It’s a day Arkansas tight ends coach Barry Lunney Jr. probably doesn’t care to remember, but it is one that might lend a bit of encouragement to a Razorbacks team that likely needs it.
As if I have to remind you, the Razorbacks stumbled all over themselves last Saturday at War Memorial Stadium as the Toledo Rockets whipped them along the line of scrimmage and more importantly on the scoreboard, 16-12.
The Razorbacks dominated the stat book, but statistics only tell part of the tale. The Rockets were the better team last Saturday, no ifs, ands or buts.
It was a shocking loss to Bret Bielema’s program that had basked in the glow of summertime good vibrations from the national and local media. Bielema’s such an affable and quotable coach, and the Hogs showed such improvement at the end of last season that the Razorbacks seemed an irresistible pick for even greater improvement this season.
Bielema fed the storyline, too, touting his offensive and defensive lines as among the best he’s coached. His and his coaching staff’s positivity about this year’s Hogs made believers of most everyone.
Bielema was so confident in his team that he took time last week on the SEC coaches teleconference to point out the difference in the schedule strength of the Razorbacks and other SEC teams to that of No. 1 and defending national champion Ohio State’s. What Bielema said is true, but after the fact, it seems like so much hot air.
Following the Hogs’ loss, Bielema said the Razorbacks would have to dig themselves deeper into their foxhole because they would be taking shots for all sorts of reasons. That’s absolutely the truth, but it seems to me the Razorbacks should be more intent on digging themselves out of the hole they made rather than entrenching themselves further.
Maybe Lunney can help the Razorbacks with that. As a senior in 1995, Lunney and his Razorbacks were shocked themselves in an early season game. In fact, it was the Hogs’ season opener in Dallas against SMU.
While the Razorbacks weren’t the overwhelming favorites that they were last Saturday over Toledo, Danny Ford’s Hogs were expected to defeat the Mustangs in no uncertain terms. However, Arkansas’ offense sputtered early with Robert Reed under center. Reed was a strong-armed, athletic quarterback, who was thought to be the future of the program.
While Reed had a world of potential, for those who covered practice daily, it was pretty clear that Lunney was the quarterback whom the team responded to better. However, Lunney was in Ford’s doghouse because he opted to play baseball for Norm DeBriyn’s Hogs earlier that year rather than go through spring practice. When Lunney signed with Arkansas, he had been promised he could play both sports.
Sure enough when Lunney got into the game, things picked up for the Hogs. While Reed was pouting by himself on the bench, Lunney put the Razorbacks in position to win. However, with time running low, Lunney fumbled going into the end zone on a quarterback sneak. The Hogs lost 17-14.
It wasn’t exactly the same as Brandon Allen missing Hunter Henry on a shake route in the back of the end zone last Saturday on the Hogs’ second-to-last play, but it’s similar enough.
Now, how could a game played 20 years ago be any use to the Hogs today?
Well, that early season loss didn’t end or doom the Razorbacks’ season. In fact, the 1995 Razorbacks rebounded and went on to represent the Western Division in the SEC Championship Game for the first time in school history. On their way to Atlanta, Lunney threw a touchdown pass to J.J. Meadors to polish off No. 3 Alabama at Tuscaloosa, 20-19, as well as quarterbacked the Hogs to a thrilling 30-28 victory over No. 11 Auburn.
The 1995 Hogs didn’t let one bad game, one tragic performance define them, and these Razorbacks don’t have to either.
But the Hogs do have an uphill battle. Toledo probably is better than most give them credit for being, but Arkansas had no business losing to them.
The Razorbacks killed themselves with penalties. The four holding calls not only called back Jared Cornelius’ punt return for a touchdown, but also set back three other drives including another potential scoring opportunity inside the 10.
There is a serious issue with the Hogs’ rushing attack that goes deeper than the injury to Jonathan Williams, although his loss to an ankle injury has made a bigger impact than most Hogs fans hoped.
Plus not only did the Rockets beat the Hogs up on the scoreboard, they beat them up physically. Receiver Keon Hatcher is expected to miss at least six weeks with a broken foot. Hatcher was injured in the fourth quarter of the game on Saturday and will undergo surgery on Monday. As of this writing, the extent of injuries to offensive tackle Denver Kirkland, linebacker Josh Williams, safety Josh Lidell, running back Kody Walker and receiver/returner Eric Hawkins are undetermined, but they strike at the heart of the Hogs’ tender spots concerning depth.
The Hogs (1-1) face what appears to be an improved Texas Tech squad (2-0) at 6 p.m. Saturday in Reynolds Razorback Stadium. The Hogs embarrassed the Red Raiders a year ago in Lubbock for a 48-29 victory. No doubt Texas Tech would like to return the favor. The Red Raiders defeated Texas-El Paso 69-20 last Saturday and bring the nation’s No. 2 rated offense and No. 2 rated passing game with them to Fayetteville.
Considering Arkansas’ upcoming schedule, a victory Saturday appears to be vital for the Razorbacks’ bowl chances this season.