I want to begin by congratulating the previous posters for their solid analysis and good attempts to gain some sense of what happened to our Hogs on Saturday night. Also, the comments have been really spot on as well. We've always had a good readership here, and it shows even in one of our darkest hours. Though I've used this "Notes From the North Endzone" series in the past to detail my experiences of being at Little Rock games, I don't feel the need this time to try to put you there at the scene. If you weren't there, count yourself fortunate! It was a horrible experience to watch the Hogs through lack of leadership, unsound football fundamentals, and lack of any real intensity just let ULM do whatever they wanted, especially in the second half.
I got the sense that players were all standing around waiting for somebody to make a play instead of making one themselves. I too kept thinking that somebody is going to step up and force a turnover or bust a long running play or catch that needed pass. That has been the script in the past when the Hogs have fooled around with a less talented team in their ever on going need to create drama where drama need not exist. But I have an excuse for my thinking as I am a fan. I am not on the team, so the most I could do was yell, and I yelled, and I yelled, and the defense gave up play after play after play until in the end it was 34-31, game over. And I wasn't the only one. The North Endzone hung around and did all it could as well.
Here are the elements that I see as having come together to create, as I say in the title of this post, the Night of the Perfect Storm. (The night before in Little Rock there was a real storm, and a powerful one. I sat in a restaurant on Rodney Parham with the lights all out, the wind a blowing, and eating by the cell phone light of other dinners. Omen?)
* First, there arrived on the scene a gutsy, salty, ballsy, aggressive team led by an experienced quarterback and a coaching staff lead by a leader, not a stop gap solution. That team came from Monroe. ULM deserves credit for not being intimidated at all by the Hogs.
* The Hogs' recent history of playing around with these type of teams and not putting them away early was bound to catchup with them at some point. Though I can't know exactly what the players were thinking, I can guess that there might have been the complacency of we've played like this before, but have always won.
* Injuries are always going to be part of the game, so you need to prepare for them. The coaches obviously had not prepared the team for what to do if Tyler should go down. Did they think number eight was superman? Compacting this error, I think we looked just as foolish as LSU in the national championship game by not trying another option (Brandon Mitchell) at quarterback after the first was proving series after series to be very ineffectual. Brandon Mitchell could have run more time off that clock with his legs than Brandon Allen could with his repeated incomplete passes.
* "Are you going to kiss me?" said by a young woman to a middle aged man in a parked car in Fayetteville some many months ago. Bobby Petrino answered "Yes" and there began a chain of events that dropped the low pressure in the storm even lower. Though I think it still likely the Hogs would have struggled some last night against ULM with Bobby Petrino on the sidelines, (commenter Zeke has a good point about this still being Petrino's recruits and offense first philosophy), I think the force of Petrino's leadership would have saved us from this humiliation, but of course, we'll never know.
* Though it happened states and a time zone away, I don't think you can discount the Penn State situation has having had a role. Hear me out. What happened at Penn State put more spotlight on misbehaving coaches than there has been in a long time. It was in this climate that Jeff Long fired Petrino and set up this whole interim coach fiasco, as it appears to be, that we are witnessing. Without the sins of Sandusky and Paterno in recent headlines, might a more creative solution to the mess that Petrino made have been found? Maybe. Or granted, maybe not.
* Though only fans were allowed to look ahead to Alabama, that doesn't mean the players and coaches weren't doing so. ULM has been looking forward to only one game, the one with us, and it showed.
* Add to the pressure dropping mixture the energy zapping sight of two of your teammates being carried off on carts in the second half of the game. When it rains injuries, it pours them.
* Finally, I would say you can't discount the senior leadership that the Hogs lost from that first recruiting class. The 2009 class, at least thus far, have not proven themselves to be the football men that the 2008 class were. But I think it is also clear that the 2009 class now has the opportunity to rise up to a challenge (saving this season) tougher than any the 2008 guys faced.
Some big picture thoughts here before I conclude. War Memorial, the Hogs, fans, team, etc. it is all an exercise in the human need for community. Tribalism has its negative connotations, but it is also a fundamental part of who we are. We Americans think of ourselves as individuals, but we also love to associate ourselves with a larger identity. And one such way to do that is to become a fan of a football team. Our tribe got a real collective blow to the gut last night. Face it, ULM went and crapped right in our collective oatmeal bowl. It still remains to be seen if such a loss turns this into a zombie season where fans, coaches, and players rather just shuffle along and play out the hand, or if the team and coaches take this setback to heart and use it to punch our way back to something that resembles a good season. The likelihood of a truly great season for our tribe of the red pig, however, died last night, though it has been on unrecognized life support since Petrino's bike accident. The Hogs could somehow win the SEC, unlikely as that sounds now, but their ticket to the national title game would still be in the clutches of a ULM Warhawk who flew away with it in a perfect storm over Markham.