Hogs swing for fences to beat No. 1 LSU
FAYETTEVILLE — No. 1 LSU had the nation’s second-ranked defense, a home-field advantage and the inside track to the BCS national championship game.
The Arkansas Razorbacks, a 13-point underdog under beleaguered coach Houston Nutt, had eventual two-time Heisman Trophy runner-up Darren McFadden and the Wild Hog formation in their corner.
They also had a bone to pick with the Tigers, who had knocked them out of national championship contention the year before with a 31-26 victory in Little Rock.
For some reason, LSU coach Les Miles referred to the Tigers’ Thanksgiving weekend opponent as Ar-Kansas on several occasions during the week of the game.
The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette tried to set Miles’ mispronunciation straight with a cartoon rebus that week featuring the letter “R,” a tin can and a saw.
The Razorbacks got their revenge on the field.
Arkansas won 50-48 in triple overtime, a classic that ranks as the No. 4 game in the Democrat-Gazette’s countdown of the 25 most
memorable games of the Razorbacks’ 25 seasons in the SEC.
It was Arkansas’ first victory over a No. 1 team since a 42-11 beatdown of Texas in 1981.
McFadden took snaps at Wild Hog quarterback on all four Arkansas touchdowns in regulation. The Little Rock native rushed for 206 yards and three touchdowns and threw a scoring pass to Peyton Hillis, who had 127 yards of total offense and a career-high four touchdowns.
“That’s got to be my No. 1 game of all time,” McFadden said last summer.
Nutt had asked trainer Dean Weber to make small wooden bats for every member of the travel squad to take to the road game with a Razorbacks logo and “Bring the Wood” in big letters on them.
McFadden brandished his after the upset, shouting “We got that wood right here!” as he broke into Nutt’s postgame interview with CBS.
“It’s Arkansas, baby,” McFadden said as a reminder to Miles.
The University of Arkansas, Fayetteville improved to 7-1 in overtime games. Hillis caught a 10-yard touchdown pass from Casey Dick in the first overtime. McFadden scored from 9 yards out in the second overtime, and Hillis barreled in from the 3 in the third overtime. Felix Jones ran over left tackle on the mandatory twopoint conversion try.
The Tigers pulled within 5048 on Brandon LaFell’s 9-yard touchdown pass from Matt Flynn. Arkansas defensive back Matterral Richardson broke in front of Demetrius Byrd and picked off Flynn’s slant pass in the end zone for the final play of the game. Richardson raced behind the Arkansas bench to celebrate while the Razorbacks rejoiced on the field.
“The only people who believed were the people in that locker room, our players and coaches,” Richardson said that night. “It just feels so good because nobody gave us a
Nutt proclaimed that McFadden needed to be back in the Heisman Trophy conversation and classified the upset as perhaps the best game of his coaching career.
“It has to be,” Nutt said. “They were ranked No. 1. I always think about [big wins
against] Texas and Tennessee, but to come down here in Baton Rouge and win, it was huge.”
An iconic moment came early in the third quarter near the end of McFadden’s 73-yard touchdown run, which gave Arkansas a 14-6 lead. Dick, who had been flanked out in the Wild Hog formation, blocked safety Chad Jones away from McFadden 50 yards down field.
“I don’t know if he’d have caught him, but [Jones] can definitely run,” said Dick, who is now offensive coordinator at Bentonville West High School. “I had to help him out. He helped us out a lot throughout his career. I had to repay the favor a little.”
The Wild Hog was a crucial part of Arkansas’ victory.
“We felt like in watching the
film … the thing about the Wild Hog, we felt like it would slow them down, the discipline of their eyes,” Nutt said this summer. “With Felix Jones coming in motion, with Peyton Hillis in the backfield and Marcus Monk on the outside and Darren handling the ball, we felt, ‘This is going to be a good way to not let them play fast.’
“That was our No. 1 thing. We’re not going to let LSU play fast and we’re going to make them cover all their bases.”
The game did not start well for Arkansas, especially for McFadden, who lost a fumble on the opening kickoff, then recovered his own fumble on the next kickoff after LSU converted the early takeaway into a field goal. The Razorbacks led 7-6 at halftime, so there was no indication a shootout would ensue. But that’s exactly what happened.
Arkansas finished with 513 total yards, 100 more than the Tigers. The fortunes for both teams took immediate turns.
Nutt resigned a few days later and took the head coaching reins at Ole Miss. The Razorbacks earned a coveted Cotton Bowl berth with the victory, but played uninspired in a 38-7 loss to Missouri in Dallas.
Miles was distraught after the game, saying “We understand that this cost us and what was at stake.”
But his team got an unlikely reprieve. The Tigers fell only to No. 5, went on to defeat Tennessee 21-14 in the SEC championship game, and thanks to a series of upsets, they cycled back up to No. 2 in the BCS rankings and thumped Ohio State 38-24 in the Superdome to win the national championship. McFadden, now approaching his 10th season in the NFL, said revenge was uppermost in his mind entering the game.
“We were 10-1 [in 2006)
and they knocked us out of a chance to go to the national championship,” McFadden said. “It’s just a great feeling to be able to return the favor.”
The Razorbacks not only brought home the Golden Boot Trophy, they created memories.
“I’ll talk about it for the rest of my life,” Arkansas linebacker Weston Dacus said.
“Any time you can go into Death Valley, they’re ranked No. 1, it’s at night, it’s the day after Thanksgiving, it’s an overwhelming experience,” Dick said. “There’s a lot of people who go in there and get losses and we were able to go in there and get a W out of it.”
Nutt said he usually stops what he’s doing when he sees the replay of the 2007 game at LSU on TV.
“I’ll be sitting at home and I can feel myself actually getting butterflies and thinking, ‘Are we going to make this third down? … How are we going to make this fourth-down play?’
“It always turns out right, but even sitting in that chair watching when you know the outcome, man, you still get a little nervous thinking ‘How are we going to pull this thing out?’ ”
Arkansas center Jonathan Luigs said games like this were what made playing in the SEC special.
“Because it seems like almost every year Arkansas plays the No. 1 team or the national champion,” said Luigs, who won the Rimington Trophy as the nation’s top center in 2007. “You love to play in those types of games. That’s why you come to Arkansas, to play against teams of that caliber.
“It’s really cool to look back and say we beat the No. 1 team, we beat the eventual national champion. That’s a great memory.”
Arkansas running back Darren McFadden carried a team-issued miniature bat, with its “BRING THE WOOD” inscription, off the field after the Razorbacks’ three-overtime victory over top-ranked LSU at Baton Rouge in 2007. McFadden rushed for 206 yards and three touchdowns and added a touchdown pass as the Hogs earned their first road victory over a No. 1 team since 1964.