Is it too much hyperbole to title this post after a 1980s mini-series about the state of Kansas after a nuclear attack by the Soviets? Even though the sun did rise this morning and I don't see any nuclear fallout coming down outside my window or falling birds for that matter, it does seem apropos at the moment to think in terms of such utter gloom and despair after the heartbreaking loss to Ohio State last night in the Sugar Bowl. All across Arkansas and everywhere you'll find an Arkansas expat, there you'll find a broken heart this morning. He or she might be proud, as I am, about how the Hogs fought back to be in position to win the game, but in the end, the result is a deep sports wound that we all have inside. I called my friend after the game and said, "Misery, this is company." I hope this post and others like it give you some company.
* Signs? I am 99 percent of the time a strict rationalist, but when it comes to sports, I kinda get off track and might as well be a Roman looking at bird innards by the way I look for signs of upcoming defeat or victory. On the positive front, most of the teams listed in the Dem-Gazette's listing of bowl games were winning if they were listed on the left and the opposing team on the right. Arkansas was on the left of the divide. That looked good. On the negative side, well, having fish in the Arkansas river turn up dead by the thousands and birds falling from the sky seemed like an Old Testament curse on the state to go right along with the bowl curse. I also thought that the Big 10 going 0-5 in bowl games was not a good sign. That coin was bound to turn up tails, and it did on Arkansas as our bad bowl luck would have it.
* Arkansas fans: I can't say enough about how proud I am of our fanbase for the way they turned out for this game and turned New Orleans into the "Pig Easy" as it was called. Jeff Long, we do answer the call. And we always have. It is just a pity that the Hog faithful have now come back from 23 bowl trips over the years with a loss for a memory.
* Ohio State fans: I don't doubt that they were excited to see OSU get the SEC monkey off their back with a victory, but this is still a fanbase that does know what it is like to win on the big stage of a BCS bowl. Six wins, I believe. A Sugar Bowl Championship trophy would have meant all that much more to Hog fans.
* Motivation: So much of winning a bowl game is about motivation. Who really wants to be there? I have no doubt that the Hogs were stocked up with plenty of motivation. And I don't think Ohio State played like it lacked motivation either.
* Distractions?: I was also proud of how there was no drama with the Hogs off the field this bowl season. That was Ohio State's burden, but I don't think it really was much of a burden. All the drama revolving around the suspended players got taken care of before the Buckeyes made it to New Orleans. If that story had broken last week, then I think it would have been more of a factor.
* Suspended Players: I said at the outstart that I wanted to play the best Ohio State team, so there would be no excuses. And I suppose I still stand by that, but it sure did stick in my craw to learn that the player who secured OSU's victory by intercepting Mallett would have not been on the field if the NCAA had not come up with such a "we must protect the ratings" type of ruling.
* T. Pryor: I have to give it to him. He was the more poised quarterback last night. It also didn't hurt that he got a lot of protection and had the speed to get him out of trouble when the Hogs got near him. One of the annoucers said he "glided" to a first down. Yeah, at times he looked like he was on ice skates out there!
* Ryan Mallett Last Night: What to say? Of course, his receivers, normally reliable, let him down on too many passes. But Ryan had his share of bad passes as well. I thought he also held on to the ball too long. Knowing that pressuring Mallett would be at the top of the OSU to-do list, I was really disappointed that we didn't bring a better short passing game. Let them rush at you and dump the ball over their heads to a back! A better execution of the screen play! More quick tosses out to the flats! Something! haha. And is there an uglier sight outside of possibly Peyton Manning trying to scramble than watching Ryan Mallett last night try to scramble?
* Ryan Mallett Future: Though he has rewritten the Arkansas record books and put up many points, he has made only three touchdowns in two bowl games. Last night, he was responsible for just 14 points. Hocker was responsible for 10 points. The defense gave us two points on the safety. Unfortunately, if Ryan leaves Arkansas for the NFL, which I suspect he will do, he will leave as yet another Hog QB who didn't perform well in the post-season. He has a great arm, but ask yourself this. Would you have rather had Matt Jones or Ryan Mallett during that last offensive series? My memories of the Seven Overtime game in Oxford have me thinking it would have been nice to call in Mr. Pressure Doesn't Phase Me to run that last series. And god knows he could have scrambled better!
