In need of a true ri­val

LSU checks most of the boxes for Ra­zor­backs.

Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - FRONT PAGE - TOM MUR­PHY

FAYETTEVILLE — The Arkansas Ra­zor­backs are a team in need of a heated ri­val.

The Ra­zor­backs have three tro­phy games — against Texas A&M, LSU and Mis­souri — and lots of other ri­vals in the SEC, but they do not have a stand­out foe in which both fan bases can’t wait to hate, 365 days a year.

Re­turn­ing to con­tention in the SEC will help in that re­gard, fans and col­lege foot­ball an­a­lysts alike agree.

In the mean­time, tonight’s Bat­tle for the Golden Boot against No. 7 LSU has to serve as the cir­cled game for the strug­gling Ra­zor­backs.

The Tigers (7-2, 4-2 SEC) will try to ex­tend their win­ning streak over Arkansas (27, 0-5) to three in a row in the 6:30 p.m. game at Reynolds Ra­zor­back Sta­dium.

Arkansas, un­der first-year Coach Chad Mor­ris, is look­ing for its first vic­tory over a Power 5 op­po­nent since Oct. 28, 2017.

LSU is eas­ily the top SEC ri­val for Arkansas based on an on­line poll con­ducted by the Arkansas Demo­crat-Gazette over four-and-a-half days, start­ing last Satur­day. The Twit­ter poll, which counted 4,235 bal­lots, showed LSU is the top ri­val for 66 per­cent of re­spon­dents iden­ti­fy­ing as Arkansas foot­ball fans. Ole Miss was a dis­tant sec­ond at 17 per­cent, with Texas A&M in third (11 per­cent) and Mis­souri last at 6 per­cent. There were no other vot­ing op­tions.

There is not a cor­re­spond­ing poll for LSU to cite, but the Tigers are com­ing off a 29-0 loss to their most-hated ri­val, Alabama. Ri­val­ries against an­nual op­po­nents Ole Miss, Texas A&M, Florida and Auburn could be ar­gued as car­ry­ing more weight for LSU fans than the yearly game against the Ra­zor­backs.

Mor­ris said he sensed LSU was the top op­po­nent for the Ra­zor­backs as he trav­eled to Ra­zor­back Club meet­ings and other speak­ing en­gage­ments last win­ter and spring af­ter leav­ing his head coach­ing gig at SMU.

“No ques­tion that this game stood out,” Mor­ris said. “In my trav­el­ing cir­cuit that I went through, this was a big talk­ing point, this game. So

you got a sense real quick that this was a big ri­val game. You knew that. I knew that com­ing in.”

Per­haps the sig­na­ture mo­ment of the Bret Bielema era that pre­ceded Mor­ris was a 2014 up­set of the No. 17 Tigers on a cold, driz­zly night at Reynolds Ra­zor­back Sta­dium. That 17-0 vic­tory snapped a 17game SEC los­ing streak for the Ra­zor­backs and led to a field rush­ing by suc­cess-starved fans, and the ac­com­pa­ny­ing fine levied by the SEC.

Ex-Ra­zor­back David Bazzel, the Lit­tle Rock-based en­tre­pre­neur who cre­ated the Golden Boot, gave a mo­ti­va­tional talk to the Hogs be­fore that game, en­cour­ag­ing them to run across the field to re­trieve the 175-pound tro­phy if they won it.

The Ra­zor­backs obliged. The im­ages of that scene made a last­ing im­pres­sion.

“My fresh­man year, we stormed the field,” said Arkansas se­nior re­ceiver Jared Cor­nelius, a Shreve­port na­tive who scored a 69-yard rush­ing touch­down to seal the Ra­zor­backs’ 31-14 up­set of LSU the next year at Tiger Sta­dium. “It means the world. I’d by ly­ing to you if I said I didn’t check this game off the cal­en­dar every year, be­ing a Louisiana guy … and hav­ing to go back in De­cem­ber.”

Se­nior linebacker Dre Green­law, who had a strip­sack that led to an early touch­down in the 2015 game at LSU, said the Tigers are def­i­nitely his top ri­val.

“In my eyes, when I hear LSU, it’s time to rock and roll, so it’s go­ing to be a fight,” Green­law said.

LSU Coach Ed Org­eron, who worked on the strength and con­di­tion­ing staff and as an on-field grad­u­ate as­sis­tant at Arkansas for two sea­sons un­der Ken Hat­field from 1986-1987, knows how the Ra­zor­backs feel about LSU. His wife Kelly is from Lake City, in north­east­ern Arkansas.

“I coached at Arkansas for two years, my wife’s from Arkansas, so I hear it all the time,” Org­eron said. “I know it. I let [LSU play­ers] know that. I think the kids know it.”

