Lest you doubt that Razorbacks are ill-tempered beasts with short memories, witness and rejoice in the carnage of Nov. 14, 2015.
On a night where LSU fans lustily greeted their Tigers after they returned, claws bared in anger, from a Tuscaloosa trouncing, Arkansas sapped that vigor within minutes. Yeah, those 5-4 Hogs, the ones with a well-tuned offense that had managed to mask defensive sponginess during a three-game surge to respectability, evinced no regard for Death Valley or its denizens.
Sebastian Tretola, the gregarious-seeming offensive lineman, rankled some with his standard pregame pseudo-dance on the Tiger’s eye at midfield. Arguably a purposeful salvo, but did it appear to motivate LSU? Not in the least.
Instead, in the latest “uncommon” turn of events of late, Arkansas carried that pregame aggression all the way to about 9:30 in a 31-14 rout of the No. 9 Tigers, more or less toying with them as it should have been worse than that score suggests. LSU benefited from a physics-defying deflection on its first touchdown pass near the end of the first half and scored on the first possession of the second half, so that 21-0 Razorback lead shrunk to 21-14 and would have appeared imperiled if you were merely following the ticker on another network or casually watching the proceedings at a crappy chain restaurant.
For those who were engrossed, the disparity was obvious, and the Tigers’ brief tease, meaningless. Arkansas so thoroughly commanded both sides of the line of scrimmage that Tiger fans began exiting the stadium en masse before halftime and continued filing out in ebbs and flows thereafter until the damnable place looked like it had hosted a high school quiz bowl rather than an SEC football game. Brandon Allen, coming off a 33-completion, six-TD effort against Ole Miss, only needed to throw the ball 16 times Saturday, and he hit nine, the most satisfying two being a third-down short curl to Dominique Reed early in the game that the rangy speedster turned into a 52-yard score to get Arkansas off and running, and the last being a 12-yarder on fourth-and-11 on the game’s last possession. Les Miles called a pointless, infuriating timeout to try to force the Hogs into a punt or turnover on downs with all of 15 seconds remaining, and Bret Bielema was having none of it. Even the punctuation on this game, long since decided, was made with the kind of heavy-fisted force that a hyper kindergartener with a jumbo crayon uses while coloring.
The night belonged, as mentioned, to the linemen. Arkansas again protected Allen well in passing situations, but primarily flaunted power football that Bobby Petrino’s teams only truly flashed once while patrolling the sidelines, ironically against LSU in the 2010 game at War Memorial Stadium that vaulted Arkansas into its first and last BCS game. In this one, Alex Collins and Kody Walker did yeoman work in the middle when the play called for wedge blocking, eating up big sections of turf and bruising the Tigers’ heretofore vaunted defenders. When Dan Enos was calling for his backs to hit the edges, boy, did they.
Collins broke off an 80-yard TD run to stake the Hogs to a 14-0 lead and exhibited the breakaway acceleration that seemed to have been missing early in the year when he was having to exert too much energy trying to navigate around blockers. His longest run of the season ended up being only 11 yards shy of what ballyhooed counterpart Leonard Fournette would grind out all night on 19 carries, and it was the first of his two touchdown runs in the decisive second quarter. When Collins’ midsection took some second-half abuse, though, Walker relished the opportunity to launch his 260-pound frame through those same gaps, with a couple of longer bursts helping him to a career-best 88 yards.
By the time the Tigers were wearing down midway through the second half, Jared Cornelius joined in and showed the Hogs what they missed when he broke his arm in the ugly Texas Tech debacle. The Louisiana native came in motion, took Allen’s handoff after the senior quarterback deked the defense badly with a ball fake, and swept left with speed and dexterity. The 69-yard jaunt set the final margin with 10 minutes left, hastened the fan exodus, and validated that Arkansas (6-4, 4-2) damn sure deserves second place in the brutal SEC Western Division all to itself.
Pearls cannot simply regale the offensive unit with praise, though, because the beleaguered defensive line set the tone and lustily embraced the challenge of trying to thwart Fournette’s march toward the Heisman Trophy. A week after being limited to 31 yards against the Crimson Tide, Fournette ran with determination and power again, but the Hogs commonly pierced the wall up front and leveled him in the backfield, too. And most importantly, that attack mode that Robb Smith deployed finally, at long last, paid dividends in the form of quarterback pressure.
Brandon Harris was a serviceable 21 of 35 throwing but sacked five times by a team that had only eight total sacks previously. It was a coming-out party, in particular, for Deatrich Wise, Jr. who punished Harris on 2.5 sacks, stuck him a couple of other times on scrambles, and generally made life a living hell for Vadal Alexander and his other less regarded mates on the Tiger front. Every time the Hog defense had the appearance of buckling — that LSU pair of scores to close one half and open the next did remind us of the Auburn game, natch — it instead buckled down, pushed the Tigers beyond the chains, and developed a big-play mentality. If it wasn’t a sack, it was a pass well defended, or a tackle well made.
It was, in a word, perfect. The Hogs didn’t even pay dearly for a couple of turnovers, punted well, got a nice kick return from Reed, and a short but critical field goal from Cole Hedlund. Now those who suspected this team was capable of eight or nine wins are being proven right as quickly as they were dismissed.