Expats reader Eddie van Hoglen was fortunate enough to attend the Razorback game in Athens last weekend, and kind enough to write up his firsthand observations for us. What follows is his story of that momentous day. Read on, and enjoy!
I made it in and out of Athens and didn't get mugged, stabbed, shot, or punched. I flew into Atlanta on Friday afternoon and considered for a moment to head straight to Athens due to the way traffic was. I instead made it to my hotel in downtown Atlanta and prepared myself for the trip to Athens on Saturday.
I was invited to tailgate with a group of Georgia fans that are friends of mine. So I showed up right about 9:00 Saturday morning and took in the scene. I saw a few Razorback fans here and there but I didn't see as many as I expected. So I took the temperature of the Georgia fans before the game. And the talk was mostly about A.J. Green being suspended and complaints about how the Georgia football program had become a "mediocre" program. (Hmmm, where have I heard this before?) Anyways, Georgia fans weren't all that confident but not because they considered Arkansas better. But because they were down on their Dawgs after losing the previous week to South Carolina. I informed them that Arkansas wasn't exactly a running juggernaut anylonger and that Stephen Garcia didn't beat them the previous week it was South Carolina's freshman running back Marcus Lattimore. This seemed to bring some of that Georgia optimism out that I was looking for. So as gametime approached their fervor increased along with the confidence of Georgia fans.
After getting into Sanford Stadium I found my seat in the upper deck of the East endzone (yeah, you read that right. Sanford Stadium runs East/West not North/South), I watched the pregame and noticed that there were several empty seats. Even at kickoff there were many more empty seats than I expected. Moreover, the stadium vibe and atmosphere wasn't one of intimidation. It was more of a "wait and see what happens" type of feeling amongst Georgia fans. And when the Hogs scored on their first drive it turned it into a vibe of trepidation. Which was alright with me. Even after the Dawgs tied the game up with their own scoring drive to start the game the fans were cautiously optimistic. It just wasn't as loud as I had anticipated and it didn't seem to bother the Razorbacks at all.
Now, the one thing I hate about being at the game is you miss certain things. For instance, when Joe Adams ran back the punt for a TD I was too busy jumping up and down, turning around and giving a fellow Hog fan a few rows behind me a thumbs up, when I was instructed to, "turn around and look at the field. It's coming back." So I turned around, looked at the field, and may have used a 4 letter word in my disbelief. Never saw the block that caused it nor the flag. The Hogs took it in stride though and stayed composed and still managed to march down the field for a score to put us up 14-7. At this point I began to think we really might win this football game. As the rest of the first half played out Georgia fans just weren't all that rowdy. They were into the game but just not as imposing as one might think. There at the end of the half as we had the ball trying to get a score prior to halftime I thought that Bobby Petrino was over thinking himself. We get the ball down to the 30 yard line with 9 seconds to go and a time out left and he sends out the kick team. At which point I have to admit. I informed everyone around me that we have time to throw a short pass over the middle and get a little closer because our kicker isn't very good so it's foolish not to. I was astonished at what took place next. We made a 47 yard field goal and I went to the concourse to get some shade (it was hot).
As the second half began I was still in the concourse chatting with some Georgia fans (who were all very nice), and missed the interception. I'm walking back out to my seat and we've got the ball near midfield. "How the heck did we get the ball?" I asked a Georgia fan as I begged his pardon to shimmy in front of him to my seat. "We threw a pick first play" was his response in disgust. Now I'm thinking we can really start to salt this thing away. Score a touchdown here and the fight in the Dawg starts to fade away. But we squander the opportunity. Mallett misfires on a wide open reciever and we end up having to punt. Now I'm starting to think that not taking advantage of this turnover is gonna come back to bite us. However, I'm starting to become confident in this Arkansas defense I'm watching too. Georgia is moving the ball some but they're not making the big play. Our run defense was not great but it seemed just good enough. (I did get tired of seeing Georgia backs take a handoff and immediately cut back for positive yards. They did this on every run). So as the third quarter is coming to a close and at the beginning of the 4th quarter I'm thinking to myself that we've completely outplayed this team and that we are the better team on the field. It was obvious who was the better team. All of the sudden we score to go up 24-10 and the Georgia fans have now begun to vent. They're already talking about being 0-2 in the SEC and they're being very friendly to me telling me to enjoy my road victory. It was at this point that I informed the fans around me that "Arkansas doesn't run the football well enough to salt this game away" and that "there's a lot of football left." Boy was I ever so dissapointed to be correct. Granted, we didn't exactly go conservative and run the ball every down to run the clock. We tried to throw it some on 2nd downs and Ryan just flat out missed recievers that could have put us in scoring position. But we just don't run the ball well enough.
Now we let them back in the game with a touch and all of the sudden they're down by a touchdown and here comes the atmosphere I was originally expecting. It got loud. It got intimidating. And it got tough on the Hogs. Much to my disbelief these dead Dawgs come to life and tie this thing up. The momentum shift was as swift as a spring storm on the plains. Man I couldn't believe what had just taken place. Georgia's tied this thing up and we're flat out reeling. The crowd is into it. It's affecting our offense. Our defense is reeling and looking tired from the heat and unsure of themselves after allowing two quick touchdowns. I'll admit it. Doubt started creeping in at this point. After we went 3 and out right away and had to punt it back to them there at the end the Georgia fans around me are all talking about how many yards they need to kick the winning field goal. "All we need to do is get it to the 35 and Blair will win this thing!" And the reply to that was, "hell, if we get it to the 40 he can put it through from 57 to win it." Now these are the confident Dawg fans that I expected to see at the beginning. And I'm getting sick to my stomach. Alas, our pass rush shows up and we get the two sacks to force a punt. This disgusts these Georgia fans, "why are we running deep routes on 3rd down when we only need 5 yards!?!?" And then it happens......
Drew Butler, perhaps the best punter in the SEC, shanks a punt. And doubt creeps back into these Georgia fans. Ryan Mallett comes out and from the get go just looks like he's savoring this moment. He's got guys running wide open and he's hitting them. Boom, boom, boom. And then I see the formation we line up in. I've seen it before but I don't remember seeing it in this game yet. We've got trips to the wide side of the field and the Georgia d-backs are chirping at one another right up to the snap of the football. What happens next is EXACTLY what I thought was getting ready to happen. 95,000 people go from loud as all get out to deadly silent. Kill shot. The kickoff was just a minor scare. And then Aaron Murray throws the ball 900 yards to get it to the endzone and my heart about stopped (I didn't think he could throw it that far) but alas. We've got us a HUGE road victory in the SEC. Something that isn't easy to come by. I put my head down and exited silently in file with a very very very silent Georgia fan base. Kept my head down and my mouth shut. But I did give the occasional thumbs up to the few Hog fans I saw as I exited.