Marathon men Nutt’s Hogs never shied away from ex­tra work

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - SPORTS - BOB HOLT

FAYET­TEVILLE — There was ev­ery rea­son to be­lieve that Ken­tucky, not Arkansas, had mo­men­tum on its side when the teams en­tered over­time tied at 24-24 on Nov. 1, 2003, at Com­mon­wealth Sta­dium in Lex­ing­ton, Ky.

The Wild­cats, af­ter all, ral­lied from a 14-point half­time deficit and tied the game with less than two min­utes to go.

But what Ken­tucky’s play­ers, coaches and fans didn’t re­al­ize was that the Ra­zor­backs had the Wild­cats right where they wanted them.

“By that Ken­tucky game, most of us had been through those long over­times and knew what it was go­ing to take to push through and win,” said DeCori Birm­ing­ham, a flanker and run­ning back for the Univer­sity of Arkansas, Fayet­teville from 2001-2004. “It was one of those deals where we felt like, ‘If we can get you into over­time, we know what’s go­ing to hap­pen.’

“It be­came second na­ture for us. We didn’t sweat it when the game went into over­time.”

Arkansas beat Ken­tucky 71-63 in an NCAA record-ty­ing seven over­times af­ter the game had been tied 24-24 at the end of the fourth quar­ter.

Ken­tucky had played a to­tal of two over­time pe­ri­ods go­ing into the game with Arkansas.

There was a 40-34 vic­tory over Alabama in 1997 that

ended af­ter one ex­tra pe­riod and a 40-34 loss to Louisville in 2000 that ended af­ter the first over­time.

The Ra­zor­backs, by con­trast, came into the Ken­tucky game hav­ing played 15 over­time pe­ri­ods since 2001 — the sea­son they won 58-56 in seven over­times at Ole Miss to set an NCAA record.

Arkansas also played six over­times in a 41-38 loss at Ten­nessee in 2002 and won 34-31 in two over­times at Alabama ear­lier in the 2003 sea­son.

“Once we got to over­time, we just felt like we had the ad­van­tage be­cause we had been there so much be­fore,” said Hous­ton Nutt, the Ra­zor­backs’ coach from 1998-2007. “We were in great con­di­tion and we knew how to fin­ish.

“There weren’t too many we didn’t win in over­time.”

Nutt’s Arkansas teams went 6-1 in over­time games, in­clud­ing 3-1 with Matt Jones at quar­ter­back.

Jones came off the bench at Ken­tucky — just as he had at Ole Miss two years ear­lier — to lead the Ra­zor­backs to vic­tory.

In over­time pe­ri­ods against the Wild­cats, Jones threw touch­down passes to Ja­son Peters and Ge­orge Wilson, ran for a touch­down and hit Peters and Wilson with two­point con­ver­sion passes.

Jones com­pleted 16 of 25 passes for 260 yards and rushed for 112 yards.

“Matt was so good,” Nutt said. “You loved that he had ice wa­ter in his veins. He didn’t feel any pres­sure.

“He was al­ways faster than you thought. They’d take bad an­gles to try and tackle him.

“Most of the time, de­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tors would ap­proach me af­ter a game and say, ‘I didn’t know Matt Jones was that fast by film study.’ Ev­ery­body said that.

“If they did catch him, they had a hard time get­ting him down.”

It was the most points the Ra­zor­backs had scored since a 73-0 vic­tory over Rhodes Col­lege of Mem­phis in 1928.

“No­body likes to be on the los­ing end of an NCAA record,” Ken­tucky Coach Rich Brooks said af­ter the game. “It’s just a tough one to lose.

“I’m proud of the ef­fort. We played some great foot­ball, but in the end, we had sev­eral chances to get it done and they came back and got it.”

Birm­ing­ham rushed 40 times for 196 yards and 2 touch­downs, in­clud­ing a 25-yard run that along with Jones’ two-point pass to Peters put Arkansas ahead 71-63 in the sev­enth over­time.

Ken­tucky moved to the Ra­zor­backs 5 on its pos­ses­sion in the sev­enth over­time, but quar­ter­back Jared Loren­zen — run­ning out of the Shot­gun for­ma­tion — fum­bled on fourth-and-3 and Arkansas out­side line­backer Tony Bua re­cov­ered the loose ball.

“As Loren­zen was fall­ing down, he knew he wasn’t go­ing to make the first down, so he stretched his hand out with the ball and he lost it,” said Bua, who owns a roof­ing busi­ness in Lu­cas, Texas. “When I first saw it hap­pen­ing, I wanted to start jump­ing up and down and cel­e­brate, be­cause I knew you can’t ad­vance a fum­ble for­ward in that sit­u­a­tion.

