Harried Hogs come up one scoop short of sweet finish
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.
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 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.