* D.J. Williams: Yes, those deep passes by Ryan Mallett will be missed, but the player I am going to miss the most come next season is Mr. Reliable, D.J. Williams, our Mackey Award and Disney Spirit Award winner. Smart, gutsy, never give up, fight for those two points, and just overall represented the University in the best way possible. A true Hog!
* Joe Adams: Did it not seem like we were determined to go to him no matter what? He is a big playmaker, but even those guys have their off nights, and unfortunately, last night was his. How could we let the whole game go by without getting Cobi Hamilton involved somehow?
* Other Missing Players: Ronnie Wingo and the wheel route? Nowhere to be seen. I think Ronnie had one running attempt and that was it. It also seemed like Knile Davis would go missing when his ground attack was producing yards. The 4th and one call? Got too cute with that incomplete pass. Go Knile Davis! And finally, Brandon Mitchell, our truly scrambling QB! I am disappointed that we didn't make any use of him.
* Defense: Well, we all like the second half version of them when they allowed only three points, but you can't in Keystone Cop fashion spot a team like Ohio State 28 points. If they recover the fumble, if they don't knock each other out of intercepting the ball, if they don't let Boom Herring run untouched into the endzone, hey, the Hogs aren't needing to stage an epic comeback! You don't win championships by playing like they did in the first half.
* Offense: I use the analogy again of a sports car that has water in its engine. We would start off speeding and then sputter, and before you knew it, it was third and long or fourth and punting time. Consistency is what champions are made of, and we were just not anywhere close to being as consistent as we needed to be, yet we were one touchdown pass away from possibly winning the game.
* Dejavu All Over Again: As the game progressed, I tried to describe it as a game from this season. It seemed to start out like the Mississippi State game with us letting them march down the field, but countering with a score. Then it looked like the Auburn game in parts with me wondering if we would ever tackle T. Pryor. But with the comeback it looked like the better part of the Auburn game! But finally, it was the end of the Alabama game that raised its ugly head in Ryan Mallett's ill fated last pass.
* Anything New?: Did we do anything new or different in this game? Did we have a wrinkle that Ohio State was not expecting? Maybe we did. But I didn't see, and in that, I am rather disappointed in Petrino. How about the team that started the Wildcat brings it out again when not expected? Or is that too Houston Nutt era for him to consider?
* Scoop and Score: If anything is learned from this bowl game, I hope it is the importance of the notion of "scoop and score." I am sure the players are taught that on blocked punts you gotta pick up the ball, not fall on it. If there ever was an example of how important that concept is, this game was it. We scoop and score and very likely win the game. Ryan Mallett doesn't get a chance to go all Alabama game on us and turn the ball over. The final score, if the defense held, which I think they would have, would have been 33-31 or 34-31 or at worse 32-31.
* BIG PICTURE THOUGHTS: So 10-3 it is. Where does this rate? I think just a hair better than the 2006 season since it was the Sugar Bowl we lost, not the Capital One bowl. But 11-2 would have made it one of the all time great Hog seasons. The team is on the right trajectory as everyone is saying, and in some ways we might even be a better team with Tyler Wilson and Brandon Mitchell next year leading the offensive attack. They are both more mobile and possibly better able to handle pressure moments, and if Petrino can make Casey Dick become the QB he became during his last year, he can work wonders with those guys. Plus, we get Greg Childs and Dennis Johnson back. We'll have Hocker, who was fantastic, and Breeding as well. I think we'll enter next season ranked somewhere in the Top 25 again. Until then, try to remember the better parts of the 2010 season, and there were many! And keep this in mind too. If the Hogs losing the Sugar Bowl is the worse thing that happens to you in 2011, then you really will have had a good year. Your health, the health of your family, your employment, the respect of your co-workers, the love of your friends and family, these are all more important than the outcome of a football game. With that said, this one still hurts and will hurt for a long time.
John Lithgow's character on his ham radio set: "This is Lawrence, Kansas. This is Lawrence, Kansas. Is there anyone out there?" Fade to black.