It’s time for Hog fans to let the Big Shootout go

Frank Broyles / Photo:

To most Dec. 7, 1941 is the date that shall live in infamy. That’s how our 32nd president, Franklin D. Roosevelt, described the bombing of Pearl Harbor by Japan, which forced the United State entry into World War II nearly 78 years ago.

However, for football fans of a certain age in Arkansas, Dec. 6, 1969 is another landmark day that certainly isn’t as important as Dec. 7, but it is one that still unfortunately defines Arkansas’ hard-luck football program in many ways.

It is the date of The Big Shootout between No. 1 Texas and No. 2 Arkansas for not just the Southwest Conference title but also the national championship, now 50 years gone by.

I was just 2 at the time, but like all Razorback fans of a certain age, I can recite the particulars of that game for you and commiserate the finality of the 15-14 loss that haunted legendary Razorback football coach and athletics director Frank Broyles probably up to the day he died.

The loss still haunts every Razorback player and coach that participated in the game that ABC moved from October to December to be the final regular-season game of college football’s historic 100th season.

Broyles and the Razorbacks should have won their second national title on that cold, damp day in Razorback Stadium. Remember President Richard Nixon helicoptered in for the game that day and declared the Longhorns national champs after the win. That could have been, maybe, should have been the Hogs.

However, destiny said otherwise.

Instead mighty Texas, coached by Longhorn legend Darrelll Royal, pulled a rabbit out of their hat like they so often did in the rivalry and nipped the Razorbacks thanks to an expertly executed play-action pass from Wishbone quarterback James Street to tight end Randy Peschel.

The 44-yard catch on fourth-down and three has been described as the biggest catch in Texas football history, and it certainly saved the Longhorns’ hide, setting up Street’s stunning 42-yard touchdown scramble, on which Razorback linebacker Mike Boschetti was clipped, and then Street’s 2-point conversion run for the victory against a Razorback defense that played an outstanding game except for those two explosive plays.

The loss aches even more because with the Hogs leading 14-7 earlier in the game, Broyles opted to call for a throw to the end zone from quarterback Bill Montgomery which was intercepted, instead of running the ball up the middle on third down to set up a Bill McClard field-goal attempt that could have put Arkansas up 17-7 in the second half.

Montgomery also had a touchdown pass to All-American Chuck Dicus erased when wide receiver John Rees was whistled for blocking downfield far away from the play.

It’s crazy how that loss seems to carry more weight with Hog fans than Arkansas’ 10-7 victory over Nebraska in the 1965 Cotton Bowl that capped the Razorbacks’ undefeated, national-title season in 1964-65.

In may ways, it’s been a shadow over the program that the Hogs haven’t escaped for 50 years.

What other football program reveres and what fanbase thinks more about a truly devastating loss than it does any other victory?

Hopefully with the 50th anniversary of The Great Shootout, Arkansas fans can finally exercise their Longhorn demons and just let that awful day go.

While it was a historic game, and in a sense a great game, Hog fans need to wrap that game in garlic and put a stake through its heart and vanquish it for all time.

The Razorback collective needs to be more like Broyles, who once told me when I questioned him about the game, “I’d rather think about the victories, not the losses.”

Coaching Search Chaos

At this writing, there is no certainty to report on Arkansas’ search of their 33rd head football coach, but of course, things are fluid.

Even though Arkansas athletics director Hunter Yurachek fired Chad Morris with three weeks left in Razorbacks’ regular season, a hire couldn’t have been expected to happen much sooner than this weekend anyway.

Several of the speculated candidates for the job are coaching in championship games Saturday, and none of them could have been expected to leave their current positions before finishing their regular season.

Yes, time is wasting on the recruiting front, but hiring the right head coach is a decision that will impact multiple seasons — hopefully — not just one recruiting cycle. You have to hire the coach before worrying about recruiting.

At the moment, it would appear the Arkansas job is Florida Atlantic coach Lane Kiffin’s to turn down. Rumors of him being in the mix for the Ole Miss job broke Thursday morning, too.