“But then I was like, ‘You’ve got to jump on this ball just to

make sure.’ I cra­dled the ball and was go­ing to run around. But as I went to stand up, I was so tired, I said, ‘For­get that.’

“So I just got up and walked off the field.”

Loren­zen, a left-handed thrower listed at 6-4 and 260 pounds, had nick­names that in­cluded the “Hefty Lefty” and “Pills­bury Throw­boy.” He com­pleted 28 of 49 passes for 326 yards and 2 touch­downs and rushed 15 times for 39 yards and 3 touch­downs.

“I don’t know if I can feel any­thing right now,” Loren­zen said af­ter the game. “It was such an emo­tional roller-coaster — scor­ing, get­ting scored on. It was amaz­ing.”

Nutt, who works for CBS Sports, said the game was “a shootout” with Jones and Loren­zen du­el­ing.

“Jared came back af­ter a tough start and made a lot of huge plays, just like Jones,” Brooks said. “Those two quar­ter­backs just kept mak­ing plays and keep­ing their teams alive.”

Birm­ing­ham, who is now a Texas State trooper, said the Ra­zor­backs worked on over­time sit­u­a­tions a lot in prac­tice.

“We put a lot of em­pha­sis on short-yardage plays and two-point con­ver­sions,” Birm­ing­ham said. “So by the time we got to the Ken­tucky game, we knew ex­actly what we were go­ing to do.”

Ryan So­ra­han started at quar­ter­back for Arkansas af­ter Jones was lim­ited in prac­tice dur­ing the week be­cause of a sore shoul­der.

Jones played re­ceiver the first four se­ries and served as a de­coy, but took over at quar­ter­back with the game tied 7-7.

“He came up with throw af­ter throw, stayed alive in the pocket and, most im­por­tant, stayed poised,” Arkansas quar­ter­backs coach Roy Wit­tke said af­ter the game. “He just made play af­ter play.”

Jones said af­ter the game he wasn’t dis­tracted by crit­i­cism re­sult­ing from the Ra­zor­backs go­ing 0-3 in Oc­to­ber with losses to Auburn, Florida and Ole Miss af­ter a 4-0 start that in­cluded road vic­to­ries over Texas and Alabama.

“It doesn’t mat­ter to me what peo­ple say,” Jones said. “My life is not di­rected around foot­ball. You can say what you want about me.

“Peo­ple have their opin­ions, and that’s fine. I don’t pay at­ten­tion to any of that. I only lis­ten to the peo­ple around me that I know love and care about me.”

Ken­tucky had an open date the next week to re­cu­per­ate from play­ing a seven-over­time game, but Arkansas had a quick turn­around with a game against South Carolina on Thurs­day night.

The Ra­zor­backs still took care of busi­ness and beat the Game­cocks 28-6 in Lit­tle Rock.

Win­ning at Ken­tucky ended the Ra­zor­backs’ three­game los­ing streak and was part of a 5-1 sea­son-end­ing stretch for Arkansas, which beat Mis­souri 27-14 in the In­de­pen­dence Bowl to fin­ish 9-4.

The Ra­zor­backs gained 605 yards in to­tal of­fense against Ken­tucky and their 47 points in over­time broke their NCAA record of 41 set at Ole Miss in 2001. The Wild­cats gained 506 yards in a game that lasted 4 hours and 56 min­utes.

Arkansas and Ken­tucky com­bined 86 points in over­time broke the NCAA record of 80 set by Arkansas and Ole Miss.

“One thing is, the fans got their money’s worth,” Brooks said. “The bad news is, the home team lost.

“I never thought I’d be in a game like that.”

For the Ra­zor­backs, it was just like old times.

Demo­crat-Gazette file photo

Arkansas’ DeCori Birm­ing­ham (right) scored on a 25-yard touch­down run to put the Ra­zor­backs ahead in the sev­enth over­time against Ken­tucky on Nov. 1, 2003, in Lex­ing­ton, Ky. Birm­ing­ham rushed for 196 yards and 2 touch­downs on 40 car­ries to help Arkansas win 71-63.

Arkansas Demo­crat-Gazette/DAVID GOTTSCHALK

Matt Jones (left) did not start for Arkansas against Ken­tucky in 2003, but led the Ra­zor­backs to a vic­tory in seven over­times over the Wild­cats. His two-point con­ver­sion pass to Ja­son Peters gave Arkansas a 71-63 lead in the sev­enth over­time.

Demo­crat-Gazette file photo

Tony Bua cel­e­brates at the end of Arkansas’ 71-63 vic­tory over Ken­tucky in seven over­times Nov. 1, 2003, in Lex­ing­ton, Ky.

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