Un­de­sir­able af­ter­taste

Har­ried Hogs come up one scoop short of sweet fin­ish

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - SPORTS - TOM MUR­PHY

FAYET­TEVILLE — The Arkansas Ra­zor­backs’ lone foray into the Bowl Cham­pi­onship Se­ries came with an un­for­tu­nate — and avoid­able — as­ter­isk seven sea­sons ago.

Blame it on Tat­toogate, Jim Tres­sel, the NCAA and a bun­gled blocked punt re­turn.

The 2010 Ra­zor­backs took a 10-2 record and No. 8 rank­ing into their Sugar Bowl game against the No. 6 Buck­eyes on Jan. 4, 2011.

Five key Ohio State play­ers, in­clud­ing quar­ter­back Ter­relle Pryor, were found to have vi­o­lated NCAA rules by trad­ing au­to­graphs, ap­parel, awards and mem­o­ra­bilia for money and tat­toos. The story broke in De­cem­ber and the play­ers were given five-game sus­pen­sions, but they were post­poned un­til the start of the 2011 sea­son so they could par­tic­i­pate in the bowl game.

When it was dis­cov­ered later that Tres­sel, the Ohio State head coach, knew about the NCAA vi­o­la­tions be­fore the sea­son and did not re­port them as man­dated by his con­tract, the Buck­eyes va­cated all their vic­to­ries from what had been a 12-1 sea­son, in­clud­ing their 31-26 de­ci­sion over the Ra­zor­backs.

Univer­sity of Arkansas, Fayet­teville fans ar­gue that the Hogs coulda, woulda, shoulda won the game out­right, re­gard­less.

Colton Miles-Nash, a 6-6 de­fen­sive end for the Hogs, leaped over the Buck­eyes’ punt shield and blocked Ben Buchanan’s punt with just more than a minute left in the game. The loose ball was bounc­ing around in­side the Ohio State 20 with only Ra­zor­backs around when fresh­man Ju­lian Hor­ton dived on the ball at the 18 rather than stay­ing on his feet and try­ing to re­turn the blocked kick.

“I just wish we’d have scooped and scored and the ball game’s over, you know,” Arkansas quar­ter­back Ryan Mal­lett said. “But it is what it is.”

Hor­ton and team­mate De’An­thony Cur­tis were the clos­est play­ers to the ball when Hor­ton pounced.

“I knew we were close to the goal line, so I knew our of­fense would have a chance to score,” Hor­ton said that night. “That’s all I was think­ing at the time. Now ev­ery­one tells me that no one was even be­hind me, so it makes it even worse. But, hey, I can’t do any­thing about it now.”

Arkansas Coach Bobby Petrino, who opened spring prac­tice in 2011 with a scoop-and-score drill, rued the hand­ful of missed op­por­tu­ni­ties the Hogs left be­hind.

“That’s the one thing, when you play a game like this and a great foot­ball team like Ohio State, ev­ery sin­gle play counts,” Petrino said then. “We’ll go back and watch the video, and I know I’m go­ing to say there will be 10, 12, 14 plays, and any one of those could have been the dif­fer­ence in a win and a loss.”

The Ra­zor­backs took over at the Ohio State 18 with 1:09 left in the game af­ter Miles-Nash blocked the punt. Tight end D.J. Wil­liams mis­han­dled a pass on first down for Arkansas’ sixth dropped pass of the game. On sec­ond down, Buck­eyes de­fen­sive end Solomon Thomas dropped into cov­er­age and in­ter­cepted Mal­lett’s pass to clinch the vic­tory.

Mal­lett, who was sacked four times and un­der pres­sure much of the night, said he didn’t see Thomas drop.

All five of Buck­eyes who re­ceived re­prieves from their sus­pen­sions played huge roles in the game, with Thomas’ in­ter­cep­tion the fi­nal dag­ger.

Pryor rushed for 115 yards and passed for 221 yards and 2 touch­downs. Run­ning back Dan “Buster” Her­ron ran for 87 yards and a score. Re­ceiver DeVier Posey had three catches for 70 yards with a touch­down. Of­fen­sive tackle Mike Adams helped the Buck­eyes com­pile 446 to­tal yards.

Had the Ra­zor­backs been able to score a late touch­down, Pryor likely wouldn’t have been able to re­turn af­ter he re­ceived help to limp off the field on the third-down play be­fore the blocked punt.

Miles-Nash noted Ohio State’s block­ing backs stayed low through­out the game, so he knew he had a chance to get to Buchanan’s punt.

“So I had a chance to jump over the top and I just took it,” he said on game night.

Ohio State’s of­fi­cial record from the 2010 sea­son is 0-1 based on a 31-18 loss to the Wis­con­sin Bad­gers coached by Bret Bielema, who is now en­ter­ing his fifth sea­son with

the Ra­zor­backs. The Buck­eyes, who thought they had snapped an 0-9 record in bowl games against SEC teams, can­not claim the Sugar Bowl vic­tory.

But nei­ther can the Ra­zor­backs.

Petrino and his play­ers main­tained in the lead-up to the game that they wanted to com­pete against Ohio State’s stars.

“I wanted to play against the best and we played against them,” said Lit­tle Rock’s Joe Adams, a junior in 2010. “I mean, win, lose or draw, it was a great game. I en­joyed the at­mos­phere. Both teams’ crowds came out and gave us good sup­port. I wouldn’t take that game back for any­thing.”

Cobi Hamil­ton, a sopho­more re­ceiver for the Hogs, said the days lead­ing up to the game were not the most com­fort­able.

“It was a stress­ful week, a busy week, an in­tense week,” he said. “I guess BCS bowls are more higher stakes. I think that made a dif­fer­ence in our slug­gish start.”

The Buck­eyes built a 28-7 sec­ond-quar­ter lead that was trimmed to 28-10 on Zach Hocker’s 20-yard field goal on the fi­nal play be­fore half­time.

Arkansas sopho­more Knile Davis rushed for a game-high 139 yards, bring­ing his sea­son to­tal to 1,322 yards, which at the time ranked as Arkansas’ fourth-best sin­gle sea­son to­tal.

Mal­lett com­pleted 24 of 47 passes for 277 yards and 2 touch­downs, a 17-yarder to Adams in the first quar­ter and a 22-yard strike to Jar­ius Wright late in the third quar­ter.

The Hogs trailed 31-13 in the third quar­ter, then scored

13 con­sec­u­tive points, in­clud­ing a safety by Jake Be­quette and Hocker’s third field goal of the game to pull within five points.

“I re­ally feel like we spot­ted them too much in the first half,” said Petrino, who later ad­mit­ted he was up­set that Ohio State got to use the sus­pended play­ers.

The fi­nal game for Mal­lett and D.J. Wil­liams and other key Ra­zor­backs laid the foun­da­tion for an­other great sea­son an 11-2 record in 2011.

Demo­crat-Gazette file photo

Arkansas’ Colton Miles-Nash blocks a punt by Ohio State’s Ben Buchanan with less than two min­utes re­main­ing in the 2011 Sugar Bowl in New Or­leans. The Ra­zor­backs did not seize an op­por­tu­nity to re­turn the block for a win­ning touch­down and took over at the Buck­eyes’ 18 with 1:09 left. An in­ter­cep­tion ended the Hogs’ shot at vic­tory.

Arkansas Demo­crat-Gazette/BEN­JAMIN KRAIN

Arkansas de­fend­ers swarm to bring down Ohio State punt re­turner Jor­dan Hall in the fourth quar­ter of the 2011 Sugar Bowl. The Hogs held the Buck­eyes to three points in the sec­ond half, in­clud­ing none in the fourth quar­ter.

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