My thought on that is if he had rather be a Rebel than a Razorback, Ole Miss can have him.

If you don’t think Memphis-based agent Jimmy Sexton, who reps Kiffin, would play two jobs against each other to gain leverage and jack up an offer, then you don’t know Jimmy.

Sexton is the agent who pulled the bait-and-switch on Arkansas with Chad Morris when Gus Malzahn opted to remain at Auburn when the Tigers matched Arkansas’ generous seven-year $7 million offer after the 2017 season.

The Rebels seem to have their sights set on Memphis coach Mike Norvell, who supposedly is targeting the Florida State job. The Seminoles were looking for a fancier hire at first, but it seems they have warmed to Norvell, based on reports out of Tallahassee and Memphis. Sexton is also Norvell’s agent.

Whatever is going on behind the scenes, we’ll know more Saturday evening or Sunday.

If you want to check out Kiffin’s coaching style, Florida Atlantic hosts Alabama-Birmingham for the Conference USA on CBS Sports Network at 12:30 p.m. Saturday. Norvell’s Tigers host Cincinnati in the America Athletic Championship on ABC at 2:30 p.m. Saturday, if you are still holding out hopes for him.

Hogs Hit Road to Western Kentucky

Frank Broyles / Photo:

The Arkansas Razorbacks (8-0) test their road legs once again at 6:30 p.m. Saturday against the Western Kentucky Hilltoppers (6-3) at Bowling Green, Ky. The basketball game is being televised by CBS Sports Network.

The Hilltoppers are on a two-game losing skid to No. 2 Louisville, 71-54, and Wright State, 76-74, going into the game, while the Razorbacks are off to their best start since the 1997-98 season.

This will be the second true road test for the Razorbacks in their pre-conference schedule. The Razorbacks escaped a visit to Georgia Tech with buzzer-beating banked in three-pointer by Mason Jones on Nov. 25 to nip the Yellow Jackets, 62-61, in Atlanta.

The Hogs have added a 66-60 win over Northern Kentucky on Nov. 30, and a 69-63 victory over Austin Peay on Tuesday since then, but the squad was playing better, cleaner basketball in their first five games, which has first-year coach Eric Musselman concerned as the Hogs travel east.

The Razorbacks continue to play solid defense, but Arkansas’ 20 turnovers against Austin Peay all but negated the gains made by forcing the Governors into 21 turnovers.

Musselman said Thursday that court-awareness and carelessness have more to do with Arkansas’ miscues than anything else. The Hogs have been whistled for too many traveling and carrying calls for his liking and have stepped out of bounds on corner three-point attempts, drives on the baseline, and rebounds more so than out and out careless passing.

The Razorbacks will need to play as clean as possible to counterbalance the size disparity they will face against the Hilltoppers who are led by 6-11 Charles Bassey, who almost averages a double-double with 15.9 points and 9.6 rebounds a game. Charles Williams (6-5, 230) is another wide body the Hilltoppers like to post up inside.

Musselman said the Razorbacks will have to play much better than they have in recent games to have a chance against Western Kentucky on their home floor, but added that the experience of playing another road game will only help the Razorbacks once they get into SEC play and for their NCAA resume once March rolls around.

Musselman said his squad is well aware that Western Kentucky nipped the Razorbacks, 78-77, last year in Walton Arena, but added that the Razorbacks are playing such a different style this season that last year’s game has little bearing on this year’s matchup despite several returning Razorbacks.

The season will slow down a good bit for the Hogs after this trip. The Razorbacks, who will have played nine games through the first five weeks of the season, will only have three games remaining on their pre-conference schedule when they return from Bowling Green.
The Hogs play on successive Saturdays — Dec. 14 against Tulsa at Walton Arena, Dec. 21 against Valparaiso in North Little Rock, and Dec. 29 at Indiana — before opening SEC play Jan. 4 against Texas A&M at Walton Arena.
Musselman said they will use the extra practice time early in the week to shift back into a training-camp mode to clean up certain areas of their game and further develop their understanding of his offensive and defensive principals.