Razorbacks resilient as ever in polishing off Missouri

Photo: Walt Beazley / ArkansasRazorbacks.com

From Day 1 of this football season, I never got a good handle on this Arkansas Razorbacks’ football team, and the outcome of Saturday’s game was no different.

I wasn’t surprised the Razorbacks won the game, but I didn’t anticipate a 28-3 victory after the Hogs’ 51-50 loss to Mississippi State the previous weekend. I thought the Hogs would struggle and that Missouri would put up more of a fight for their retiring coach Pinkel, who suffers from Non-Hodgkin lymphoma.

Yes, I knew the Tigers’ offense had been woeful all season, and that their passing game wasn’t exactly stellar, but after Dak Prescott and the rest of the Bulldogs worked the defense over a week ago, I thought the Hogs defense might have been worn down. I foolishly predicted the Bulldogs would score three touchdowns on the Hogs, which would have been more than they had scored in their previous four SEC games. Give credit to defensive coordinator Robb Smith and his staff for getting their troops to bounce back from a tough loss during a short week. Even though the defense struggled all season, it seemed to buck up when it absolutely had to.

“Huge, huge, huge,” Arkansas head coach Bret Bielema said of the defensive performance following the game. “I think we needed that, Robb needed that, our defensive coaches, players and probably our fans really needed to see that. I’m really excited. Just the preparation to bounce back. There was no pointing fingers, no one was looking around, no one is trying to reinvent the wheel. We just needed to play better. We needed to line up and tackle. Our three keys on defense were to get the call, execute the call, and make the next call. Robb did a great job of putting that plan in and I think it really showed.”

The Razorbacks came into the season with depth issues on defense, particularly at linebacker, and it didn’t really improve as the season wore on. Yes, Fayetteville native Dre Greenlaw, who is a shoo-in for freshman All-American, improved week by week in his starting weakside linebacker spot, but none of the other younger Razorbacks linebackers showed much maturation, even as attrition set in with injuries to Josh Williams with a broken leg against Tennessee and Dwayne Eugene with a hand injury against Ole Miss. Greenlaw and junior defensive captain Brooks Ellis manned the middle for every meaningful play of the last two games. That’s not an easy chore on any level of football, but particularly not in the SEC.

Certainly, the weather was a factor. Over the years, Razorbacks fans have seen more the a few teams submit to the Hogs, while facing inclement weather late in the season. Texas A&M has been particularly bad about it.

The Aggies were ranked second in the nation in 1975 when they visited War Memorial Stadium in Little Rock on the first weekend in December for a cold game that would decide who would play in the Cotton Bowl. The Aggies were undefeated and big favorites after beating Texas, who had defeated the Hogs in October. The Razorbacks led by a defense coordinated by Jimmy Johnson all but shut down the Aggies, helping the Hogs to a 31-6 victory. The win set up a three-way tie for the conference crown, and sent the Hogs to the Cotton Bowl for the first time since 1966. It was Arkansas’ final SWC title under Frank Broyles and would be their last trip to the Cotton until going back-to-back years following the 1988 and ’89 seasons. The Razorbacks rooted out a 31-10 victory over Georgia in the Cotton Bowl after being tied at halftime to finish 10-2 on the season.

Nine years later, the Razorbacks rolled up Jackie Sherrill’s Aggies, 28-0, in Ken Hatfield’s first season as Arkansas’ coach in the freezing rain at Razorback Stadium. That 1984 squad was undermanned with smallish lines on both sides of the football, but battled hard all season to finish 7-4-1 after falling 21-15 to Auburn and Bo Jackson in a brutally cold Liberty Bowl.

Bowl Speculation

Photo: Walt Beazley / ArkansasRazorbacks.com

Interestingly enough, the Razorbacks could be headed back to the Liberty Bowl on Jan. 2 this season. The official announcement of Arkansas’ bowl assignment won’t come until Sunday from the SEC Office, but bowl scouts and officials are notorious about letting the cat out of the bag. I’m guessing we’ll have a good idea where the Hogs are headed by midweek and if not then by the weekend.

Barring a collapse by the Crimson Tide this week against Florida in the SEC Championship Game, it’s safe to assume Alabama will make the College Football Playoff.

