What if? We ask this question all the time. In our jobs, in our lottery tickets, and especially in our Razorbacks. This summer, I'll be answering the what-ifs in Razorback sports. No negatives, like 'what-if Hunter Henry doesn't make the heave,' but a few fun ones and maybe some big ones, but in a fun way.
What if Arkansas Beats LSU in 2006?
The turmoil during the 2006 season has been well-documented, but even with a 36 point loss to USC at home to start the season, Arkansas and Darren McFadden put the college football world on notice with a 27-10 win at #2 Auburn. Arkansas continued winning including hosting College Gameday vs. Tennesse and posted wins on the road at South Carolina and Mississippi State to achieve a total of 10 wins before the Battle for the Golden Boot.
With losses at Florida and Auburn, LSU couldn't play for the SEC Championship, but the LSU faithful felt like a win against Arkansas to close the regular season could put the Tigers into a BCS bowl game.
Meanwhile, Arkansas had clinched their place in the SEC Championship game, and were ranked 6th in the BCS rankings. A win over the Tigers would’ve given Arkansas their first undefeated SEC season and wins over LSU and Florida would give Arkansas a very good chance of playing for the BCS National Championship. It would all have been another feather in the cap of Heisman Candidate Darren McFadden.
Arkansas trailed 17-12 heading into the 4th quarter. A Casey Dick interception gave LSU good field position to put in an easy score to push the game to 24-12.
After the interception on the previous play, they put the ball in Darren McFadden’s hand for the first play of the drive, and he took it 80 yards for a score.
On the ensuing kickoff, Trindon Holiday went 92 yards for the score, and despite a Felix Jones touchdown to put the final score at 31-26, the Hogs ran out of time.
Kickoff specialist Brian Vavra had pasted several kickoffs into the back of the endzone for touchbacks earlier in the game, but the wind may have been a factor (I haven’t done the research to figure out which direction all the kickoffs were in the game), so I’m not sure I can imagine Vavra gets a touchback. I watched the video to see if there was any holding or missed tackles, but really it’s just one of those plays where LSU executed and Holiday’s speed blew everybody away.
So, let’s have fun with this. From here on out, I’ll write the fictional history of this game and the aftermath.
Les Miles was shocked by the 80 yard touchdown his defense had just given up to Darren McFadden, but he was more shocked by the onside kick Houston Nutt dialed up. Following the recovery of the onside kick recovery, Darren McFadden came out in the wildcat formation and handed the ball off to Felix Jones who went 57 yards for another haymaker touchdown run that put the Razorbacks in the lead 27-24 after a 2-point conversion pass to Marcus Monk.
Despite their best efforts, Jamarcus Russell’s arm couldn’t get any more points on the board for LSU, and the Hogs won The Golden Boot for the first time since the Miracle on Markham in 2002.
In their 3rd attempt at an SEC Championship and their 6th attempt to beat the Florida Gators while both as members of the SEC, Arkansas surged back in the 2nd half for their second come from behind win. The difference in the game proved to be Antwain Robinson’s return of an intercepted Chris Leak pitch for a touchdown halfway through the 3rd quarter. The 4th quarter saw one more score from each team, but the Hogs ultimately won the game 28-24.
Arkansas, benefiting from a Michigan loss the previous week and a USC loss to UCLA, narrowly edged out Michigan to face Ohio State in the BCS National Championship Game. Darren McFadden finished 2nd to Ohio State’s Troy Smith in the Heisman voting partially due to being bottled up by Florida in the SEC Championship game and due to the fact that voters were extremely stingy towards Sophomores up until the 2007 Heisman voting.
We all remember that National Championship game. Ted Ginn Jr. took Brian Vavra’s opening kickoff 93 yards for a score, but injured his foot during the celebration and was out for the rest of the game. Both defenses stood stout through the bulk of the game. While both teams were able to score a field goal in the 2nd quarter, neither the Heisman Trophy winner nor the runner up were able to make a major impact on the game until McFadden tied the game at 10-10 late in the 3rd quarter taking a pitch down the sideline for a 64-yard touchdown. With neither team scoring in the 4th quarter, the Hogs got the ball first in overtime. The Razorbacks used a trick play with Cedric Washington throwing a 25-yard pass to Felix Jones on their first overtime possession to draw first blood. The Arkansas defense stopped Ohio State during their overtime possession and won the BCS National Championship!
It’s a little ridiculous to think that the Trindon Holiday Touchdown return was all that stopped us from winning a national championship game that year, but that 2006 team was such a wildcard, you never know. Do you think it all worked out for the best? Was that team always going to collapse due to the internal drama, or would it have held together through 3 more wins?