Photo: Walt Beazley / ArkansasRazorbacks.com
I don’t know about you, but I’m still revelling a little bit from the Razorbacks’ epic 54-46, four-overtime victory over Auburn.
Regardless of what happens the rest of the season, it’s a game Arkansas fans are going to remember for a long, long time.
Senior quarterback Brandon Allen, who grew up around the program with his dad Bobby being on the football staff in one capacity or another since 1998, said it best when he replied the game reminded him of the overtime marathons the Hogs won when he was a kid.
Overtime victories over Ole Miss in 2001, Kentucky in 2003, Alabama in 2006 and LSU in 2007 stand among the hallmark Razorback victories of the Houston Nutt era, and Saturday’s victory, no doubt, will be recalled fondly in the future by players, coaches and fans when we reminisce about Razorback victories.
Sitting here today, we don’t know what ramifications the victory will have on this season or Bret Bielema’s Razorbacks program. Those of us who have been around long enough can remember watershed games that propelled a team and a program forward, but then again if we think about it, there were big victories at the moment that didn’t lead to much of anything at all.
It’s too soon to tell whether Saturday’s thriller will be one shining moment in a tough season, or catalyst for turning the season or even the program around as some have speculated.
But as Hog fans, we need to celebrate that victory at least as much as we’ve lamented the four losses Arkansas has suffered up to this point in the season. It was a great win, one where individuals but most of all the team shined in putting away the Tigers, who proved to be as persistent of an opponent as Michael Myers in those “Halloween” movies that are all the rage this time of year.
I have to admit my heart sank when Auburn booted the 41-yard field goal that sent the game into overtime. I didn’t have a lot of faith in the Hogs at that juncture. Under Bielema, the Razorbacks had not fared well in three overtime contests losing all three, including a 28-21 decision to Texas A&M earlier this season. Heck, the Razorbacks hadn’t even scored a touchdown in those games.
Compound that with the overwhelming struggles the Razorbacks have had with winning close games, and I was thinking, “Here we go again,” as overtime play began.
But I couldn’t have been more wrong. The Razorbacks made clutch play after clutch play to finally wear down Gus Malzahn’s Tigers. The Hogs showed more pride and perseverance than their opponent, and their mental toughness lifted them to victory.
Razorback fans did their part, too. The stadium was rocking, reaching a level at times that had previously been reserved for contests against Texas and Alabama.
The players won the football game, but hats off to the Razorbacks coaching staff for keeping them in position to do it. The four-overtime period was for my money the best playcalling of the season by first-year offensive coordinator Dan Enos. Of course, the Hogs executed last Saturday, and execution is usually the difference in a great playcall and a lousy one.
Clutch performances from Morgan, Walker, Allen
I love the story that came out of a postgame interview session about wide receiver Drew Morgan suggesting prior to the fourth overtime that the Hogs throw and out route with him matched up against a freshman defensive back. Morgan felt like he could take his man, and Enos, Bielema and Allen had confidence in his word.
Now, there are many, ways to coach. Many if not most programs place their offensive coordinator in the press box so he can get a macro view of the defense. However, in this instance, it paid off to have Enos on the sideline where he could look his players in the eye and listen to them.
Morgan was right about that out route, and he took Allen’s dart, avoided an arm tackle by Auburn’s Carlton Davis and scored a 25-yard TD on the first play of the final overtime period. Morgan also caught Allen’s pinpoint throw on 4th and three for a 6-yard touchdown in the first overtime.
Photo: Walt Beazley / ArkansasRazorbacks.com
Morgan has worked himself into being a clutch performer for the Hogs, and as great a prep player as he was at Greenwood, I never would have believed it. I figured he’d be a perennial backup for the Hogs. Morgan is another instance of a somewhat overlooked Arkansas product making good when the opportunity availed itself.
Junior running back Kody Walker similarly made a believer out of me and probably others with his overtime work against Auburn. Walker’s labored through an injury-plagued career with the Hogs, and despite a solid spring, this year appeared it would be the same when he broke his thumb in the second game of the season against Toledo. The size of his protective cast kept him out of competition until it was streamlined during the Hogs’ bye week.
Walker got a few plays in regulation, but he had little traction until he took over in the backfield in the second overtime. He barreled for an 11-yard gain to the 3, and on the next play took a flip pitch from Allen against the flow of the blocking to skate for an untouched touchdown. Walker wasn’t through, though, running four yards for the Hogs’ third overtime touchdown and catching the pass for the Razorbacks two-point conversion in the fourth overtime.
If Walker is unable to contribute further the rest of the season — which seems unlikely now — his play last Saturday was huge for the Hogs. With Raleigh Williams out of the game with a neck injury that required surgery, and starter Alex Collins worn down from his effort in regulation, Walker was a lifesaver.
Defensively, the Razorbacks hung on in the overtime periods and got the stop they needed to win the game. The Razorbacks were fortunate Auburn receiver Ricardo Louis let a catchable ball escape him for what would have been a touchdown in the fourth overtime, but then again had Auburn caught half the passes they dropped on the day, overtime might not have been necessary.
But that drop allowed cornerback Jared Collins and safety Josh Liddell to break up back-to-back passes from Auburn quarterback Sean white to lock up the game for the Hogs. Lidell flashed about 15 yards from his safety spot to break on White’s pass that was intended for Louis in the soft middle of the Hogs’ defense. Lidell got there in the nick of time to get just enough hand on the ball to keep Louis from pulling it in.
It was a team victory with every Razorback playing his part, but I would be remiss not to mention the play of Allen. The senior from Fayetteville has been nearly everyone’s whipping boy for the past three years. Granted, some of the criticism has been valid. But like him or not, every Hog fan should appreciate the way he came through for the Razorbacks in overtime. Allen was the straw that stirred the drink, and the victory tasted very sweet on Saturday.
The Razorbacks don’t have the luxury to keep celebrating this victory throughout the week. They have to turn their attention to Tennessee-Martin as well as the rest of the season. However, fans need to soak in this Auburn victory and bask in it until kickoff on Saturday.
It might just be THE one big moment for the season, but then again, we might look back on it someday as a turning point. Either way it should feel pretty good to be a Hog fan this week.
Greenlaw named SEC Freshman of the week
Razorbacks freshman weak-side linebacker Dre Greenlaw led the Hogs with 16 tackles in the victory over Auburn, and the Southeastern Conference named him SEC Freshman of the Week for his effort.
The 16-tackle effort leaves Greenlaw tied for the most stops by a FBS freshman in a game this season. In the Hogs last three games against Tennessee, Alabama and Auburn, he accumulated 34 tackles with two double-digit efforts. With 53 tackles on the season, Greenlaw is ranked third among the tackle charts for freshmen defenders. This is the third time Greenlaw has led Arkansas in tackles this season.