Rock Bottom in the Rock - A Mississippi State Recap

Wesley Hitt

Darkness, Light, and Cold, some History, and a Poll

I like being part of historic days in Razorback football, the bowl wins I've seen, the miracle on Markham that I've witnessed (Miracle II), seeing D-Mac and Jones rush through defenders, Matt Jones scrambling for more yards, but last Saturday's attendance at War Memorial was historic for all the wrong reasons. Sitting next to seeing ULM dispatch us from the delusion that everything will still be okay with John L. Smith in charge, on the shelf of bad memories, is now the memory of having watched the first Razorback team to lose to MSU in back-to-back seasons and the first team to lose to MSU within the state of Arkansas, along with this loss cementing the longest losing streak in Razorback history. That was getting a lot of nothing for the price of a ticket, a hotel room, and some bitterly cold wind in my face.  Around 45,000 or so fans got the same sting of a loss and left the stadium as silent and as dejected as I've seen a departing crowd. As a member of that crowd, here are a few observations.

* It was obviously a different atmosphere from what I saw back in September before the Hogs had launched their epic losing streak. The weather that day was sunny and warm. (I still  think we must have caught something from Southern Mississippi.) But I felt some hope that the Hogs just might turn things around and get a win. That hope fluctuated up and down during the game until it fatally crashed with Allen zeroing in on the wrong colored uniform.

* Speaking of which! I think it highly apropos that this squad who have so poorly represented the winning tradition at the University of Arkansas should play their last game inside the state wearing a fad instead of the red and white tradition of our greatest players, all of which either spun in their graves or recliners on Saturday, as the hapless Hogs found a way to lose yet another game.

* Positive to be found, still undefeated against MSU within the state of Arkansas while wearing red and white uniforms and the traditional red helmet.

* A banner flew overhead, but the Nutt family can rest easy. So can the Bielemas, for now. Dan Mulligan (I think) wants you to make him state treasurer, I presume.

* I eagerly bought a program because I thought within it would be evidence of my own small correction for the season. If you have a gameday program, look inside it and see where in the list of bowl games it has us playing the 1978 Orange Bowl. It is not Miami, Florida, but Dallas, Texas! WRONG. I had been seeing that for season after season, so I finally contacted Jeff Long directly by email to alert him to this error. He sent my email to Chad in the department who gave me the impression that it was going to be corrected. It wasn't. I emailed Chad after the game, and he got back to me really quickly (the same day) to say that that section of the program is pre-printed and can't be fixed until next season, hmm, sorta like the football team itself, right?

* Marcus Elliot was the honorary captain for the game. I like his radio analysis of things Razorback football, and I thought he did a really good job after the game, as I listened to him and Randy Rainwater try to make some sense of our spiral of a season and to keep Hog fans from finding a high cliff to jump off of. They both did an honorable job by calling bad, bad, but not giving in to the fans who want everybody associated with the program fired right now.

* The fans were dressed for cold weather Hog watching, but thankfully not also cold and wet Hog watching; the rain mercifully stayed away. It was cold. But not Memphis / Liberty Bowl cold. My family and I joke about how that game's temperature gets lower and lower with each time we bring it up. I think we've relived that one enough to where we describe ice bergs floating on the Mississippi as we enter Memphis.

* You can't address this game without mentioning the fake punt. Stupid, stupid, stupid. And I would say that if it had been successful. It screamed desperation. Without it, possibly MSU doesn't score on that drive. Without those seven points, possibly 17-10 for Arkansas's first SEC win and likely only win of the season.

* And for the sake of future Herndons running at top speed to the corner of the end-zone, couldn't War Memorial put up some padding back there? Our two touchdowns came from receivers, but not how receivers usually score them on most teams, that is catching the ball from the quarterback.

* The quarterback. I think it is more than safe to say that Allen is a victim of not having to look over his sore shoulder all season. I am sure he never went to sleep worrying that A.J. Derby might get his job. The Bielema family's greatest mistake of the season might not have been Jen tweeting "karma," but letting Allen know that he was the starting man way back in the spring. So Mitchell leaves us and gets the starting job at North Carolina State instead of staying here and at least giving Allen some competition and the opponent a different type of quarterback to prepare for. Coach, you can over embrace the transfer process, you know?

* Come next spring ball, there has to be true, open competition for the starting position of quarterback. Right now, I have to keep myself from saying Zach Clark whenever I want to say Brandon Allen. I just haven't seen anything beyond that first game of the season to make me think that Brandon Allen has what it takes. If he had not thrown the interception on 4th and 9 during the over-time, I wouldn't have been shocked if he had thrown high and over to the MSU bench, as that was his most popular pass trajectory on Saturday, or so it seemed.

* For this game, I even pulled out the go to the restroom while we are on offense for the hope they would make a big play. I famously pulled this off in 2000 at the Cotton Bowl when Anthony Lucas caught a big pass from Stoerner when the Hogs were bottled up near our own goal line. Unfortunately, it didn't work. My bladder can't even will us to a win.

* Moments of pleasure under the umbrella of pain: the strong kickoff return to begin the game, the interception by Collins, which the offense turned into a score, our corners making some plays on the ball itself,  the Hocker field goal, his longest ever, the two touchdowns, the blocked field goal, the long pass completion to Sprinkle, MSU fumbling the ball and the Hogs recovering it, the missed field goal by MSU, and some moments of actual sunshine falling down on War Memorial in the second half. But, oh, the darkness!

* And I only have to point to the over-time to capture the darkness of an entire season summed up in two possessions. On defense, the Hogs were made to look stupid by an easy, peasy, run for a touchdown by MSU's third string quarterback, right up the middle. All the positive mo from forcing over-time when it looked like we were dead in regulation vanished just like that. And then the Hogs summed up all the stagnated attempts of the season to move the ball with three ineffectual plays and then a Brandon Allen interception as the rotten cherry on top.

* And not only did our regular season record take a hit, but the Hogs get another "L" in the over-time category, an area we used to say we had some expertize in.

* Reaching Way Back In The Closet For Some Positive Big Picture Perspective: 1.) You can still be a good coach and have an awful season. For example, Lou Holtz didn't win a single game his first year at South Carolina. 2.) A 3-9 season, as this likely will be, and not winning a conference game didn't turn off the lights of Auburn football. We've had a historically BAD season. But we won't start next season 3-9. Blessed 0-0 will arrive again. 3.) When it does turn, and it will, can't say when exactly, but it will, just think how much sweeter the wins will feel after having slogged through what we are going through right now. 4.) As we approach Thanksgiving, we don't have a winning football team to be thankful for this year, but there are many things we each do have that are bigger than football to be thankful for. And most years as a fanbase, we've been fortunate to say that we have a winning football team to be thankful for.

POLL QUESTION: I haven't really heard or read anybody address this aspect of the game, so I am curious to get your opinion on it. My thought when we went to over-time is that we should strike against convention and give our offense the ball first. I know convention says you go on defense first if you can, so you'll know what you have to match or beat from the other team. But I think this was a case where the Hogs should have gone on offense first, so that our defense would have had some time to rest after that long battle to keep MSU from scoring right before the end of regulation. At the very least, I  think our offense would have gotten three points from Hocker. Then the defense would have taken the field, rested more, knowing that they only need to do what they had just previously done, keep MSU out of the end-zone. And they would have also known that we were capable of blocking a field goal, having done it earlier in the game. That, not the fake punt in your own territory, would have been my buck convention move. What do you think?

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