Tom Murphy is a reporter for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. A graduate of Louisiana Tech University, he is a member of the Football Writers Association of America, and voter for the Heisman Trophy and AP Top 25 football poll. Murphy was the 2017 Arkansas Sportswriter of the Year.
Hogs taught Tigers a lesson in pronunciation in 2007
Arkansas running back Darren McFadden runs for a touchdown during a game against LSU on Friday, Nov. 23, 2007, in Baton Rouge, La.
FAYETTEVILLE We might never know why Les Miles mispronounced “Arkansas” during Thanksgiving week in 2007.
Maybe “Ar-Kansas” just popped out spontaneously for the LSU coach at his weekly news conference and he didn’t really mean the slight. With Miles, it’s hard to tell sometimes.
No matter the intention, the repercussions were mighty.
The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette had its fun that week, running a cartoon rebus in the editorial section to serve as a pronunciation guide for the linguistically erratic Miles: R + can + saw = Arkansas.
Coach Houston Nutt and the Razorbacks, in the midst of an up-and-down 7-4 season, certainly used the mistake to their advantage. All-American junior running back Darren McFadden definitely took it to heart.
In his final game at Arkansas, Nutt and the Razorbacks upset No. 1 LSU 50-48 in three overtimes in Baton Rouge on Nov. 23, 2007.
The game is famous for McFadden crashing Nutt’s postgame interview with CBS holding his mini baseball bat and proclaiming he’s “got that wood right here” and correcting Miles’ pronunciation. Nutt implored ESPN’s Lou Holtz and Mark May on McFadden’s behalf to “put him in the Heisman!”
I stood just off to Nutt’s right side when that interview was going down.
LSU, the nation’s No. 2 team in the preseason, reached No. 1 after a 28-24 victory over Florida on Oct. 6. The Tigers had climbed back to No. 1 over the course of three weeks after losing 43-37 in triple-overtime at Kentucky on Oct. 13 by defeating No. 18 Auburn (30-24), No. 17 Alabama (41-34) and Louisiana Tech (58-10). They held the No. 1 spot after a 41-24 victory at Ole Miss on Nov. 17.
Two days later, Miles made his “Ar-Kansas” gaffe.
The Razorbacks, who had made great use of McFadden in the “WildHog” formation for parts of two years, unleashed the Little Rock native in the direct-snap formation like never before in Tiger Stadium in the nationally televised CBS game on a Friday.
McFadden, a two-time Doak Walker Award winner and two-time Heisman Trophy runner-up, was always ready and willing to represent for his home state. He had “Arkansas bred” tattooed onto his abdomen and “501 boy” inked on his right and left biceps, respectively.
He and backfield mates Felix Jones and Peyton Hills had a field day.
But first McFadden had to get over the jitters. He lost a fumble while returning the opening kickoff, and LSU cashed in with a short Colt David field goal for a 3-0 lead. McFadden also fumbled the ensuing kickoff, but recovered it himself before Arkansas went three-and-out. The Tigers drove 41 yards with their second possession to go ahead 6-0.
Arkansas went up 7-6 on McFadden’s 16-yard touchdown run from the WildHog to cap a 97-yard drive midway through the second quarter. The Razorbacks’ 7-6 halftime lead gave little indication of the fireworks to come.
On Arkansas’ fifth offensive snap of the second half, McFadden broke loose over the left side with a direct snap. It appeared safety Chad Jones was about to run him down when Arkansas quarterback Casey Dick, split wide left on the snap, swooped in and laid Jones out with a block well down field.
The fireworks went off from there.
McFadden wound up with 206 rushing yards and 3 touchdowns, as well as 34 passing yards and a touchdown.
Hillis rushed for 89 yards and 2 touchdowns, caught a team-high 5 passes for 62 yards and 2 touchdowns, and scored two of the Razorbacks’ three overtime touchdowns.
Jones had 85 rushing yards, 73 kickoff return yards and 10 receiving yards. He scored the winning points on a two-point conversion run in the third overtime.
Both teams converted dramatic fourth-down plays at crunch time.
After Arkansas took a 28-21 lead on Hillis’ 24-yard touchdown reception from McFadden with 5:06 left in the game, the Tigers converted on fourth and 1 en route to a tying touchdown, Demetrius Byrd’s 2-yard catch from Matt Flynn with 57 seconds left.
LSU scored first on Flynn’s 12-yard run in overtime. The Razorbacks faced a fourth and 10 moments later and converted it on Dick’s 13-yard strike to Hillis. The Hogs’ tying score came on Hillis’ 10-yard catch down the right sideline.
Jones ran for 16 yards, then McFadden cleaned up with a 9-yard score for Arkansas’ two-play touchdown series in the second overtime.
Arkansas got the ball first again in the third overtime and scored on Hillis’ 3-yard run, followed by Jones’ conversion run over the right side.
Arkansas cornerback Matterral Richardson ended the epic game by intercepting Flynn in the end zone on a two-point conversion pass. Richardson lost out on a ton of postgame publicity by immediately running through the end zone and to the back of Arkansas’ bench area as the Tigers slumped dejectedly across the stadium.
The disappointment didn’t last long, as LSU defeated Tennessee in the SEC Championship Game and caught a series of breaks that vaulted the Tigers into the BCS Championship Game. It was no match. LSU dismantled Ohio State 38-24 to claim its second national title in five years.
The Razorbacks would lose to Missouri in the Cotton Bowl, see Nutt receive his golden parachute and depart for Ole Miss, and welcome the start of the Bobby Petrino era.
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