Home field not always an advantage

By: Harry King
Published: Friday, October 12, 2018
War Memorial Stadium in Little Rock is shown in a 2014 file photo.
Photo by Benjamin Krain
War Memorial Stadium in Little Rock is shown in a 2014 file photo.

LITTLE ROCK — Maybe ESPN’s knowledgeable college football analyst and Ohio State product Kirk Herbstreit is superstitious about picking his alma mater or maybe he believes in the power of throngs, color and song.

Whatever the reason, sometime in August, Herbstreit declared Penn State his choice to capture the Big Ten, citing conference games in State College, Pa., vs. his Buckeyes as the deciding factor.

With that in mind, those of us who doubt the value of the home field in football relished the particulars of the Ohio State-Penn State result on Sept. 29.

A stadium-wide “White Out” did not intimidate the Buckeyes nor did the record crowd of 110,889 harmonizing to Neil Diamond’s “Sweet Caroline.”

Leading 13-0 in the first half and 26-14 with 8:00 left in the fourth quarter, Penn State lost 27-26. The circumstances of the comeback bring into question both the home field advantage and the power of momentum.

At 26-21, a penalty was worth a Penn State first down at the Buckeyes’ 41, but the Nittany Lions couldn’t take advantage and an intentional delay of game penalty led to a punt dead on the Ohio State 4.

The John Elway-led “drive” that CBS analyst Gary Danielson cites when disputing the value of so-called momentum was 98 yards; this one was 96.

Immediately, a screen pass worked for 35 yards and, seven plays later, North Little Rock’s K.J. Hill took a quick pass, benefited from a couple of blocks, and scored from 24 yards out.

Well-executed plays overcome noise; zero turnovers trump 100-plus decibels and SRO.

Details of Ohio State-Penn State are recited to make clear that it will take more than a large, enthusiastic, color coordinated crowd attending the first SEC night game in Little Rock in almost 20 years for Arkansas to defeat Ole Miss on Saturday.

Even a raucous rendition of Arkansas-born Johnny Cash’s “Ring of Fire” wouldn’t help although:

“I went down, down, down, And the flames went higher” is more intimidating than

“So good, so good, so good” punctuating the second verse of Diamond’s classic tune.

Playmakers will decide the winner and Ole Miss is the first SEC opponent this season that is not decidedly more talented than the Razorbacks. Still, the Rebels’ penchant for the big play means Arkansas’s offensive line must enable a version of keep away with first downs.

Ole Miss’ offense has been prolific in victories vs. non-conference opponents and not so good against Alabama and LSU, scoring 231 in four wins and managing two touchdowns in the losses.

Note the yardage of TDs in victories vs. Texas Tech, Southern Illinois, Kent State and Louisiana-Monroe:

—47 points, runs of 65 and 39, passes of 58 and 34, and 94-yard kickoff return.

—76 points, passes of 50, 46, 38, 30, five other TDs less than 10 yards, plus an 88-yard interception return and a 56-yard fumble return.

—38 points, passes of 41 and 38, three runs under 10 yards.

—70 points, passes of 62, 24, 20, 16, and 11, runs of 61 and 39, and three runs under 10 yards.

Even in the 55-point loss to Alabama, the Rebels scored first on a 75-yard pass.

In the victories, quarterback Jordan Ta’amu threw 135 times with one interception and a per-game completion percentage that ranged from 68.8 to 87.5. In the losses, he was 26-of-60 with three interceptions.

Arkansas’ secondary is improved, but A.J. Brown, a likely selection in the first two rounds of the NFL Draft, is one of many superb receivers and the defenders cannot cover all of them for an extended period.

By the way, favored home teams lose regularly.

Just last week, Michigan State lost to Northwestern and Oklahoma State lost to Iowa State when the home teams were 10-point favorites.

On one weekend this year, 22-point favorite Wisconsin, 21-point favorite Northwestern, 15-point favorite Maryland, 11-point favorite Nebraska and seven-point favorite Arkansas lost to BYU, Akron, Temple, Troy, and North Texas, respectively, at home.

Appropriately, the Razorbacks are a one-touchdown underdog vs. the Rebels.


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