Brought to you once again courtesy of Bob Marley, Tito's Vodka, and the unrivaled elation that comes with reaching a check point in an arcade racing game without one second to spare. Yesterday, Arkansas was that kid behind the wheel at Chuck E. Cheese, down to his last token, parents ready to go, still giving Cruis'n USA hell as his indestructible jalopy careens all over the road toward that yellow line in the distance. Flashing numbers counting down onscreen toward an inevitable parking lot bath in hand sanitizer, and then, somehow, 45 more seconds of open road.
It happened three times. Three times another chapter in the narrative of this team and this quarterback and this coach who cannot deliver under pressure was drafted, needing only the final period. Three times Arkansas pulled from somewhere what it needed to insert a comma. To extend the game and set a new check point and drive just a little bit longer. Three times Arkansas faced convert-or-lose plays against Auburn, and three times Arkansas converted. And then, finally, Auburn, did not. College football's original cockroach, seemingly unable to die if you allow it into one of these situations, could not summon its voodoo magic during the fourth overtime. The Tigers dropped the ball, and Arkansas won the game.
It was as emotional a victory as it was inexplicable, a perfect storm of the insane pressure of a multiple overtime game enhanced by bad blood with the opponent and the opportunity to face down the demons that have contributed to so many disappointing losses in the past three seasons. Despite the diminished national relevance of this game due to the poor starts of both teams, it was a huge game for both programs and the psyches of their fans. The mixture of relief and joy that I witnessed postgame was on par with Bert's first SEC win against LSU last season and his first SEC road win in Knoxville three weeks ago. National pundits won't take notice, but neither Arkansas nor Auburn are the same teams they were in September, and I have a feeling that this might be a much more impressive win at the end of the season that it seems to be today.
So how did it happen? How did Arkansas win the game? Simple. Balanced offense. Few penalties. No special teams gaffes. And rely on the heroism of Brandon Allen and Drew Morgan and Kody Walker. Just how you'd have drawn it up during fall practice, right? Let's talk some football.
Offensively, I have to first give credit for Dan Enos. I have been critical of his play calling for virtually the entire season, and I had some major issues with some of his calls yesterday, particularly in the first half when I believe there was an opportunity to put the game out of reach, but during Arkansas' final drive of regulation and throughout overtime, Enos never wavered in calling plays that put pressure on the defense. He attacked the edge with an end around. He attacked single coverage with that sideline route to Drew Morgan. He kept the safeties honest with the play-action deep attempt to Dominique Reed that I have been begging for for six games. He ran a throwback trick play to keep Auburn on their heels. And while doing all of that, he kept plugging away with his biggest running back behind a pulling Sebastian Tretola and two more lead blockers, which is what made both Walker's counter toss touchdown and his two-point reception look so easy. During crunch time, Enos utilized the weapons that Arkansas has, and those weapons executed. And it was glorious.
Even with the great offensive plan of attack, the game still came down, as it always has and always will, to Brandon Allen making a play. And yesterday he did, and that is why Arkansas won, and there is nothing anyone can say to effectively dispute that. He completed not one but two do-or-die passes into blanket coverage to keep his team from losing, and then he threw a strike across the field that Drew Morgan was able to catch in stride and turn into the winning touchdown. Football is a team sport, and it takes a team effort, and Brandon Allen certainly shoulders some blame for some of Arkansas' past meltdowns. But if you've called out Brandon Allen for "losing a game" for Arkansas, you need to tip your cap and praise him for winning the Auburn game for Arkansas. If that's too much to ask, the least you can do is shut up for a week.
Attaboys go to Alex Collins and Hunter Henry and Drew Morgan for providing the consistent offensive threat that enabled Arkansas to take advantage of specialty plays when the opportunity was there. Jeremy Sprinkle on a wheel route and Dominique Reed on a wide-receiver sweep are plays that are designed to be big hitters, but they can only be effective if you can move the football on an every down basis, and Arkansas was able to do that yesterday because of those three guys in addition to the dominance of the Razorbacks' offensive line.
Defensively, the same problems were present against Auburn that have plagued Arkansas all season when trying to stop an offense that spreads the field. When Auburn was able to gather some momentum offensively, Arkansas had an extremely difficult time stopping them. When they got to the red zone, the Tigers used the hurried-up, spread out vision of the Arkansas offensive philosophy, successfully rushing the ball and never giving themselves difficult conversion scenarios. What the defense did well during regulation, however, was to not allow Auburn to gather momentum. Arkansas forced five three-and-outs, and a sixth Auburn drive, stalled after only five plays. The importance of those quick stops cannot be overstated.
Dre Greenlaw was everywhere and with his productivity is beginning to garner comparisons to Martrell Spaight. Jeremiah Ledbetter and the rest of his cohorts on the defensive line did a good job of forcing enough negative plays and getting Auburn off schedule. The secondary obviously did not have their best game yesterday, and were bailed out by some Auburn drops, but in watching them I see a unit that plays pretty good coverage but just gets lost entirely too often. It's scary, but at least it's fixable.
So now Arkansas sits at 3-4 (2-2) with a midseason cupcake against Tennessee-Martin. A game that presumably can and should be used to rest injured players and allow for much-needed live snaps for the players who have been thrust into the lineup due to injuries. The presumptive victory will put the Razorbacks at four wins on the season, with four more to play. At Ole Miss, at LSU, home against Mississippi State and Missouri. The two best teams remaining on the schedule are the same two teams the Razorbacks absolutely dominated last season. Winning those road games is a tall order, but Arkansas won't be intimidated. October proved that the Hogs CAN win on the road under Bret Bielema, and also that Brandon Allen CAN be the hero. So I'm looking forward to an exciting November.
I'll see y'all next week.
Trent Wooldridge will be that guy with enough bourbon. He loves the S-E-C chant and honks because he hates Texas. He puts honey on his pizza, demands aisle seats, and sees quitting golf as more of a hobby than actually playing golf. Follow @twooldridge and track his quest to transform his five-year-old into a southpaw ace in the bigs.