Wally Hall is the managing sports editor for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. A graduate of the University of Arkansas-Little Rock after an honorable discharge from the U.S. Air Force, he is a past president and member of the Football Writers Association of America, member of the U.S. Basketball Writers Association, past president and current executive committee and board member of the Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame, and voter for the Heisman Trophy.
LIKE IT IS:
Nothing miraculous about Hogs’ season
Arkansas quarterback Tyler Wilson (8) passes over LSU defensive end Sam Montgomery (99) as Arkansas offensive tackle Brey Cook, right, defends during the second quarter of an NCAA college football game in Fayetteville, Ark., Friday, Nov. 23, 2012.
FAYETTEVILLE For most of the second half, there was hope and something to cheer.
It looked as if another classic, zany, anything can-happen Arkansas-LSU match up might play out.
That it might be another of those miracle games. That the spirits of Matt Jones, Casey Dick, Peyton Hillis, Darren McFadden and all those others had reunited for the coldest game of the year.
Then on third-and-10 - third-and-long wasn’t enough of a problem for the LSU Tigers on Friday - Zach Mettenberger found Odell Beckham in the flat, and Beckham was short of the first down with more than two minutes to play and the Hogs holding three timeouts.
Then he wiggled free enough for the first down, and suddenly he was loose and wasn’t stopped until making it to the Arkansas 17. The Hogs’ defense held the Tigers to a field goal to make it 20-13 with 1:26 to play.
About half the bone-chilled Razorbacks fans were still there, and so were all the LSU faithful.
It came down to 78 yards with 1:19 to play to beat a true quality SEC opponent. The No. 7 Tigers had won four SEC games by less than a touchdown.
The Hogs got to their 41, then to the LSU 47, then to the 41 on a 6-yard scramble by Tyler Wilson. And a diving catch by Julian Horton put them on the 18 with six seconds to play.
The final pass was long in the corner of the end zone, and the Razorbacks, with their best defensive effort of the season, had not been blown out by a ranked SEC team.
Some will grumble the game might have been won in War Memorial Stadium, but the truth is, the Hogs were good enough to have won and careless enough to lose.
When you lose a fumble on LSU’s 2, miss two field goals, drop passes and get hit with penalties and more mental mistakes, you aren’t going to win.
You can play them close on senior day, but to beat the elite teams you can’t beat yourself, and that’s pretty much what happened Friday.
Granted, the Tigers were predictable on offense and the Hogs held them to 306 total yards, but 462 yards for the home team wasn’t enough because you have to get in the end zone and not settle for field-goal attempts.
The good news is this football season is over.
The fans have been incredibly faithful, but on some level the majority of the fans have to be relieved.
This season started with hopes and dreams of a BCS national championship. The thought of losing the best receiving corps in America and two outstanding veteran linebackers plus a great defensive end was buried deep in denial and disassociation.
Reality began to set in against Louisiana-Monroe, a 34-31 overtime loss when Wilson missed the second half, and became clearer when Rutgers came to visit and handed the home team a 35-26 loss.
Then the wheels came off. The 58-10 thrashing by Texas A&M, after leading 10-0, left little doubt this season was headed for disaster alley.
Victories over cellar dwellers Auburn and Kentucky spurred some thoughts of a trip to a lower-tier bowl, which were boosted by a victory over Tulsa, but the Hogs closed the season with South Carolina, Mississippi State and LSU. Only one of those was close, and that score was off the Reynolds Razorback Stadium scoreboard within minutes after the teams were off the field.
Now Athletic Director Jeff Long can turn his attention to finding a new coach. He’s been in the elimination process for months, his research has run deep, and almost every frontrunner who was born on the Internet or a message board was never a candidate.
Most likely the regular season ends today for the guy Long wants and interview season opens Sunday.
For now, the Hogs go out with a close loss and their best defensive effort of the season.
Sports, Pages 23 on 11/24/2012