From there the question will be how far do the Gators fall in the bowl pecking order. The College Football Playoff Committee selects the teams that will play in the New Year’s Six Bowls, which includes The Sugar Bowl. When the Gators lose Alabama, my guess is Ole Miss will likely be the second highest-rated SEC team and head to New Orleans for the Sugar Bowl.

The Citrus Bowl would then make its choice. I’m guessing they will take Florida but they could reach down to take Georgia or LSU. But I’m not sure the Citrus Bowl would want to deal with the unstable coaching situations in Athens or Baton Rouge.

At this point, the SEC steps in to assign teams to league-affiliated bowls. The SEC office will confer with the bowls, the teams and most importantly ESPN to try and get the right fit all things considered. At 9-3 Georgia has the next best record followed by LSU at 8-3 with Tennessee, Mississippi State and Texas A&M at 8-4. Arkansas is 7-5 and Auburn is 6-6.

My guesses are that LSU will be in the Outback Bowl, Tennessee in the Nashville Bowl, Georgia in the Belk Bowl, Arkansas in the Liberty Bowl, Mississippi State in the Tax Slayer Bowl, Texas A&M in the Texas Bowl and Auburn in the Birmingham Bowl.

Some outlets are projecting Arkansas will play Louisville in the Music City Bowl. That would be a dream for the media covering the game with it pitting former Arkansas coach Bobby Petrino against Bielema; however, with the SEC Office calling the shots, I don’t think this will happen.

It’s really not in the best interest of either program to drag up Petrino motorcycle date that ended in a ditch, particularly Louisville’s, but it would be interesting. The contrast in styles of play and personalities of the head coaches would make a great show before, during and after the game. It would likely be a shootout. With a month to plan, Petrino could likely ring up big numbers on Arkansas’ defense, and I would expect the Hogs to do the same on Louisville’s defense.

Fiasco in Baton Rouge

Photo: Walt Beazley / ArkansasRazorbacks.com

As interesting as the play was on the field last weekend, the political ramblings behind the scenes in Baton Rouge were even more compelling. From all reports, LSU head coach Les Miles was a dead man-walking going into the Tigers 19-7 victory over Texas A&M.

As the story goes, LSU’s administration and key boosters changed their minds at some point between the third quarter and the end of the game and opted to issue a stay of execution on their head coach. Following the game, LSU athletics director Joe Alleva announced the Miles would not be leaving LSU.

But as Lee Corso would say, “Not so fast, my friends.”

Miles would be foolish to stay at LSU in the face of the way this whole mess was handled. He received no respect for his 79 percent winning percentage during his tenure on the Bayou. It’s obvious the folks in charge at LSU are as fickle as Elizabeth Taylor, and in their heart of hearts, they’d rather have another coach.

Whether it was Jimbo Fisher or Chip Kelly or both that turned down the job through their agents, the LSU axe men got cold feet, but rest assured they will be sharpening their blades and be out for blood the next time LSU drops back-to-back games or falls out of the SEC title hunt. How could Miles effectively coach and recruit with him and everyone else knowing Cassius, Brutus et al are just waiting for the right moment to strike?

If Miles really wants to keep coaching, he should seek out the most appealing of the more than a dozen open jobs and exit on his own terms. I doubt his agent would have much of a problem releasing him from his buyout or golden handcuffs as former University of Arkansas Chancellor John White referred to them when he paid Houston Nutt to leave the Razorbacks program in 2007.

If Miles is about ready to retire from the game, then he ought to force LSU to pay him his money as Nolan Richardson said before his exit from the Razorbacks program in 2002.

What I’m pondering is could all of this have been calculated on LSU’s part? Could all of the leaks to the media over the last two weeks and the late-game reprieve have been orchestrated to have Miles lose face and then ultimately leave for another job without having to be fired or paid his buyout?

Probably not, but if I were Miles and his agent, I’d be just paranoid enough to wonder.

While I’m not sure Georgia’s decision to fire Mark Richt was the right one, at least the Bulldogs handled the situation without making it a circus. Both the university and the coach retained their dignity in his exit.

The last thing I say about the LSU dumpster fire is that I’m glad it’s burning in Baton Rouge this time, rather than here in Fayetteville. Maybe Bielema and his coaching staff, who have recruited well in Louisiana, can make the uncertainty at LSU work in their favor.