Photo: Walt Beazley / ArkansasRazorbacks.com
How do you explain the unexplainable?
Divine intervention, as Arkansas coach Bret Bielema opined after his Razorbacks pulled off an improbable play last Saturday that set up their 53-52 overtime defeat of Ole Miss?
Swine intervention, like one Facebooker offered up on Sunday?
Or was it just a really heads-up play on the parts of Hunter Henry, Mitch Smothers, Drew Morgan, Jeremy Sprinkle, Alex Collins, Dominique Reed and the rest of their Razorbacks teammates?
Any and all of that!
My personal memories of Razorback football date back to 1974, I’ve read extensively about past Razorbacks exploits, interviewed scores of former Razorbacks players, coaches and staff and heard many great tales, but I’ve never seen nor heard or really even imagined any Razorback play remotely as wild as the one we witnessed last Saturday on that 4th-and-25 play.
Just crazy, improbable and wonderful all rolled up into a great Cardinal and White ball.
Credit Henry, the Hogs’ junior tight end from Little Rock, for having the presence of mind to lateral that ball backwards some 20 yards while being tackled near the Ole Miss sideline for what would have been the ballgame.
Thank the heavens, 6-10, 330-pound junior offensive tackle Dan Skipper tipped the ball toward Collins and didn’t catch it.
Footballs rarely bounce true, but when that pigskin hit the ground, it seemed to hop up into Collins awaiting hands like a puppy happily greeting its master.
Collins — who can play shortstop for my softball team anytime — fielded the bounce like a natural and bolted into action. Smothers, a senior center from Springdale, took out both of Ole Miss’ Nkemdiche brothers with one block. Morgan, a junior from Greenwood and perhaps the grittiest wide receiver in the college game, walled off several Ole Miss defenders as Collins bolted, juked and thrust his way to first-down yardage.
Collins believed Arkansas needed to score not just get a first down on the play so he lateraled the ball to Reed, a junior receiver from Cabot, who alertly gathered in the ball to complete the most improbable play in Razorback history.
If any Razorback other than Collins had fielded Henry’s lateral, I’m not sure the first down would have been a possibility.
Even with all that, the Razorbacks still trailed the Rebels, but Brandon Allen, who played the game of this life, brought the Hogs within a point of Ole Miss by throwing his sixth touchdown pass of the day, a Razorback record, to Morgan for his third touchdown catch of the day.
Here Bielema made a gutsy and right decision in going for the 2-point conversion, and he actually made it before the Hogs scored the touchdown, telling the offense to remain on the field after a score and to be ready to go for two.
A friend of mine said it was only gutsy because the Hogs made the 2-point conversion. From one perspective, my friend was right. Had the Hogs not converted the 2-pointer when Allen tumbled into the end zone, Bielema would have been roundly questioned and likely brutally criticized for the decision.
But that is shortsighted, gotcha-type thinking. The two squads had traded offensive blows the whole game. Each defense had a couple of stops along the way, but neither had truly held the other down, as Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze pointed out after the game.
Why continue to wage a battle of attrition when Arkansas had the upper hand, the opportunity, the momentum and the confidence to win the game right then?
Having the confidence in his players to execute in that situation and having the guts to make the go-for-it call is why Bielema is paid his prodigious salary.
The decision wasn’t a grass-chewing whim; it was calculated. Bielema took into consideration the situation at that moment as well as the longer-term drawbacks of extending the game.
For decades, sportswriters and fans alike have compared football to warfare. In that light, it was general surveying the battleground and making a decisive decision to strike when he saw the opportunity. And Bielema’s Razorbacks made it happen.
How much confidence will that instill in the Razorbacks for the rest of this season and perhaps into the future? How much Razorback fuel did Bielema preserve for the final three games by not protracting the already extended game into even more of a marathon?
And if the Hogs hadn’t converted, it still would have been a gutsy, decisive decision, no matter how much criticism might have blown Bielema’s way.
By virtue of the victory, the Razorbacks are above .500 in SEC play for the first time in the Bielema era, and they have at least two games to win one to become bowl eligible.
Missouri game in doubt
I say at least two because Arkansas’ Nov. 27 game with Missouri at Reynolds Razorback Stadium is in doubt at the moment.
The Missouri football team with the support of head coach Gary Pinkel have vowed not to participate in football activities again until University of Missouri System President Tim Wolfe either resigns or is removed from his post.
The team joined student activists who have been protesting the way Wolfe has dealt with racial harassment during the school year. Graduate student Jonathan Butler is in his seventh day of a hunger strike he began to call attention to the situation. Pinkel and Missouri athletics director Mack Rhoades plan to meet with the school administration as well as students before making further comments about the situation.
“Our focus right now is on the health of Jonathan Butler, the concerns of our student-athletes and working with our community to address this serious issue,” the statement from Rhoades and Pinkel said.
“After meeting with the team [Sunday] morning, it is clear they do not plan to return to practice until Jonathan resumes eating.”
Whether Arkansas’ game with Missouri is played or not, the Razorbacks are aiming for more than just bowl eligibility as they prepare for their sojourn to Baton Rouge, La. to face No. 9 LSU.
The Tigers (7-1, 4-1 SEC) are seeking to rebound from their 30-16 loss to Alabama, and while there is a history of opponents facing a hangover after playing the Crimson Tide during the Nick Saban era, LSU has the athletes and depth to make that a nonfactor.
LSU and their fans will be ready for the Hogs. LSU’s loss to Alabama was a setback, but all it would take is another Alabama stumble to put the Tigers back in the running for a trip to the SEC Championship Game. While I personally believe Alabama’s the best team in the country because of their incredible stonewall defense, anything can happen in college football.
After watching the Henry Heave create the Miracle in Mississippi, Arkansas fans know that for a fact.