Brought to you once again courtesy of Bob Marley, Tito's Vodka, and the wispy devastation of the tee shirt that never gets printed.
The setup was there. The ultimate redemption story for Ole Miss was there for the taking. 34-30. 4th and 16. Chad Kelly scrambled left, found some room to run, and sent the hearts of more than 73,000 fans inside Razorback Stadium skyward.
And then the ball flew up into the air.
Just as it had on fourth down in 2015. It bounced on the turf. Just as it had in 2015.
And just as in 2015, the final play that mattered came down to a quarterback putting his head down and trying to make a play. Brandon Allen held on to the football and Arkansas won. Chad Kelly could not hold on to the football, and Arkansas won.
Last night wasn't luck. It wasn't fate. It wasn't some curse on Ole Miss. It was the dynamite-laden shoulder of Santos Ramirez and the destruction that he created with it. The Natural State could have saved a lot of time and money this week had they just strapped a football to the Broadway Bridge and sent Santos in on a safety blitz.
In what was perhaps its first game against a good-but-not-great opponent, Arkansas accomplished what was necessary. It wasn't a perfect game, but it had its moments. The last five minutes of the fourth quarter were as electric as I have ever seen Razorback Stadium, and as with any great victory, nobody wanted to leave when it was over, because, Lord, it's hard to be humble. Woo damn pig. Let's talk a little football.
Offensively, Dan Enos called yet another masterpiece, creating weaknesses and then exploiting them. Early success running softened Ole Miss coverage and permitted the first play-action strike to Dominique Reed. Which begat more success rushing. Arkansas was effective rushing outside the tackles, pulling linemen to create running lanes close to the boundary. Then, at the end of the game when it mattered most, Enos inserted smaller, faster Jared Cornelius and sent him inside instead of outside. It was diabolically brilliant.
Simultaneous praise and criticism for the offensive line performance. The run-blocking was tremendous. The outside toss plays with pulling linemen were effective all night, and the big boys more than pulled their weight to create that success. More than that, they generally controlled the line of scrimmage even on interior runs. When the Hogs passed, however... things weren't so great. It looked like they might have tried tighter splits to protect the A Gap, but it was still a sieve, and that just put even more pressure on the tackles. Raulerson and Froholdt have to, have to, have to improve.
How good were the Razorbacks skill players last night? Rawleigh Williams and Devwah Whaley provided 245 yards of tough, consistent rushing with zero fumbles. Eight different Razorbacks caught passes from Austin Allen, seven of which had a reception of longer than ten yards. Keon Hatcher and Drew Morgan and Jared Cornelius are gritty guys that bring it every single week. They aren't the flashiest, but by God, I believe in them when things get hairy. They saved Arkansas time and again last night. Morgan's touchdown catch and Hatcher's fourth down grab were both huge. What else? Oh yeah, first year starter Austin Allen is the best quarterback in the Southeastern Conference.
On the other side of the ball, Arkansas played one of the better offenses in the country without their leading tackler, and they held them to 30 points and created two turnovers in the process. It wasn't dominant, but it was game-winning, and that's what matters. The defensive backfield more than held its own against a deep and talented Ole Miss receiving corps. Ryan Pulley played a whale of a game, as did Jared Collins and Josh Liddell. This group has a knack for effectively face guarding deep passes that is much less prone to disaster than I've watched from past Razorback secondaries. The defensive line and linebackers did an effective job of clamping down on the Rebel rushing game and applying pressure on Chad Kelly when the opportunity presented itself.
The problem I have with the defense is not with skill or ability. Time and time again, we have seen confusion or a lapse in focus or bad alignment lead to second chances or big plays from opposing offenses. The defense has been bad statistically this year, but I'm not sure they are a bad defense. Maybe last night was the first step toward Robb Smith fixing his unit between the ears, and maybe, if we're lucky, that's all it needs.
So now Arkansas sits at 5-2 (1-2) and will ride a surge of momentum and confidence into Auburn next week. Another top flight defensive line will harass Austin Allen, but the Arkansas defense has theoretically traversed through the worst of its briar patch. Not to say that things will be easy, but they should be easier, if only a little. Let's hope the Razorbacks can capitalize. It's all right there for them.
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 six-year-old into a southpaw ace in the bigs.