After winning the Liberty Bowl after the 2009 season, expectations were high going in to 2010. The Razorbacks brought back nearly every player of consequence and the schedule played to Arkansas' advantage by having Alabama and LSU at home. Fans had seen so much potential in Ryan Mallett, the receiving corps, a defense led by Jake Bequette and Jerry Franklin, it was hard to find holes.
And the team largely delivered. It was an offensive machine, averaging 36.5 points per game, nearly two full touchdowns more than their opponents scored against them.They gained nearly 1,700 more yards and scored 60 touchdowns. The team held the lead at some point in the fourth quarter of every regular season game, and the only two losses were to eventual national champion Auburn and then #1 Alabama. I still believe that if not for Cam Newton, Arkansas would have won the SEC that year.
Despite injuring his foot during a drill early in the off-season, Mallett was pushed as a potential Heisman candidate (HE15MAN). He obviously didn't quite make it to New York after finishing 7th in the voting, but he still rewrote the Arkansas record books, throwing for 3,869 yards and 32 touchdowns while completing 64.7% of his passes. His primary receiving targets of Jarius Wright, Greg Childs, Joe Adams, Cobi Hamilton, and tight end D.J. Williams proved to be one of, if not the best receiving group in the country.
However, it was Knile Davis who emerged as the Hogs' big new weapon. Starting with the team's fifth game against Texas A&M, he'd rush for 1,201 yards, and average of 133.44 yards per game over the last nine games.
The Hogs opened the season ranked 17th and faced off with the usual FCS-level gimme. That year's victim was Tennessee Tech. Arkansas won 44-3.
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The Razorbacks, now ranked #14, then traveled to Little Rock to take on Louisiana-Monroe and, although it was a sluggish game, Arkansas won easily 31-7. The biggest story from this game was the freak-stomach injury suffered by Dennis Johnson after falling awkardly on the point of the football. The way that sounds, you'd believe this was a common thing to happen, but it was something I've never seen before or since.
Johnson underwent and survived an emergency surgery and was given a medical redshirt for 2010. His loss on kickoff returns was one of the team's few weak spots the rest of the season.
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Finally, the real season started in Week 3 when the Hogs traveled to Athens to open SEC play against Georgia. Arkansas jumped out to a quick lead on a fantasticly executed 4th down pass to Chris Gragg, and the Hogs wound up with a 24-10 lead in the fourth quarter before the Bulldogs stormed back to tie the game and get the ball with the chance to win in the final minutes. Unexpectedly, Arkansas held them near midfield when Jake Bequette sacked then-freshman Aaron Murray, Georgia shanked the punt, and Ryan Mallett drove down the field in three plays for the game-winning touchdown on what's now known as the "Childs, Please!" game.
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After getting out of Athens with a victory, Arkansas climbed to #10 in the polls before heading home to take on #1 Alabama. It was one of the most hyped Razorback games of my lifetime. I compare it to the hoopla surrounding the 2013 Texas A&M vs Alabama game. Arkansas was a top 10 team at home with their hot shot quarterback taking on the defending national champion Crimson Tide. Hog fans spent the whole offseason dreaming about the game, knowing that if the Hogs beat Georgia, it would be gigantic.
Tickets on the secondary market were several hundred dollars a piece at minimum, with premium seats going higher. Greg McElroy called it the loudest stadium he'd ever been in. Reporters who covered the game still refer to the stadium atmosphere as being one of the best they'd ever seen. When Ronnie Wingo broke a tackle on the game's first series and gave Arkansas a quick 7-0 lead, it was the single largest moment of mass hysteria I've ever seen.
Mallett would throw for over 200 yards in the first half alone, but as we all know, Alabama clamped down on Arkansas in the second half, and eventually took the lead late in the 4th quarter, which Arkansas was not able to regain. We'll skip the highlights from here because it's too painful.
The Hogs enjoyed a bye week before regrouping to take on Texas A&M in Arlington on October 9th, and as you might expect, the Razorbacks were still a bit sloppy. The Hogs were ranked #11 and were the clear favorites, but the biggest lead they'd get was a 21-7 spot in the 2nd quarter. The Aggies scored just before halftime on a 31-yard pass to Jeff Fuller, and the Hogs went into halftime having surrendered the momentum. However, the second half was really ugly. Both teams could only muster a single field goal, and the Razorbacks left JerryWorld with a 24-17 victory.
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The not-so-great performance actually caused Arkansas to fall in the polls to #12 as they headed to Auburn to take on the undefeated and #7 Tigers.
