From agony to ecstasy: Can Hogs upset the Crimson Tide?

Arkansas quarterback KJ Jefferson (1) looks for an open receiver during the first half of the team’s NCAA college football game against Texas A&M on Saturday, Sept. 24, 2022, in Arlington, Texas. (AP Photo/Brandon Wade)

Three days later, the Arkansas Razorbacks’ loss to Texas A&M still stings as a fan.

It may or may not become one of those landmark losses that remains etched in our memory.

For those who remember the glory days of the program in the 1960s, the 1969 Texas game is one that is still stomach-churning all these years later. That James Street to Randy Peschel pass on fourth down set up a touchdown by Jim Bertelsen that still haunts Arkansas’ program today.

Just two years later, there was the 1971 Liberty Bowl loss to Tennessee that was particularly irksome. In it the officials literally robbed the Hogs of the game with a phantom call on a kick and a bad ruling on a fumble that gave the ball to Tennessee.

I’ve only heard stories and read about those two.

However, I distinctly remember another awful call by a ref – this time pass interference — that turned the tables on the Hogs against SMU — featuring the Pony Express backfield of Eric Dickerson and Craig James — in 1982. Back then, pass interference was a spot-of-the foul call. That call moved SMU into Arkansas territory and set up a 17-17 tie that sent SMU to the Cotton Bowl.

Next up for the No. 20 Razorbacks

Opponent: Alabama
When:  2:30 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 1
Where: Razorback Stadium, Fayetteville
Streaming: CBS

Remaining Schedule

Oct. 8 – at Mississippi State
Oct. 15 – at BYU
Oct. 29 – at Auburn
Nov. 5 – Liberty
Nov. 12 – LSU
Nov. 19 – Ole Miss
Nov. 25 – at Missouri

In the 1984 Liberty Bowl, the Hogs held Bo Jackson and Auburn in check all night until he broke loose for a 60-plus yard gallop that ultimately did in the Razorbacks.

The 1998 loss to Tennessee at Knoxville still hurts to some. The Hogs and Vols were undefeated in this November showdown, and the Razorbacks were driving to lock up the game when All-American guard Brandon Burlsworth set up a pass block on a play-action pass and stepped on quarterback Clint Stoerner’s foot, tripping him. Stoerner fell and fumbled. I still think he was down with the ground causing the fumble. But the ball went to Tennessee, and the Vols drove for the winning touchdown.

More recently there were all the phantom penalties in the 2009 game at Florida that allowed Tim Tebow and his crew to remain undefeated against a galant bunch of Hogs that would win a combined 21 games over the next two seasons under Bobby Petrino.

Even more fresh in fans’ memories was the crazy return of an Auburn fumble to the Tigers in the 2020 Covid season that allowed Gus Malzahn’s squad to escape the clutches of Sam Pittman’s first Razorbacks team.

Those games will forever live in infamy for Hog fans who remember them.

It’s too early to tell how we might remember last Saturday’s 23-21 loss to the Aggies. A lot depends on what happens the rest of the season, and of course this Saturday when the No. 2 Alabama Crimson Tide comes to town for a 2:30 p.m. showdown with the No. 20 Razorbacks.

While some Hog fans — me included — are still exorcising demons from the heartbreaking loss to the Aggies, the Razorbacks themselves are already deep into preparations for the Crimson Tide. The hay isn’t in the barn yet, but the wagon is headed downhill.

It’s probably good the Hogs are playing such a talented and esteemed opponent this week. It’s less likely they are wallowing in the mud from the Aggie loss. If they are still looking back, Saturday’s going to be a long afternoon.

Alabama might not be ranked No. 1, but their program remains head and shoulders above all but a select few in the nation. Maybe all but Georgia and Ohio State right now.

The Razorbacks can’t make the silly mistakes that tripped them up against the Aggies and expect to be in the game against the Crimson Tide. Pittman, his staff and the Hogs themselves know that.

However, they also know that they played the Crimson Tide off their feet last season at Tuscaloosa. The game might not have been as close as the final score in its actual play on the field, but a weird bounce here or there, and the Hogs could have stunned Alabama.

While the implications of Saturday’s game aren’t what they could have been after the loss to the Aggies, should Arkansas — a 16.5 point home underdog —upset the Crimson Tide, it would be the biggest victory for the Hogs in a decade, perhaps decades.

Arkansas place-kicker Cam Little (29) reacts after missing a field goal against Texas A&M in the final minutes of an NCAA college football game Saturday, Sept. 24, 2022, in Arlington, Texas. Texas A&M won 23-21. (AP Photo/Brandon Wade)

The overtime win over an LSU team that would go on to win the national title in 2007 stands out when Darren McFadden and Co. “brought that wood” in Houston Nutt’s last game as head coach, but if it occurred, it might be the biggest win for the program since the blowout upset of Oklahoma in the 1978 Orange Bowl?

The wins over Tennessee in 1992 and Alabama in 1995 and 1998 were big, but those teams proved to be over-ranked at the time.

Trying to be as impartial as my Razorback heart will allow, I’m not sure this Arkansas squad has what it takes to pull off such a monumental upset.

Injuries to Jalen Catalon and LaDarrius Bishop have weakened Arkansas’ secondary whose play has been questionable all season. The Razorbacks’ front seven has played well at times and put some pressure on the quarterback, but Heisman Trophy winner Bryce Young and the players who surround him are on another level. As elusive as Young is, I’m not sure you want him outside the pocket, but if you don’t make things uncomfortable for him somehow, he will pick you apart.

Arkansas’ tackling in space has been suspect all season. I think all things considered, it was actually better against A&M, but it was still too loose.

As stout as Alabama’s defense is — led by perhaps the best college football player in the nation in defensive end Will Anderson — the Razorbacks probably do have the ability to move the ball on the Crimson Tide with their rushing attack and down-field passing game. The Hogs did last year.

However, Arkansas has been prone to some crippling mental mistakes this season with ball security and execution that cost them dearly against Texas A&M.

Can that stuff be cleaned up?

Yes, but it hasn’t been through four games. I have to wonder what is going to magically click into gear this week that hasn’t previously this season against the best and most dominant opponent on the Razorbacks’ schedule?

I don’t like being cynical, particularly with the Hogs, but I’ve not seen much this season that leads me to hope that the Razorbacks can break Alabama’s winning streak over Arkansas that dates back to Nick Saban’s first year as the Crimson Tide’s head coach in 2007. The Hogs are the only SEC West team that hasn’t beaten Alabama since Saban became coach, and as much as I hate to say it, I think the streak continues this week.

Through four games, this Razorback team has been too mistake-prone to expect them to pull off an upset of that magnitude.

I hope K.J. Jefferson, Bumper Pool and the rest of the Razorbacks prove me dead wrong.

Should the Razorbacks pull off what seems impossible, watch out Dickson Street!

It’s likely to be the biggest party in downtown Fayetteville since the goal posts were carried down there after the 1998 Tennessee victory or maybe since Nolan Richardson’s 1994 Razorbacks captured the basketball national title.