LSU’s top re­ceiver Justin Jef­fer­son said the Tigers try

to make every game feel like a ri­valry.

“Es­pe­cially com­ing off a loss like we had, just try­ing to bounce back, make sure every­body’s hav­ing their heads high,” Jef­fer­son said. “Play­ing a team where there’s a tro­phy in­volved, we want to keep that tro­phy. Just try­ing to beat them every year to keep that tro­phy is some­thing that means some­thing to us.”

LSU looked slug­gish in losses to Arkansas in 2014 and ’15, but the Tigers have had a dif­fer­ent vibe the past two sea­sons un­der Org­eron in this se­ries. Their 38-10 vic­tory at Ra­zor­back Sta­dium in 2016 was about the worst beat­ing Arkansas took that sea­son.

“They’re go­ing to come here hun­gry,” Arkansas guard Johnny Gib­son said. “They just got beat and they’ve got a tro­phy, and we want the tro­phy and they are go­ing to come in here and give it their best and we’re go­ing to give our best.”

Ge­og­ra­phy, his­tory and time have all con­spired to make find­ing an arch-ri­val dif­fi­cult for the Hogs since they left the South­west Con­fer­ence in 1991.

Fans in eastern Arkansas can point to Ole Miss and the long-run­ning se­ries against the Rebels as a top ri­val. Fans in south­ern and south­west­ern Arkansas nat­u­rally get revved up more for LSU.

Fans of a cer­tain age will ar­gue Texas is and will al­ways be Arkansas’ top ri­val. In fact, sev­eral re­spon­dents to the Demo­crat-Gazette’s Twit­ter poll made that clear in posts.

The clos­est thing the Hogs have had to a burn­ing caul­dron of arch ri­valry was a Thanks­giv­ing week­end stretch against LSU from the Hogs’ first year in the SEC in 1992 through 2013, which ended soon af­ter Texas A&M and Mis­souri en­tered the league in 2012.

Along the way, the sea­son-end­ing se­ries spawned two of the great­est fin­ishes in Hogs’ his­tory, dubbed the Mir­a­cle on Markham I and II.

The first in 2002, on Matt Jones’ 31-yard touch­down pass to DeCori Birm­ing­ham with nine sec­onds re­main­ing, gave Arkansas a 21-20 vic­tory that clinched the Hogs’ sec­ond berth in the SEC Cham­pi­onship Game.

The sec­ond, in 2008, came

on backup quar­ter­back Casey Dick’s 24-yard touch­down pass to Lon­don Craw­ford with 22 sec­onds re­main­ing for a 3130 vic­tory in Bobby Petrino’s first sea­son at the Arkansas helm.

That vic­tory touched off a hotly com­pet­i­tive four-year span, with the teams trad­ing home vic­to­ries. Arkansas clinched its only BCS bowl berth with a 31-23 vic­tory in the 2010 game in Lit­tle Rock, high­lighted by Cobi Hamil­ton’s 80-yard catch-and-run touch­down from Ryan Mal­lett on the last play of the first half.

The next year, Petrino gave an un­sports­man­like show­ing at the end of No. 1 LSU’s 4117 vic­tory over the No. 3 Ra­zor­backs in a game that had na­tional cham­pi­onship im­pli­ca­tions.

The Hogs didn’t win in the se­ries again un­til 2014.

That vic­tory came in the first year af­ter the Thanks­giv­ing week­end game against LSU was snatched away from the Ra­zor­backs, with the Tigers pre­fer­ring a new sea­son-en­der against Texas A&M.

The Ra­zor­backs were left to shuf­fle off to start a fresh

sea­son-end­ing se­ries against bor­der ri­val Mis­souri, a team Arkansas had played just five times be­fore the Tigers joined the SEC in 2012.

Arkansas’ lack of an agreed-upon arch-ri­val has wors­ened with the Hogs lan­guish­ing with a 13-40 SEC record since the 1 vs. 3 show­down in Ba­ton Rouge.

“I would say for Arkansas fans, it’s kind of the LSU model of what’s the most im­por­tant se­ries com­ing up?” ESPN se­nior writer Ryan McGee said this week at the North­west Arkansas Touch­down Club. “If you’re good enough to be­come wor­thy enough to be Alabama’s ri­val, well then you’ll take that job. Be­cause LSU just has it right now.

“But they’ve lost to them for al­most a decade now. The way that be­came a ri­valry — be­cause it wasn’t for 50 years — LSU started win­ning the games. When that back and forth hap­pened, in the late 90s through the mid­dle of the 2000s, that’s when that be­came a ri­valry. I would say to Arkansas fans, start beat­ing up on some­body that isn’t ex­pect­ing to get beat up on and it’ll prob­a­bly turn into a ri­valry.”

Arkansas Demo­crat-Gazette file pho­tos

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