Senior leadership lifts improving Razorbacks to a tenuous 2-0

Arkansas senior offensive lineman Dan Skipper /

Say whatever you want about Bret Bielema’s Arkansas Razorbacks, but they certainly know how to make games interesting.

The Hogs’ 41-38 double-overtime victory over TCU last Saturday was about as thrilling of a football game as one can imagine.

Sure, the first half might have been a little slow for those without a rooting interest. However from the point when the then-15th-ranked Horned Frogs began their comeback until Razorback center Frank Ragnow gave Arkansas quarterback Austin Allen a boost into the end zone for the game-winning touchdown, the action was lights out.

The Razorbacks’ season-opening 21-20 victory over Louisiana Tech won’t be considered an instant classic like the TCU win, but it took a fine late-game drive, including a fourth-down touchdown pass from Allen to Jeremy Sprinkle to seal that deal, too.

Couple that with overtime victories over Auburn and Ole Miss, a shootout that ended in a late-game loss to Mississippi State, and taut road win at Tennessee last season, and the Razorbacks have to be one of the better watches in all of college football.

Like others, I thought the Razorbacks were being haunted by ghosts of the past when TCU took a 28-20 lead with about 2 minutes left to play. Hog fans have witnessed the Razorbacks holding solid leads the past two seasons against Texas A&M, only to see them evaporate and for Arkansas to eventually lose.

It appeared TCU was about to make it a trilogy because the Hogs offense had been dormant since placekicker Cole Hedlund missed a 22-yard field goal with 11:30 left in the game.

Gary Patterson’s Horned Frogs took that mishap and just about pulled the rug out from under the Hogs, scoring three quick touchdowns to turn what had been a 20-7 Razorback lead into a 28-20 TCU advantage.

At that point, I thought the Hogs were toast. There was no way their rebuilt offensive line and a relatively green quarterback in Allen would be able to pull the Hogs off the spit.

But amazingly, they did. Allen went to work and promptly completed four consecutive passes to find pay dirt. Drew Morgan caught the first two passes for 4 and 24 yards. Then Allen went to Jared Cornelius for 17 yards before tossing 16 yards to a wide-open Keon Hatcher for a TD.

The Hogs tied the game with a two-point conversion, which saw Morgan take a handoff on an apparent speed sweep before handing off to Hatcher who then made a left-handed toss to Allen for the score on a run-pass option.

The play was well executed, but give Hatcher a ton of credit for the judgment call he made. Hatcher is a big, fast receiver at 6-2, 219. At the corner, he had one defender to beat to run in the score. He might have made it, but TCU’s linebackers are super quick and fine tacklers.

Many players would have kept the ball in that situation, trusting their own athletic ability rather than their teammate. Hatcher made the right call, and the game went into overtime because of it.

That play is just one example of the trust and leadership this group of Hogs have shown just two games into the season. That trust and that leadership was key in the Hogs pulling off not only the TCU victory but also the Louisiana Tech win.

It’s really early, and if a few things hadn’t of worked out, the Razorbacks could easily be sitting 0-2 today instead of undefeated and ranked 24th in the nation.

But the senior leadership that Hatcher, Morgan, Deatrich Wise, Brooks Ellis, Dan Skipper and others exhibited last Saturday is a key intangible that fuels great seasons.

On more than one occasion this fall, Morgan has said, “I am my brother’s keeper,” in comments to his teammates and the media. He and the other seniors are intent on not letting their teammates — their brothers —falter. That’s powerful stuff.

It’s going to be interesting to see what this Razorbacks team is capable of achieving. I’m not sure that TCU was a legitimate top-25 type team, but then again I’m not sure that the Horned Frogs weren’t either.

What I am sure of is that the Razorbacks improved as the game went on. Adjustments were made in the blocking schemes to help the offensive linemen protect Allen, and in-game adjustments were made defensively going into overtime. I think the Hogs are a better team coming out of the TCU victory than they were going into it.

If that becomes a trend, the Razorbacks have a slugger’s chance to be a factor in the SEC West this season. That’s not a bad place to be.

Allen, Skipper garner SEC Honors

The SEC named Arkansas junior quarterback Austin Allen SEC Player of the Week and senior offensive tackle Dan Skipper SEC Offensive lineman of the Week.

Allen completed 17 of 29 passes for 233 yards and 3 touchdowns in the 41-38, double-overtime victory over TCU. He also ran for the game-winning touchdown and caught the game-tying two-point conversion pass just before overtime.

Skipper provided protection and blocking that led to a 400-plus yard performance by the Razorbacks’ offense, and the 6-10 lineman also blocked a game-winning field-goal attempt by the Horned Frogs that sent the game into overtime. It was his sixth blocked field goal in his career.