And here we are at the end of a lackluster chapter in Arkansas football history. The season ended yesterday with no Matt Jones magic, no Casey Dick magic, just Tyler Wilson trying to get us to overtime on a pass that went too high across the endzone on a cold evening in Fayetteville. That he had a more open man streaking unseen across the back of the endzone, just some more salt on a season full of wounds. From a rash of injuries, turnovers, self-inflicted mistakes, poor coaching decisions, and inexperience showing its ugly head, the Hogs emerged 4-8 after being ranked in the top ten to begin the season.
The 2011 season will long live in memory for its eleven victories and win in the Cotton Bowl. But I wonder now if it will be forever paired with the failure that was the 2012 season? I feel like they might indeed be twins forever on in the Razorback story. If somebody ten years from now brings up the 2011 season, the conversation is bound to turn to what a drop-off the 2012 season was. And possibly it will work the other way as well. If somebody mentions 2012, then I imagine a Hog fan will bring up 2011, a yin and yang of football seasons.
To the game itself, I thought we would review it by topics, starting with attendance.
ATTENDANCE: I tip my Hog hat to every Hog fan who was there yesterday. A friend of mine who was at the game told me it wasn't Liberty Bowl cold, but it was very cold all the same. From the overhead shots, the attendance looked like what you might expect at 4-7 on a cold day. I took the largest section of empty seats to be the student section. As loyal of an Arkansas fan as I am, I doubt that if I were a student at the UofA who lived in say Southern or Eastern Arkansas I would have cut my vacation short and traveled back for the game. I think the wisdom of having this game in Little Rock stands even more apparent after Friday. But I doubt that changes anything.
SENIORS: They got a raw deal. They got a lemon in having to watch their leader be fired before the season began. We all thank them for their efforts to make lemonade out of the situation, but they just were not able to do it. And the same thing would likely be the case at any number of other schools if they had the head coaching rug pulled out from under them as well. My sincere hope is that they have made or will make of themselves graduates of the UofA. I hope to walk through the class of 2013 on senior walk and see names like Cobi Hamilton, Tyler Wilson, Dennis Johnson.
DEFENSE: Where has that type of fight been all year? I really enjoyed seeing it. Granted, LSU is not an offensive powerhouse, but still, the Hogs finally looked closer to that 2012 Cotton Bowl defense that we once thought we would see all season. It gives me some hope that we had younggins out there, like Otha Peters and Will Hines, getting experience. Consider this, our defense was one miracle catch and one special teams failure away from holding LSU to six points. We have something to build on here.
OFFENSE: It felt like every one of those 13 points were earned the hard way. Like a good team should, LSU did not gift us anything this year. But it is still sad to think that the end of the Bobby Petrino era should end with such a whimper in point production. Just 13 points. It was nice that both Tyler and Cobi picked up more records for their efforts, but I know they both would have cashed them in for points in a game where the Hogs actually had more offensive production than LSU.
TURNOVERS: I like to think that we packed in turnovers for the next couple of years all in this year. Same thing with injuries! I hope the next coach has an offensive coordinator who can teach our guys how to hold onto the ball and a defensive coordinator who can teach them how to strip it when on defense. All season, we got it handed to us in this most important category. CBS even had a graphic prepared ahead of time I am sure showing all the games we had lost and the multiple turnovers in each game.
FOURTH DOWN CALLS: I think the state of Arkansas would have gone to sleep last night with less venom for John L. Smith if he had rolled the dice on 4th and one at the goal line and fourth and four at midfield. Why go so conservative when your players are fighting so hard and you are at home? If we had gambled and lost on those plays, at least we could have said we didn't hold back and swung for the fences, to use a baseball metaphor for a football game. In my eyes, the least forgivable of the two was punting on 4th and four. The resulting LSU possession doomed us to looking for a Casey Dick, Matt Jones type of miracle due to the lack of time.
HOCKER: He is not a senior. So I hope whatever got into his leg yesterday is kicked out come next fall. Just as success can be infectious, I think so too can failure. And this team has been a good example of failure by osmosis. So even normally steady players start to play worse than before.
KICKOFF RETURN: Is it written into the SEC rulebook that LSU has to have a big special teams return every time they play the Hogs? haha. It was a microcosm of the whole season. We get some postive mo on our side with a good field goal, finally, and trade it away with a long LSU run on the return that leads to a quick touchdown. Take that away, and we are 13-13 and Tyler has us setup for a field goal for the win there in the last seconds.
MIRACLES: Tyler Wilson's last pass had the chance to blot out the fact that this was a season really void of the miracle play. But a season without a Joe Adams punt return type of play or a comeback against Texas A&M, I guess it was only fitting that the LSU game should have begun with a redzone fumble and ended with a redzone pass sailing above the receiver's outstretched hands.
SMITH AND COACHING STAFF: It always hurts when you have high expectations out of a group of people and then they let you down. In retrospect, I should have never expected this staff to pull a sears trophy out of their butts after Bobby Petrino fell on his own butt. But I think with the talent on this team, we all had the right to expect more than 4-8 for the season. There are only so many football seasons in a fan's life, a finite number, and I feel like these guys, through their incompetence and possibly lack of motivation, squandered one of our seasons. I feel for the Hog fans that will pass away between now and August. This season will be their last as well, and not one worth going out on. As for Smith and the staff, I don't personally wish them ill wherever they end up next. I just wish them out of Fayetteville.
THE FUTURE: Remember, a good number of freshmen, such as Otha Peters and Will Hines and Jonathan Williams, got some valuable playing time this year.
THE NEW COACH CALLED HOPE: I hear rumors of Chris Peterson this morning. Who will it be tomorrow morning? haha. My hope is that by next weekend we will know. And I hope that it is a person most of the fans can rally behind and can feel hopeful about. More than victories in a lost season, what fans want now is hope. Hope that this fall off was just a one season deal brought about by odd circumstances to say the least. We need a new coach that will inspire us to believe that the double digit win seasons that Petrino was establishing will be back. Hope that a new coach can get our Hogs back to playing fundamentally sound football and away from beating themselves on the field as much as being beat by another team. Did I mention, hope?
FINAL BIG PICTURE THOUGHTS: The Season From Hell is now over. And it will be disappointing to not see the Hogs there when the bowl games are announced. But I plan to still watch a ton of college football, starting with today's games. Cheering for the Hogs is my favorite part of college football, but I still love college football itself. The Hogs had a bad season. We probably should just embrace it like we do all other parts of Razorback life. Bad seasons come. But they also go, as this one has. And they are as much of the fabric of college football life as the punt and the pass. 2012 is going to be part of who we are as Hogs, like it or not, but it absolutely isn't all of who we are. We are also 1964, 1977, 1988, 1989, 2006, 2011. Happy Hog years, they will come again.