Lots of people around the country predicted that Arkansas would get past East Carolina in the Liberty bowl on Saturday.
But the way that they did it? Nobody predicted that.
Not many people would have thought that Arkansas’ defense, playing without three starters due to the suspensions of senior safety Matt Harris and linebacker Wendel Davis, and an injury to defensive lineman D.D. Jones, would keep Arkansas in the game with multiple big stops while the offense struggled to move the ball.
Or that Tramain Thomas, playing for the suspended Matt Harris, would be the defensive star of the game, and score Arkansas’ first touchdown on a 37 yard interception return in the third quarter to tie the game at 10.
Not many would have predicted that Alex Tejada, the kicker who missed the game-tying kick at LSU, would be the hero in the Liberty Bowl, nailing a pressure packed 37 yard field goal to win the game in overtime.
Most thought Arkansas quarterback Ryan Mallett would shine in the game, which many considered to be Mallett’s last audition for the upcoming NFL draft. Most predicted a high scoring affair in Memphis.
But Mallett, and Arkansas’ offense struggled to move the ball against ECU’s defense. They did not convert on a single third down play in the entire game. Knowing that, nobody would have predicted an Arkansas win.
Despite the fact that no one could have predicted the way that Arkansas won the Liberty bowl this year, a win is a win, and head coach Bobby Petrino will take it.
“I’m very proud of our football team. Really happy for our seniors,” Petrino said. “It was a hard, hard game. It was certainly not easy, but we just kept battling.”
“I’m really happy for Alex to come in and kick the winning field goal. I think that’s a great way to finish the season,” Petrino said.
Tejada’s game winner was the first of his career at Arkansas. “It was pretty sweet. LSU left a bitter taste in my mouth,” Tejada said of his overtime kick.
“I handled it differently, and I stuck with my technique, and you know, I just went out there and did my job and helped this team win,” he said.
Arkansas finished the season at 8-5, a marked improvement from their 5-7 finish a year ago. The bowl victory over East Carolina was just Arkansas’ third postseason win in the last 23 years.
All eyes are now on Arkansas quarterback Ryan Mallett, who is considering entering the NFL draft. Mallett didn’t shed much light on his status for next year when asked about it after the game on Saturday.
“I’m going to celebrate tonight with my teammates,” Mallett said. “I promise I’ll let you know as soon as I decide to do something.”