Collins to work toward increasing visitation to Arkansas by groups and promoting the state's appeal
Three seasons ago, my hideous mug got splashed around ESPN a bit.
My postmortem of the infamous Louisiana-Monroe loss was headlined "Worst Loss Ever" and my smirking visage was right below it. And when the Hogs "played" Alabama and Rutgers thereafter, getting drubbed in due course, the montage of area headlines about that gridiron version of the Hindenburg was made part of the broadcast.
I received no royalties, only snotty text messages from alleged friends about how I needed a haircut. We'll get back to this.
This week, I guess it's time to go full circle, because Arkansas improbably turned years of ill fortune on its ear in one glorious afternoon in by-damned Oxford. I don't know if the literal converse of the prior headline — "Best Win Ever" — would be on point, because the program does have a pretty proud history of momentous wins to go along with its ledger of unfathomable, soul-crushing collapses. Be that as it may, how can you argue that a 53-52 overtime thriller against a hated, ranked rival in its backyard could be characterized much differently?
All elements of that manner of superlative victory were indisputably there, beginning with the requisite miracle.
Picture the Sean Bean meme here emblazoned with this text: "One Does Not Simply Defeat the Rebels by the Conventional." It applied full bore as nightfall descended on Vaught-Hemingway Stadium. The Hogs got pushed off their heels in the opening frame of overtime, similar to how the extra frames against Auburn commenced, but didn't exactly soldier forward in response. A penalty, sack and incompletions left them with the fourth-and-25 situation that no playbook employs. Brandon Allen, orchestrating the offense at some sort of mythic level, got great protection from a three-man rush and fired across the field to Hunter Henry, who predictably was both open and well short of the sticks.
When Henry's legs got wrapped by a Rebel defender, he was heady, flicking the ball well behind him and skyward before slumping to the turf. Then Dan Skipper alertly extended the tallest frame in college football to tip it slightly. And that's when the best possible man on the field to scoop it up did just that. Alex Collins fielded it cleanly off the bounce, curled upfield behind a wall of blockers, and meandered all the way inside the 10. Collins was so caught up in the moment himself that he vainly attempted a lateral to Dominique Reed but failed in that endeavor; nevertheless, Reed was able to flop onto the loose ball to secure it.
Was this bewildering play the birth of redemption for Clint Stoerner's fumble in Knoxville after 17 years of gestation? Hard to figure the cosmic elements out at this juncture, but know this: Just as the late Brandon Burlsworth's and Stoerner's feet had to imperfectly collide to trigger the ultimate travesty of this fan's lifetime, Henry's wherewithal, Skipper's fingertips and Collins' alertness all had to mesh precisely. And they did. But Tennessee had work yet to do after that turnover back in 1998, and Arkansas emerged still having first-and-goal and a seven-point deficit to address.
That's when the cameras got a shot at Allen, in the throes of a Jordanesque zone that no Hog quarterback heretofore has realized, flashing a slight grin through his facemask. And both that loose and relaxed approach and that facemask came into play again immediately. Allen launched a strike to Drew Morgan for his school-record sixth touchdown pass two plays later, and with the Razorback defense reeling from missed tackles all day, Bret Bielema knew he couldn't chance another marathon affair. He went for two, the correct call in that circumstance given the house money he had just pocketed, and Allen got wrapped up trying to roll right and find a target. Game over?
Nope. Marquis Haynes yanked Allen down by that facemask. And, given the benefit of an extra yard-and-a-half toward the plane of the end zone, Bielema sent Allen back out there one more time to win the game, and the senior delivered. Allen hesitated with Morgan coming in motion, then assertively bolted right and vaulted into the end zone.
Henry exhorted the healthy Hog fan contingent in the stands, Allen remained on his back taking it all in with trainers at the ready in case he was dinged up, and Bielema got a real "erotic" win that made the Texas Bowl victory seem profoundly asexual. It was controlled but perfect pandemonium, all for a team, a coach and especially a quarterback that richly deserved it.
Allen's 442 passing yards and six scores, plus the winning two-point run, only tells a fraction of the story of the greatest single-game effort by a Hog quarterback ever. Statistically it was award-worthy stuff; aesthetically, though, it took on a different dimension altogether. The senior is not only playing his best football ever, but he's doing it with the kind of assertiveness and self-worth that seemed unimaginable even a season ago. No passes are in peril or so inaccurate as to warrant in-home cursing anymore. The young man has taken a once-deflated team and demanded that it not quit on him, and that team has responded in kind. There were a lot of all-stars in north Mississippi on Nov. 7, 2015, but none shone brighter than No. 10 in white. 'Twas a thing of beauty, folks.
Now a 5-4, 3-2 team looks capable of doing anything at all, no matter how great or how small. And LSU is fresh off getting rocked off its center by Alabama, a bit vulnerable now. And the Hogs get to finish with two in Fayetteville for what had better be an appreciative sellout crowd both weekends.
And best of all, I picked this joyous occasion for a new, smirk-free Glamour Shot. All is right with this cardinal-and-white world.