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Sugar Bowl another disappointment for Razorbacks fans

By: 4 January 2011 19 Comments

Best Buy stores across Arkansas may be busy tomorrow...

The Sugar Bowl is in the books and it didn’t end well for the Arkansas Razorbacks as the sixth-ranked Ohio State Buckeyes won 31-26.

Arkansas had a terrible first half but almost came back in the second. Yes, the Razorbacks got close, but an interception thrown by Ryan Mallett deep in Ohio State’s territory after the Hogs benefited from a fortuitous blocked punt just put the game out of reach for the Razorbacks. That second half comeback simply couldn’t undo the poor defensive play, dropped passes and general confusion that struck the Hogs in the first.

The end result and the resulting frustration that’s certainly gripped Arkansas fans tonight reminds me of a high-profile game that the Razorbacks lost in 1992. While I can’t remember who the Hogs were playing, I well remember driving to my Monday classes at the University of Arkansas a couple of days after the game and passing a house with a television set in the front yard.

The set had an ax through the screen and was sitting on a TV stand. There was a piece of poster board taped to the stand that read, “See the game this weekend? We did.”

And that, sadly, pretty well sums up how Razorbacks fans often feel after big games. Yes, Arkansas had  a heck of a season, finishing 10-2 and receiving a no. 8 national ranking. Regardless, the sad truth is that Arkansas has a rotten record in bowl games — the team has played in 38 of them over the years and compiled a 12-23-3 record in those.

Honestly, the last “big” bowl game the Razorbacks won was in 1978 (33 years ago!) when the sixth-ranked Hogs beat No. 2 Oklahoma 31-6 in the Orange Bowl. That game was so big that people still mention it every year around this time and folks still remember where they saw it, who they were with and just about every detail of that evening.

Since that time, Arkansas has managed a bowl victory or two, but none of them have been major victories and the some of the losses have been just about unimaginable.In fact, Arkansas has been to 23 bowl games since the 1978 Orange Bowl and has put together a record of 6-16-1. Ouch.

The victories have ranged from somewhat minor (such as the 20-17 win over East Carolina in the Liberty Bowl last year) to morale boosting (a 27-6 win over old rival Texas in the Cotton Bowl following the 1999 season), but nothing was on par with that ’78 Orange Bowl.

What Razorbacks fans have gotten used to is watching our team get this close to doing something impressive and then just falling short of the goal. We saw it tonight with the Sugar Bowl and we saw it in the three Southeastern Conference (SEC) championship games the Razorbacks lost in 1995, 2002 and 2006. We saw the Razorbacks fall short following the 1979 season, too, when the No. 6 Hogs had a shot at a national title but lost the Sugar Bowl to No. 2 Alabama.

Still, it’s quite obvious that the team that got close to a Sugar Bowl victory tonight is the best one the Razorbacks have fielded in years. The Razorbacks played the Buckeyes to a close finish. At least this isn’t like the 2000 season when the Razorbacks suffered a humiliating loss to UNLV in the Las Vegas Bowl (that’s right — UNLV, which finished third in the Mountain West that year) or like the 2002 season which ended with a curse-inspiring loss in the Music City Bowl to Minnesota.

No, the 2010 Razorback team made it to its first Bowl Championship Series (BCS) game tonight and got pretty close to winning thing. It was a disappointing end to a great season, but one can’t help but feel more than a bit encouraged — at least the Razorbacks didn’t get blown out, lose to an inferior team or give up after a bad half.

Yes, it was a loss that might have caused a few Razorbacks fans to take axes or cinder blocks to their television sets, but at least it was one that points to the fact the team is improving. Look at it this way, Bobby Petrino took over a team three seasons ago that was reduced to a shambles by weird politics, Houston Nutt’s horrible coaching and equally nasty ego and a severe lack of talent.

In three short years, that mess of a team was transformed into one that fought its way to a No. 8 national ranking and an appearance in the Sugar Bowl. That was quite a feat, indeed, and one that demonstrates this team is headed in the right direction.

Maybe that next major bowl victory is closer than we think.

Thanks to the fine folks at Hogville.net for the bowl history. My memory’s good, but not that good.

About: Ethan C. Nobles:
Benton resident. Rogue journalist. Recovering attorney. Email = Ethan@FirstArkansasNews.net.

