I will say this – Don’t know what it feels like to be adrift on the open ocean, to be lost on foot in a vast desert. But with all due respect to anyone who has (and with the reminder that is just sports analogy), I imagine Saturday night felt something like that first drink of water.
On an emotional, even something of a spiritual level, the Hogs’ 17-0 jawbreaker to the face of Mike the Tiger was one that will live on in the annals of Razorback lore.
It was thorough, it was fun, and it was no fluke.
Funny how three of our most historically satisfying wins -- and the only ones to result in a field rush -- had nothing riding on them that could be easily discernible to anyone outside of the Razorback family:
- 1981 – the Hogs, coming off a shocking loss to then lowly TCU, crush No. 1 Texas in Fayetteville, and do it in a 42-11 rout that perhaps wasn’t as close as the score indicates.
- 1999 – Stoerner to Lucas to Redemption. Family members will of course need no further explanation.
- And now, 2014 – The hump is cleared. Release. Validation.
To say the unfolding of events in the fourth quarter was satisfying would be to apply new meaning to the term "understatement."
LSU fans, pundits (and coaches) will bemoan their fate: "We gave it to ‘em, we stink," they’ll say and I’m sure are thinking still.
And that’s to be expected, I suppose. This certainly is not a vintage LSU team. But it was a team ranked 17th in the nation (17 was a significant number Saturday), and like much of its conference brethren would be a contender if not runaway champ in any other league. I firmly believe that.
Now, did Arkansas benefit from the open week while the Tigers were forced to recover on the fly from a physically and emotionally exhausting home OT loss to Bama? Sure. But hey…welcome to the life in the SEC, Tiger fans. Excuses are for losers.
For the first time in what seems like a bizarre parallel universe ago, we’re not SEC losers.
And welcome, SEC, to the new Arkansas Defense (the capitalization has been earned like a Medal of Honor on the battlefield). Seriously, 123 total yards? 36 rushing yards? If Robb Smith doesn’t win the Broyles Award…(of course, I could name 3 or 4 on staff who are deserving.)
These guys don’t look like the same players. I’ll roll with Ellis and Spaight all night long, and the DBs….oh that wonderfully gritty and tenacious secondary. Jared Collins looked like he’s ready to play on Sundays. And what can you say about the D-line? Jennings was under pressure all night long, whether we sent extra bodies or not, and by the fourth quarter he seemed ready to pack his bags for home. Well done, Trey Flowers & Co.
The offense was up against what remains a fairly stout defense, let’s remember, but it was efficient and smart. And clutch. Third and 8? Why not? I’m now less nervous on third and long than I am on third and 2.
My hat is tipped to Brandon Allen, whose bad night in Starkville two weeks ago seemed only to strengthen his resolve. Is he the "answer" at QB? Well, right now, yeah, he is. That young man is tough, physically and otherwise. As much as any individual player, he deserved Saturday night. Drink it in, BA.
And Jim Chaney, whose play calling admittedly has elicited exasperation….well done.
Hunter Henry and AJ Derby – not to mention Jeremy Sprinkle -- are matchup nightmares, and we took advantage. (And Jared Cornelius is a star in the making.)
Special teams play seems to have recovered nicely from a midseason hiccup – I could even imagine Cornelius taking one back. The kickoff strategy, by the way, was brilliant.
Transcending the physical on Saturday night at Razorback Stadium, however, was a team and a fan base that had bonded through adversity, perseverance and affection.
If there’s a connection stronger than the one between the Arkansas Razorbacks and the students of the UofA and the people of this state, I’d like to know whose it is. That connection was on full display after the offense lined up in Victory formation and the final seconds ticked away. A raucous, vocal 70,000 that braved the cold and thrived in it helped pull their team across the finish line.
It was a night of lasting images: the LSU player giving the double fisted bird to the east stands; the Hog fan walking in behind his tiger tail-adorned wife with a sign that read "House Divided"; Dan Skipper drumming to the crescendo of "In the Air Tonight" during pre-game warmups; sadly (and perhaps more than a little nitpickingly), the pre- and in-game scoreboard promotion that listed "LSU-Arkansas" instead of the other way around, much like we’ve allowed Bama to be "UA" in our own stadium…
And of course, Victory formation itself. Players sprinting across the field to claim the Boot like kids welcoming back a parent from deployment; fans basking in euphoria after the outcome became readily apparent, then joining players on the field, one community huddled around and clinging to the Boot in a scene reminiscent of CS Lewis’ vision of Heaven in The Great Divorce….
It was a football team improving its record to 5-5, but it was a moment significant to this state in far reaching ways. And it was the beginning of a new chapter.
Can’t wait to see how the story unfolds next week.