And man was this game memorable. I broke my remote control and took a barefoot walk after the game.
At the time, and maybe still, it set the record for most points scored in a regulation SEC vs SEC game.
Nick Fairley knocked out Mallett in the second quarter, giving the world a glimpse of Tyler Wilson for really the first time. Wilson played out of his mind, throwing for 332 yards and four touchdowns while giving Arkansas a chance to win.
Arkansas fans will also remember this game for two absolutely brutal replay reviews that both went against Arkansas and directly gave points to the Tigers. The first happened early when a Tiger was just about to cross the goal line, and it looked like an Arkansas player knocked the ball out just in the nick of time and Arkansas recovered. Razorback fans still swear the the play was initially ruled a fumble, but when the booth stopped the next play, the referee said it was ruled a touchdown, and the play was too close for the both to overturn it.
The next came in the fourth quarter, when Arkansas trailed by a single point and had scored on its previous three possessions. Broderick Green took the handoff and was tackled quickly, and the ball came out as he hit the ground. Auburn's Zac Etheridge scooped it up and scored, putting Arkansas down by 8. I'll always swear there was one replay angle that indisputably showed Green's knee down, but the booth ruled again in Auburn's favor, and Arkansas never recovered. Wilson threw a pair of interceptions on the next couple of Arkansas possessions.
The insult came late in the fourth quarter, when Michael Dyer, who had sat out basically the entire game due to injury, was given a series late despite the alleged injury, and he scored on a 38-yard run to make the final score 65-43. It was all a bunch of crap.
I still hate this game. Some games depress me forever, this one makes me mad. Dang it.
Watch the whole thing here to get yourself riled up.
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Arkansas then was finally able to get a win against Houston Nutt's Ole Miss team the next week in a game most memorable for the two different rain delays, a big record-setting punt return from Joe Adams, and a huge Knile Davis performance in the second half.
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Vanderbilt came to Fayetteville the next week, and it was basically a snoozer. Arkansas won 49-14.
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The South Carolina game was special. Arkansas went to Columbia and completely blew out the #18 Gamecocks on their home field, winning 41-20. That South Carolina team went on to win the SEC East. Davis scored three touchdowns. Mallett threw for over 300 yards. Arkansas led 41-10 before the Gamecocks scored 10 points in the final few minutes of the game to make the final score a little more respectable. It was one of the most complete Razorback games we'd see during the Petrino years.
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The Hogs then got a breather against UTEP the next week
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Arkansas then traveled to Starkville for what became a strange game against Mississippi State. It was a night game and the Bulldogs were honoring Nick Bell, a member of the team who tragically passed away earlier in the season. The cowbells were going full CLANGA all night.
And the Bulldogs played their guts out. Arkansas was never able to pull away. They trailed at halftime but pulled ahead late in the third quarter when Mallett was finally able to connect on a big 89-yard pass play to Wright to take the lead, but the Bulldogs forced overtime. Vick Ballard nearly scored a touchdown in the first overtime, but a helmet hit from Jericho Nelson knocked the ball out of the end zone for a touchback. Mallett eventually tossed a touchdown pass to Davis in the second overtime for the victory.
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That set up a huge showdown with LSU in the season finale in Little Rock, presumably for a shot to go to the Sugar Bowl if Auburn won the SECCG, which most figured they would. And of course they did. But waiting for that game didn't stop Razorback fans from throwing sugar into the sky after they won.
The Hogs pulled ahead on some big plays to Cobi Hamilton in the first half, including a 2013-Auburnesque 80-yard touchdown pass as the clock struck 0:00 for halftime. A big touchdown pass to Joe Adams on 4th down blew the game open, and Davis was able to grind out a long drive to ice the game late in the 4th quarter. It was an amazing game.
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Then of course was the Sugar Bowl, and we'll just forget about that until later. The New Orleans experience leading up to the game was unforgettable, and we'll leave it at that.
What an amazing season.
This was not a unanimous selection from our group. The 2006 team with its 10-game winning streak, SEC West title, and Heisman runner-up received some votes as well. That team also had a few more NFL draft picks than the 2010 team, if that matters to you. 1998 was also a great team, reaching a top-10 ranking at one point, tying for the SEC West title, and leading the Hogs to the Citrus Bowl. That team ushered in a new era in Razorback football that happened to coincide with the beginning of the BCS. But 2010 was the team that we'll put up against any of the others.