State of the Hogs: Mental Toughness
Toughness. Specifically, toughness in the fourth quarter.
That's what Arkansas coaches have talked about for most of 2010. They began hitting on that note just after the Liberty Bowl.
That was still the theme after No. 1 Alabama ruled in the fourth quarter in a 24-20 rally Saturday at Reynolds Razorback Stadium.
Start with the first play of the fourth quarter. And you can end there if you want. It was that big.
Arkansas held a 20-14 lead, but the momentum had begun to swing with the Crimson Tide rolling 74 yards in eight plays to get its second touchdown of the game with 44 seconds left in the third quarter. Arkansas tailback Knile Davis finished the third quarter with runs of 9 and 6 yards to give the Hogs a first down at its own 36.
That's when the Arkansas crowd went crazy. They knew it was winning time. The 76,808 in the stadium roared. Arkies all over the planet watching knew it was time for the Hogs to respond. Ryan Mallett had Joe Adams coming across the middle. The play was a minimal gain with Adams getting a sling out of bounds by DeQuan Menzie.
Flags flew. Was it 15 yards against the Tide cornerback? Yep. But there were two flags. As Adams went down, twisted by the late hit five yards out of bounds, he grabbed Menzie's face mask.
Instead of a 3 yard gain, then 15 more to the Alabama 49 and a first down, the penalties off set. The Hogs had second-and-7 on that first play of the fourth quarter. There would not be an Arkansas first down in the fourth quarter until Mallett had thrown two interceptions and the Tide was leading with 3:18 left.
There was one more big penalty with the Hogs still up. On second-and-10 from their 20 with around five minutes to play. Davis went around left end for a nice gainer, one of the best Arkansas first-and-10 plays of the final quarter.
DeMarcus Love was flagged for holding on the seal block. It made it second-and-20 from the 20. Two plays later Mallett tried to erase third-and-11 with a deep throw down the middle for Childs. Robert Lester stepped up, returned the interception 33 yards to the 12 and the rest was easy.
The heat seemed to be on Mallett afterwards. He had three interceptions, two in the final period. He took it hard. He was still in his uniform when he came to the media room 20 minutes after the game. His teammates that came at the same time were in warmups after their showers.
"He's really down," Garrick McGee said of Mallett. "He's hard on himself."
McGee is the quarterback coach and offensive coordinator. He said Mallett's play "was not good enough, especially when the game was on the line." He was talking about the fourth quarter when Mallett made the two errors and the Tide pounced on them. Mallett said he was trying to throw the ball away on the last one, but didn't get it out of bounds. Childs wasn't open on the first one. It was a force.
"We were not mentally tough enough to finish the game," McGee said. "We had dropped balls. We had penalties. We made turnovers. We didn't finish the game.
"Alabama played best when the game was on the line. That's why they are good. That's where we have to get."
Arkansas coach Bobby Petrino said many of the same things, then added the most important note of the post-game session.
"We are lucky to get an off week right now," Petrino said. "Ryan is real hard on himself and we get (the off week) at the right time."
It was such a wonderful start. The Hogs had the Tide right where they wanted them for such a long period. The first half -- except for perhaps a Mallett interception in the only foiled red zone opportunity on the beautiful day -- was as close to script as can be expected. The Hogs took a 17-7 lead to the break on Mallett's 1-yard sneak with 0:15 of the second quarter clock.
"It doesn't really matter what we did in the first half because we didn't do enough in the second," said Willy Robinson, defensive coordinator. "We have got to be tougher in the fourth quarter.
"Yes, we stepped up and got some turnovers in the first half. We couldn't produce them in the second half. Give credit to Alabama. They did some things to effect our pressures with formations in the second half. We couldn't get in position to pressure them in the second half. I guess you can put that on me.
"We weren't consistent enough in the second half of getting off the field. I could have made some better calls. There were times we had control, but there was ebb and flow and we didn't do enough."
Was he pleased with the overall effort of the defense?
"I'm not going to say that," he said. "The answer is no because we aren't going to accept losing. So I'm going to say no."
Mallett didn't see anything to be happy about. "There are no moral victories," he said. "I don't ever know anything good that comes from losing a game. We lost.
"I'm hard on myself, yes. You are not going to find anyone who is harder on me than me. Any loss I take personal. I didn't play very well. We started out great. We should have beat them. We didn't."
Arkansas running back Ronnie Wingo said, "You'd expect a great player to be disappointed, so for him to be down is understandable. You know he'll bounce back. All great players take it hard, then they come back. It's just a matter of all 11 of us getting on the same page so it's easier on him. You all have to make a few more plays." What changed at halftime?
"Nothing," McGee said. "We just didn't make as many plays. There were some things there. They didn't do so much as we didn't make plays."
Mallett said the Tide defense did make some adjustments.
"There were a few more pressures they brought, but really it was just nothing that we couldn't handle," he said. "We just didn't execute." Petrino said it was a matter of making too many mistakes.
"The penalties hurt us," he said. "You can't get behind in the stakes. And we didn't get them off the field when they had the third-and-mediums on their long drive."
Petrino didn't harp on the specific penalties. Asked about the call on Adams, he said, "They called it a double foul, a late hit on them out of bounds and then a face mask on Joe."
He said the running game was better, but not good enough. The Hogs netted just 13 rushing yards on 7 tries in the second half.
"We did move it somewhat better, but we didn't pop any runs," he said. "We couldn't get the chunk yards. We had a nice run and then got the penalty."
It's not the end of the line for the Hogs. So much of the season remains. But give the Hogs their first mental test of the season.
"I'm proud of the way we prepared," Petrino said. "I am proud of our players and coaches. I am proud of the way they competed. But we couldn't get it done.
"It's going to be tough, but we have to get over it. It's going to be hard. We put a lot into this, a lot of emotion and a lot of adrenaline. One thing I tell our players anytime you have ... adversity, it doesn't build character. It reveals it."
Hopefully, the Hogs come out of it tougher.
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