19 Comments »

  • Flentrop said:

    Somehow, alleging “how far we’ve come in three years” rings pretty hollow when you also point out the obvious, that over many years, the Hogs’ heads are not in the game at key moments. Whether it is falling on a blocked punt intstead of running it in for an easy (and winning!) touchdown tonite, muffing a punt reception in the last few moments of the SEC championship against the Gators a few years ago, or throwing interceptions to kill game-salvaging drives tonight or against ‘bama earlier this season, we are experts at finding a way to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. You can knock Houston Nutt all you want, but he never had the caliber quarterback that Bobby Petrino has enjoyed for two seasons, and the Hogs’ penchant for self-destruction in the big game has not gotten one bit better. Tonite, Ohio State looked like they knew they belonged in a BCS bowl; the Hogs, alas, did not.

  • Jay Edwards said:

    I have an ax but paid too much for my 45 inch Samsung to use it. And while you’re right about the sub par bowl record, beating 14th ranked Texas on the first morning of 2000 was nothing short of glorious for me. I stood the whole game in the old Cotton Bowl stadium. And it was an added bonus the world hadn’t been destroyed by Y2K at midnight.
    I only hope that before I die we will have a playoff system in college football. Stanford and TCU would probably agree this evening.
    Thanks for the article and keep up the good work.

  • Annette said:

    Well, it is official, I have cut up all of my Razorback t-shirts and will never waste my time watching or going to another Razorback game. In my entire adult life, the Razorbacks consistently lose. They are consistent I will give them that. The Razorbacks will never be a winning team. Either they are great offensively, but terrible defensively, or vise versa. Whatever excuse you want to apply, their fans usually leave with their heads bent wondering why we always lose. We win just enough to get our hopes up just to watch them go up in flames. Enough. As far as I am concerned there is no such thing as the Razorbacks. After 33 years, they have had long enough to get it together and actually be a winning team for a change. It is obvious that they are just average and will be a great team that everyone else gets to beat. I’m ready to support the team that gets to actually win. Goodbye Razorbacks, may the next big bowl game you go to in 2040 or so turn out better for you.

  • Dave Swingle said:

    This was a great game with two great teams. Both Ohio State and Arkansas played very well. To the Arkansas players and fans, sometimes the ball just bounces the other way. Either team had several opportunities to win this game. Tonight, my Buckeyes happened to come out on top. Still, a very impressive outing by Arkansas. My pick for the best game of the year.

  • Brian Baber said:

    I agree with the comment above. I have so much respect for Arkansas. I am a Buckeye fan but was thoroughly impressed by your second half come back. The Razorbacks have a season to be very proud of and should look forward to many great seasons to come. I really hope we have a chance to play again.

  • Ethan C. Nobles (author) said:

    Flentrop — good points, but the point I was trying to make is that this is one of the better “big games” that Arkansas has played. There is no doubt that mistakes were made, but I look at it like this — there was a time not that long ago when a team like Ohio State would have simply beaten Arkansas to a pulp. Arkansas wasn’t terribly competitive in its own conference, much less the top teams in the nation. I call that improvement.

    I’ve been accused of being too critical of Nutt, but I do believe we’ve got a coach in there who is changing things for the better. Nutt might not have had Mallett, but he did have the best backfield in the nation for awhile and did nothing with it. Furthermore, it’s worth mentioning that one of the QBs that Nutt had and didn’t develop — Tavaris Jackson — made it to the NFL (not the best QB in the league, but he had talent that simply wasn’t developed at Arkansas). I do believe Nutt was a failure because he worshiped the run game and couldn’t develop a QB to save his life.

    Tonight was a tough loss, to be sure. However, this is one of the better teams that Arkansas has fielded in years in terms of both talent and coaching. Petrino is making improvements and that is encouraging.

    Jay — Same here. I’ll not ax my television, but you know there are some irate fans out there. Wouldn’t surprise me a bit if a television or two took a beating tonight.

    Hey, the victory over the Longhorns in the Cotton Bowl was a great game and a heck of a lot of fun. Not a major victory, but one of the few bright spots in the Hogs’ awful bowl record.

    Oh, and thanks for the kind words!

    Annette — Sadly, that’s the kind of disappointment we’ve gotten used to in this state. I do hope the team will turn things around. Only time will tell.

    Dave — Certainly one of the better bowl games of the year, for sure. Ohio State is a great team — I just wish Arkansas could have come out in the first half like they did in the second. That’s the way things go, sadly for us. Congrats to the Buckeyes — the team deserves every bit of that No. 6 ranking.

    Brian — Thanks for that, and I do hope a number of Arkansas fans feel the same way. Losing was too bad, but the team did achieve a lot this year. Here’s hoping they build on it. Hats off to the Buckeyes — the team came in prepared and looking sharp. A great first half for them was enough to secure a victory, it seems.

  • Paul Eilers said:

    After the Razorbacks blocked the punt, I thought for sure they were gonna pull it out. Makes me think Mallet needs another year in Fayetteville.

  • Ethan C. Nobles (author) said:

    Paul — I agree with that!

  • Pash said:

    Shouldn’t the Arkansas runner kept going after the blocked put was fielded? I sure didn’t see his knee hit the ground, nor any contact by the lone Ohio guy in the mix. Did I miss anything?

    Anyway, looks like Arkansas “snatched defeat from the jaws of victory”.

    A bitter loss for the SEC, by far the most powerful conference in the United States, IMO.

  • Ethan C. Nobles (author) said:

    Pash — yes, he should have kept running. Would have been an easy touchdown (probably) and that’s maddening. Such is the life of a Razorbacks fan…

  • oldhawg said:

    The Sugar Bowl loss, while not good for the 2010 team or fun for the fans, may be good for the Razorback football program – and Ryan Mallet:

    Mallet and a few other Hogs will get lots of pressure from NFL agents to sign now. That would be a good deal for the agents and the NFL, since what the ESPN broadcasters said during the game is exactly what the NFL scouts watching the game said to themselves: “Ohio State has been in 5 BCS bowl games and it shows, and this is Arkansas’ first – and it shows.” The agents would get a nice fee on the trade, and the NFL teams would pick up Mallet and any others a lot cheaper than if all the perfect Mallet passes had been caught, and the bad passes – especially the last one – had been good.

    But if Mallet comes back and leads the Hogs to a better season and bowl finish next year, he will cost the NFL a lot more money – and the Razorback football program will be the better for it. Great quarterback, outstanding team – but the big game is what the NFL pays up for, not being great until the real pressure is on.

  • Ethan C. Nobles (author) said:

    Good points, oldhawg. Good some people are still out there looking for the bright side to all of this. Disappointing loss, sure, but the team does look like it is improving and hopefully enough to deliver that “big win” we’ve been waiting on for 33 years…

  • Skywalker said:

    This team will be even better next year, regardless of whether Mallett returns. That doesn’t necessarily mean we’ll win 11 games or even 10 games — the SEC is brutal and the West will again be loaded. But we will be better and we will be able to think “National Championship” in the preseason with a straight face.

    When we look back in a few years, we will compare Bobby Petrino’s transformation of the program to the job Nick Saban did when he took over at Alabama.

    And yes, I’m partly just trying to stay positive to escape the misery of a heartbreaking loss.

  • Ethan C. Nobles (author) said:

    Skywalker — I hope you’re right and, indeed, a lot of us are trying to get past a heartbreaking loss. Still, if someone told me three years ago that Arkansas would be No. 8 in the nation and playing in the Sugar Bowl, I would have told him he was nuts.

  • Douglas Franklin said:

    I find the reference to the 1978 Oklahoma game somewhat ironical. Which would you rather root for, a team that suspends three of its star players and retain enough character to beat a highly ranked team, or the timidity to play five classless opportunists and win a close game by a couple of dropped balls. Personally, I’m proud to be a Razorback and I’ll live with the consequences.

  • Douglas Franklin said:

    To Annette: Please don’t give up hope. I’ve been a Hog since 1969 and most of know what that means. Hog fans, like Cubs fans, are a special breed. My family has 5 degrees, thus 5 names are etched in the concrete. Win or lose, I’ll always be a hog fan. Just don’t bet on them. Damn that Buckeye Jersey was uncomfortable.

  • Ethan C. Nobles (author) said:

    Douglas — good points. We’ve got three generations of UA grads in my family and that makes me a “lifer” Razorbacks fan. The Sugar Bowl loss was a major disappointment, but it’s not hard to come away thinking this team has improved significantly over the past few years.

  • Steve W said:

    This was our first appearance in a BCS bowl and we were one play away from winning. Why are we not celebrating what weve done in such a short time and where we are obviously heading?

    This after just 3 years under Petrino. Nutt, with D-Mac, Felix Jones and Peyton Hillis, who are all doing well to extremely well in the pros, didn’t accomplish what we did with one star. With Mallet gone, we are still very deep at QB. Tyler Wilson, we all have seen, but Brandon Mitchell and him had a shoot out for the #2 position. He is also excellent. Then I watched some video of Jacoby Walker and am completely impressed with him. Add to that the Fayetteville QB, Brandon Allen who has a incredible arm. We will be fine with this group whoever makes the cut as starter. With Petrino & his ability to groom QB, we will have another good QB next year. Yes, we took a step from a GREAT QB down to a GOOD QB, but were also going from a GOOD running game to a GREAT one with Dennis Johnson and Knile Davis both back there.

    I personally have higher hopes for next season than I did this year. And I have a feeling this growing expectation will continue to trend up as long as Petrino is at the healm. We are in the process of going from a good sec team to a great. In 5-10 years we will be mentioned as todays Alabama is.

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