentum and a short field (leading to a touchdown), and was probably the key play in the game.
Wilson’s second interception also gave Mississippi the ball at the Arkansas’ 18-yard line, but the UA defense stiffened and forced a (successful) field goal.
–Wilson’s first interception came on a 3rd down and 2 force to Cobi Hamilton on a deep route over the middle that Sawyer was all over just minutes after his blocked punt.
Neal and Ware noted that Arkansas freshman wide receiver Mekale McKay was wide open deep on the play. Wilson also had a wide open receiver on a shallow drag route directly in front of him that would have given Arkansas another first down deep in Mississippi territory.
What We Hope to See Next Week
At a miserable 3-5, 2-3 on the season, it would be easy for Arkansas fans to stay away in droves next Saturday when the Hogs host 7-1 Tulsa at Reynolds Razorback Stadium. Hopefully that won’t happen.
This Arkansas team has underperformed, and everything that could go wrong has. But the Hogs have shown some resolve, recently. Razorback fans could certainly help by doing the same this week.