LITTLE ROCK —
It was just another strange, zany, LSU afternoon on Markham Street -— where time stands still, where opposing defensive backs provide clearing blocks for last-second touchdowns, where a passing team controls the ball by running it for better than six minutes in the fourth quarter, place-kickers make touchdown-saving tackles and War Memorial Stadium has a good chance to become an entrance ramp to the Sugar Bowl for the University of Arkansas.
Arkansas-LSU games at the end of the season are about a muddle and hard to explain as how to negotiate through the sea of tailgaters at Fair Park.
Saturday evening, as we watch the UA players circle the field and slap hands with whoever would reach out after the 31-23 victory, as we hear the sirens from massive traffic jams similar to Black Friday at the shopping center, we’ll take a shot at some of weird stuff:
• The Hogs’ 31-23 victory over the LSU, the No. 5 team in the BCS going in, solidifies a 10-2 regular-season record that will almost surely place them in the Sugar Bowl if SEC West champion Auburn defeats South Carolina in next weekend’s SEC championship game.
"It sure was hard to root for Auburn (against Alabama) yesterday," UA coach Bobby Petrino said.
He’ll have to do it one more time.
If the Sugar Bowl doesn’t materialize, the Cotton (in Jerry Jones’ cowboy world this season) is the bowl-in-waiting.
• The Hogs delivered the telling blow on one of those "how in the world did that happen plays" at the end of the first half.
With the score tied at 14 after each team had botched a two-minute drill and the ball on the UA 20 with six seconds left in the half, UA quarterback Ryan Mallett threw deep over the middle. Cobi Hamilton caught the ball at midfield. LSU safety Karnell Hatcher charged in to make a highlight reel hit. Hamilton juked, and Hatcher missed. But his dive toppled LSU cornerback Morris Claiborne like a bowling pin. With the two primary defenders on the turf, Hamilton, with blockers ahead of him, just had to weave his wave through the one remaining defender for an incredible 80-yard touchdown that ended the half. It also sent LSU defensive coordinator John Chavis sprinting to the locker room in less that a spirit of Christmas mood.
"Ryan made a great throw because he was hit just as he throw it," Petrino said. "Cobi did a good job on the route and then, that’s where luck comes in."
Earlier in the half, Mallett (who passed for 320 yards against one of the best pass defenses in the country) and Hamilton connected on an 85-yard touchdown pass down the sideline when at LSU defender misplayed the angle for a feeble tackle attempt and tumbled out of bounds, leaving Hamilton with about a 50-yard scoring sprint through open field.
• Alex Tejada, the place-kicker turned "kickoffer," made two touchdown-saving maneuvers that forced LSU return specialist Patrick Peterson, who had 163 yards on four returns, out of bounds before he got into the open field.
• The UA defense got a "win" when it held the Tigers to a 20-yard field goal by Josh Jasper after LSU recovered a fumble punt by Dylan Breeding on the UA 9.
• The Razorbacks built a 28-20 cushion on an 80-yard, 11-play drive in the fourth quarter that featured two plays of major significance. One was a 13-yard pass from Mallett to Joe Adams on third and 11 at the UA 31. The Hogs drove to fourth and three at the LSU 39 when the Hogs called a timeout and the debate began on whether to go for it. Petrino called over John Smith, special teams coach.
"We have a saying that we didn’t come to paint, we came to win the game," Petrino said.
Mallett and Adams painted a masterpiece when the UA receiver did a double-fake and beat the Tigers’ Taylor Mathieu deep down the sideline for a crushing touchdown with 14:10 left. Several UA players mobbed Petrino after the play, patting him on the back as the UA coach accepted the "great call" plaudits with a sly smile.
• On their next possession, the Razorbacks pounded a tiring LSU defense with nine straight running plays that consumed 6:02 and resulted in a 29-yard field goal by Zach Hocker that put the UA up 31-20 with 6:09 left. "I really didn’t plan on making every play a run, but it ended up that way because our line was moving the line of scrimmage and our backs were breaking tackles and falling forward," Petrino said.
• The UA still had to survive the typical weirdness of seemingly any game involving LSU coach Les Miles.
The Tigers quickly drove to the UA 9 when a snap sailed over the head of LSU quarterback Jordan Jefferson, forcing the Tigers to settle for a 36-yard field goal by Jasper with 4:11 left.
• Then, time stood still.
With LSU out of timeouts, the Hogs’ Knile Davis rushed for a loss of 1 and got up limping a bit. The referees stopped the clock at 1:41 and didn’t start it, to much consternation along the UA sideline. Petrino took a timout to question/chew out the officials. If you could read lips, Petrino wasn’t giving an address from Christmas package delivery.
"He (the official) told me that Knile was injury and he had the right to hold the clock up on an injury," Petrino said.
The Hogs lost about 40 seconds of "draining-clock" time on the play.
The UA punted to Peterson on the LSU 12 and the LSU returner drew an unsportsmanlike penalty after a fair catch.
Two plays later, Jefferson was sacked less than a yard away from the goal and Jerry Franklin recovered the fumble inside the 1.
The game ended and the celebration with Mallett taking a knee 6 yards behind the LSU goal line.
The "Boot," emblematic of a victory in the Arkansas-LSU series, was slowly carried on the field but the Hogs were celebrating "the bowl" — the probably BCS Sugar Bowl if Auburn doesn’t melt down against South Carolina.
"This has been one of the most enjoyable years I can remember in coaching because of our attitude and the way we go about our business," Petrino said.
A season — and a victory — sweet as sugar.
(Sports columnist David McCollum can be reached at 505-1235 or firstname.lastname@example.org)