The Arkansas Razorbacks now have an SEC victory and have two shots to earn bowl eligibility, and maybe in terms of the national college football landscape that's about all this game means. But to this program, and those players, and the fans, and those coaches, and anybody who has any sort of emotional investment in this team, this was all so much more.
I don't know if this is the beginning of some massive turnaround. I don't know if the Razorbacks will now begin to start reeling off victories as easily as they've been reeling off defeats for the last two years. Obviously, that's the hope in Fayetteville. But we'll start thinking about the future sometime in the very near future.
Tonight was about everything that's happened for the last two years. This was about shedding the talking point of a losing streak that began about 25 months ago. It's about just the possibility of finally climbing out of that ditch where a Harley was crashed in the Ozarks in 2012. For the first time since then, even though there have been plenty of positive signs as we've watched this program develop under Bret Bielema, now we can start to really imagine what's possible not just the rest of this year but the future of the Bielema era.
That's the whole reason fans of a 5-5 team rushed the field after beating what was a 7-3 team and ranked just 20th in the nation. The game itself was a relatively mundane 17-0 victory. Arkansas scored just one touchdown in the second half and it came with over 11 minutes left to play. It won't be remembered as an epic victory over a top team like the last time Arkansas rushed the field, which came 15 years ago this week. Although, similar to this game, that win over Tennessee had as much to do with redemption as this one.
For instance, Tevin Mitchel, a senior who was coming off an impressive freshman season when the Arkansas program was turned upside-down in 2012 and suffered through all the heartache of the last two years, was standing on some sort of stand in the middle of the all the fans near The Boot, yelling a long, extended yell to no one in particular, just reveling in the moment.
Several players stayed on the field for a long time, well after Bielema began his postgame press conference, posing for pictures with whoever was on the field. They may have been friends and family. They may have been total strangers. But they were all part of the Razorback community joining in the celebration.
Jonathan Williams finally made his way from the field to the locker room, not so much by walking or running, but skipping in joy. Few players made it back inside the Broyles complex in a simple manner. Most everybody was jumping, or skipping, or hopping, or some combination thereof. They were all smiling, though, unless they were shouting. Some had their hands raised. Some were still taking pictures all the way to the door.
That's what tonight was about. Maybe, possibly all those demons are finally exorcised and this program can begin looking to real successes in the future.
As for what happened in the game, in and of itself it really wasn't that interesting. Arkansas took advantage of most of their opportunities. LSU helped the Hogs out by missing two field goals and fumbling the ball away the other time they got near scoring position.
The Razorback defense was magnificent. In addition to ending Arkansas, SEC losing streak, the Hogs also snapped a no-shutout streak that had been going on 8 years. They held the Tigers to just 123 yards, including just 36 on the ground. That's how you shut out LSU.
Offensively, the Hogs did enough. They finally started targeting the tight ends more frequently. Hunter Henry, AJ Derby, and Jeremy Sprinkle accounted for 9 of Brandon Allen's 16 completions. The running backs weren't spectacular, but it was enough. Jonathan Williams ran for 55 yards and Alex Collins for 46.
Early in the second half, the types of plays that have ruined so many promising starts began to appear. Rohan Gaines was ejected for targeting. Drew Morgan dropped what would have been a 1st down and killed the Hogs' first drive in the 3rd quarter. Jonathan Williams fumbled deep in Arkansas territory, about at the same spot Collins fumbled against Alabama, but this time the ball blessedly bounced out of bounds and saving the Razorbacks from what would have been LSU's best chance to score.
Add it all together, and the Hogs are in the victory column with two shots at bowl eligibility. And a broken rear-view mirror. And miles of open road, baby.
Hopefully you're all celebrating like Flanders: