Arkansas redshirt freshman quarterback Cole Kelley / Photo: ArkansasRazorbacks.com
Whatever does or doesn’t happen after the close of this season, the Arkansas Razorbacks and their fans — even the ones endorsing a total change of leadership — will be able to look back on last Saturday’s 38-37 win and think that it was a heck of a comeback.
When the Razorbacks trailed the Rebels’ 31-7 early in the first quarter, it had to be a sick feeling for everyone who bleeds Cardinal and White.
It looked bleak. I mean stuck-at-the-bottom-of-a-pitch-black-well-with-no-way-out bleak.
It looked worse than anything that happened during Jack Crowe’s tenure as coach. Yes, worse than the 1992 loss to The Citadel.
It was far worse than it was during any point in Danny Ford’s final two seasons in 1996 and ’97. Those teams at least competed. Same with Nutt’s 2004 and 2005 teams.
I hesitate to say it, but, yeah, it felt worse than any of the losses under John L. Smith in 2012, or even during Bret Bielema’s first year as head coach when the Razorbacks went 0-8 in SEC play.
I think I was more emotionally numb watching the early stages of Saturday’s game than I was physically numb after sitting through the thunderstorms and torrential rain that plagued War Memorial Stadium during Arkansas’ 17-0 loss to SMU way back in 1983 in what would end up being Lou Holtz’s second to last game as the Razorbacks’ head coach.
My dad, my best friend at the time, his dad, and I sat through every second of that miserable game because we were already wet, and, at the time, it didn’t make sense to turn right around and drive two hours to get home without seeing the game. Later we learned that tornado sirens were going off at points during the game, but for whatever reason we were unable to hear them. Back then, games weren’t halted because of foul weather.
Why so numb on Saturday?
The circumstances. This wasn’t a top-rated Alabama squad or another highly ranked SEC opponent. No, this was Ole Miss, the program with an interim coach that is about to get slapped with an NCAA probation.
Going into the game, it appeared to be one of the few shots the Hogs had at winning an SEC game this season. And it was 31-7 in the first half.
At that point, no one would have given the Hogs a snowball’s chance in winning the game. But slowly the game began to turn, and the more the Rebels turned the ball over, the better the Hogs began to play.
By the time, Kevin Richardson returned Ole Miss quarterback Jordan Ta’amu’s fumble for a touchdown to pull the Razorbacks within 37-35 of the Rebels with 6:01 to play, I actually believed the Hogs had a shot at winning within a game for the first time since the South Carolina game.
As poorly as the Razorbacks played the first 20 minutes of the game to fall behind by 24, the Hogs played the pivotal final six minutes of the game very well. Not perfectly, but good enough to win.
The Hogs got the stop they needed, and the offense came through, moving the ball down the field while melting the clock down to 4 ticks to give Connor Limpert the chance to win the game with a 34-yard field goal.
Ole Miss interim coach Matt Luke did everything he could to ice Limpert, calling three timeouts just before Limpert could get the kick off. Limpert made all three of those attempts, and he booted the fourth and final one through for the victory without interference from the Rebels.
And for the first time in a long time, the Razorbacks and their fans could be happy, if only for that
One win, of course, doesn’t change much about this season or whether a change in leadership will be made within the program. The Hogs are still just 3-5 on the season 1-4 in the SEC. That’s no one’s definition of success.
However, there are signs of life with the team after that comeback victory, signs that did not appear to be present before.
At his Monday press conference, Bielema pointed to the turnover safety Santos Ramirez forced when he stripped the ball and recovered it near the sideline. That play sparked the Hogs’ comeback. It opened the door for meaningful plays by the offense, defense and special teams that all combined to make the victory happen.
“It can begin with just one thing,” Bielema said. “It can be a chain reaction.”
He added, “One win can lead to another, hopefully this Saturday. It’s about those who believe and want to play longer than anyone else.”
Last Saturday the Razorbacks showed a desire that we had only seen in spurts throughout this season. The Hogs fought back and didn’t give up on themselves or their teammates, and it paid off with a victory.
Taken alone, the victory doesn’t mean much. The likelihood of it snowballing into something meaningful is slight. Based on what we’ve seen up to this point in the season, the Hogs are likely to go 2-2 in November and maybe just 1-3.
But for a day, the Ole Miss victory made the Razorbacks happy, and even the most ardent Bielema detractors should have been able to join enjoy the moment.
The Razorbacks play host to Coastal Carolina (1-7, 0-5 Sun Belt) at 3 p.m. Saturday in Razorback Stadium for their final non-conference game of the season. The game will be televised on the SEC Network’s alternate channel.
The SEC honored Razorbacks freshmen Cole Kelly and Warren as the league’s Freshman and Special Teams player of the week, respectively.
Kelley completed 19 of 30 passes for 190 yards and three touchdowns, while adding 22 yards and touchdown rushing. Warren garnered 141 kick-off return yards in the game, just a week after returning a kickoff 100 yards for a touchdown against Auburn.