A Red Zone Fumble: The Essence of 2012
Friday, the Razorbacks fought to a 7-point loss against the LSU Tigers in the Battle for the Golden Boot played in Razorback Stadium for the first time in 20 years.
On the first drive of the game, senior running back Dennis Johnson made a spectacular catch and powered the Hogs deep into the Tigers’ red zone only to fumble the ball on the 2-yard line.
The Tigers scored on the ensuing drive, which began when senior defensive end Chancey Aghayere (CQ) recovered the fumble.
That has been the eau de toilette of the 2012 Razorback season, which began its decline six months before the embarrassing loss to the University of Louisiana-Monroe Warhawks in September.
Students, alumni and fans may argue that the Razorbacks can blame all of the woes on interim-head coach John L. Smith, but that is akin to blaming the janitor for the wet floor after mopping up the havoc a drunken freshman wreaked in a Pomfret bathroom. The floor will be slippery until it dries completely, and those who need to use the facilities will need to tread carefully, change their tactics or wait.
But there is no waiting in college football, and treading carefully would be viewed as weakness, so the Razorbacks ran full speed ahead onto the slippery floor, and everyone was shocked when they fell down in a heaping mess.
The confusion set in on April 10 after Bobby Petrino was fired for the inappropriate behavior with Jessica Dorrell that came to light because of his motorcycle accident with Dorrell on the first of the month.
Athletic Director Jeff Long tried to take care of the confusion by bringing in a familiar face with Smith, who had coached special teams for the Razorbacks for three years and had just accepted the head coaching position at Weber State.
The idea was to supply continuity while Long searched for a new coach to fill the position permanently, but this was not quite fair to Smith because he is not Petrino.
“I’m a different guy than Bobby, so it brings in some things that are different, but it’s not major change,” Smith said in an August interview.
Yes, Smith had coached under Petrino, but he was the special teams coordinator, not Petrino’s understudy. It would be unreasonable to expect Alabama’s special teams coordinator Bobby Williams to replace defensive genius Nick Saban, yet the Razorbacks convinced themselves that forcing continuity onto Smith’s shoulders was a good idea.
So the Hogs charged toward the slippery floor and talked of National Championship contention without hesitation.
“We want to be a National Championship football team, and I think everybody looks at us as ‘okay, this could happen.’ Now, we’re going to have to make it happen,” Smith said in August.
Then the Razorbacks played the Jacksonville State Gamecocks for the season opener. Arkansas pulled off the 49-24 win, but Jacksonville State led 14-7 in the second quarter.
The first drive of game resulted in a fumble by senior quarterback Tyler Wilson, which was recovered by the Gamecocks. Looking back, this eerily foreshadowed the rest of the season.
The Razorbacks won four of 12 games, beating only a third of their opponents.
In a twist of irony, the season will go down in the record books for more than the high loss percentage.
Seniors Tyler Wilson, Dylan Breeding and Cobi Hamilton and junior Zach Hocker broke UA records.
On the side of career records, Wilson wrote his name in the books for career completions and career passing yards, while Hamilton broke the record for career receptions and Hocker broke the record for career points by a kicker.
Breeding broke the UA record for the highest average yards per punt in a game. Hamilton also broke the UA and Southeastern Conference single game record for receiving yards during the loss to Rutgers.
A plethora of other records were broken by the senior class, yet those records were overshadowed by the win-loss record.