There are few things in Arkansas' football history that make less sense than the series against Kentucky. The Razorbacks and Wildcats have played six times since Arkansas began playing football in the SEC in 1992, and have somehow amassed a ghastly 2-4 record. Against Kentucky. In football.
Arkansas has had the misfortune of playing some of the better teams Kentucky has fielded in recent memory , and sometimes, the Hogs have just completely laid an egg. Either way, the games have seemingly all featured some sort of unorthodox events that make the games stick out among all the other crazy Arkansas games through the years.
I attended the game in Lexington. There was hope because Arkansas was coming off an upset of Auburn the week before. I met running back Michael Smith's mom in the concession stands during the game. I told her how proud of him Arkansas fans had been after Smith had carried the ball 87 times over the previous four games and seemed to be the team's only reliable offensive weapon although the high number of carries was a point of concern. When I said hi to his mom, she smiled nervously and said, "pray for him." At that point, I knew it was going to be a struggle.
Mostly though, this game is remembered for Arkansas' epic choke job in the last five minutes. Arkansas led 20-7 and had the ball and first down near midfield. Kentucky fans were filing out. Razorback fans were chanting "Bob-by! Bob-by!" I made a friend in the stands with a guy who made signs for a living.
Then De'Anthony Curtis fumbled, Kentucky picked up a quick score, Arkansas went three and out, Kentucky picked up another quick score to take the lead with over a minute left to play. Then Casey Dick threw a pick on an armpunt and that was that. My friend the sign-maker went from cool guy to Hogville cliche in a matter of seconds.
Also, it was one of the sloppiest games any Arkansas team would ever play. Some Hog fans even put together a montage of all the penalties and questionable calls that went against Arkansas that night. It's worth viewing just to watch Petrino melt down on the sidelines.
And here's the link to the lowlights of the last 3 or so minutes of the game if you're into sadomasochism.
This game was coming off an absolute heartbreaker for Arkansas in Tuscaloosa, so winning was very important. But this was a Houston Nutt team so naturally it didn't happen.
This game had it all. Arkansas led throughout the first half thanks to a vintage Darren McFadden 56-yard touchdown run and defensive lineman Antwain Robinson returning a fumble into the end zone. But right before halftime, Kentucky returned a Michael Smith fumble for a touchdown to cut the lead to 20-14 right before the half.
Kentucky led 21-20 when Fred Bledsoe sacked Andre Woodson in the end zone for a safety to take the lead. Felix Jones followed that with a touchdown on the ensuing kickoff to give the Hogs an 8 point lead. The safety-touchdown combo is rarely seen and you'd think it would normally be lethal as a fourth quarter attack, but no.
Arkansas had Kentucky stopped on their next drive, and the Wildcats missed a field goal but got new life when Ryan Powers tackled Kentucky's kicker after his missed kick. When we tackled the kicker I knew it was over. Arkansas doesn't come back from those types of screw-ups. Surely enough, the Wildcats scored on a 2-yard run a few plays later. Then Arkansas punted. Then Kentucky scored again. Then Casey Dick threw a pick. Then Kentucky scored again. Despite McFadden's 173 yards and 133 more from Felix Jones, Arkansas fell 42-29.
Here's the video proof of all of it
This was the Jared Lorenzen, "Where are y'all going? You're going to miss one hell of a game!" Game. Kentucky scored late to send the game to overtime, and it turned out to be Arkansas' second 7-OT game in three seasons. Fortunately, Arkansas had Houston Dale Nutt on the sidelines, and Dale, for all his faults, was the master of the 7OT game.
Arkansas had a three-game losing streak going into Lexington, and this victory helped the Hogs on their quest to Shreveport, where they'd beat Missouri. Always fun to beat Missouri.
Remember that time Arkansas won 9 regular season games and won the West? When the only three regular season losses came to a good Alabama team that was on probation for cheating, a pre-crap years Tennessee team, and...Kentucky? To be fair, Kentucky also was also living out sanctions that kept them from going to a bowl that year.
The Razorbacks didn't show up in Fayetteville the week after beating Auburn on the road. That possibly because Fred Talley was still running in Auburn and missed the flight back to Arkansas.
Couldn't find video of the Kentucky games before 2003. Not that I looked really hard or asked anybody, but because they didn't show up on the first couple pages of a Google search. We don't need to watch it anyway. If you're hungry for 2002 highlights, check out this video of plays set to Bon Jovi!
Arkansas was ranked #20 and coming off a disappointing defeat against Alabama. For Kentucky, it was their biggest win over a top-25 opponent in six years. The Wildcats just crushed the eventual Cotton Bowl champs. They led 21-0 in the second quarter. Tim Couch's replacement at quarterback, Dusty Bonner, threw 19-of-31 for 252 yards and four touchdowns. Kentucky eventually won 31-20. Too bad Hogville wasn't around yet. Other than beating Tennessee and Texas, this has to be one of the most disappointing years in Arkansas memory. It really was an "other than that, Mrs. Lincoln, how was the play?" type of thing.
Ah, yes. That magical couple of months when Houston Nutt was undefeated and things were blissful. Tim Couch and his Kentucky teammates came to War Memorial Stadium against the newly ranked Razorbacks and led most of the game, but Arkansas took the lead early in the fourth quarter and held on for the victory. Houston Nutt could do no wrong those first couple of months. Remarkably, you can watch the 30-second opening of the broadcast here and apparently rent or buy the game.