State of the Hogs: Gut Shot

Arkansas was knocking at the door, but Texas A&M slammed it shut with a flurry of long pass plays to put another rung on the long SEC losing streak. It could have been different, but the Hogs lost a chance at a three-touchdown lead on a gut shot to open the fourth quarter.

ARLINGTON, Texas – When there was a chance to put a foot on the throat of the SEC losing streak, Arkansas tripped.

To be clear, the Razorbacks tripped themselves. The long leg of left tackle Dan Skipper was the trip, erasing Jonathan Williams' 55-yard run to the Texas A&M 1-yard line, erasing the chance to move three scores ahead of the sixth-ranked Aggies.

Arkansas coach Bret Bielema talked about the mentality of “putting your foot on the throat” of the opposition to put away a victory. He mentioned it again after the Aggies roared back for a 35-28 overtime victory Saturday night in AT&T Stadium.

In a one-one-one moment after the interviews, Bielema thought that's what was happening as Williams broke tackles on the way to the Aggie end zone. Instead, the play was wiped out and A&M was given new life and they extended the UA streak in SEC play to 14 straight, 10 of them in Bielema's watch.

Bielema thought the Hogs were about to crush the Aggies as Williams set sail. The foot was on the throat, oh so close to taking the air out of the Aggies, outplayed for three quarters in all phases, as much by the UA defense as anywhere.

“Yes, that's where I thought we were going,” Bielema said. “I sure did.”

Skipper's foul was on the back side of the play, not a factor in Williams slipping through the Aggies on a fake wide receiver reverse. Bielema had cautioned the 6-10 Skipper after the Auburn game when he drew a personal foul for a block below the waist on a pick six.

Skipper's reputation is clear. He plays to the whistle, endearing himself to coaches and infuriating defenders. But sometimes, he goes too far. Bielema told him his reputation might catch up to him at some point. Did it on that play?

“It could have,” Bielema said. “People look for you.”

I was reminded -- in a bad way -- of the clinching play for the Hogs two weeks before in Lubbock. At the end of Alex Collins' 84-yard run to put away Texas Tech, a Red Raider defender punched Skipper below the waist in the end zone. Skipper called it a shot to the "nether regions."

This time, the shot the Hogs took was also below the belt. Soon momentum was on the other sideline and the Hogs could not hold off the Aggies.

It could have been just the opposite. The Hogs were cruising at 28-14 with Williams rolling down the field with the potential of a three TD lead. But, just as they lost points in the first half when Skipper was called for a holding penalty on Brandon Allen's 38-yard bomb to Hunter Henry, the play came back.

What did Bielema think when he saw the Williams run open up?

“Great call,” Bielema said of the play set up by offensive coordinator Jim Chaney. “I couldn't understand there would be a flag on the back side. The guys up stairs said it was a good call, legit.

“I put myself in that same scenario. I got to take full responsibility for that play. There is just no room for that to happen on the play. It's got to be run clean.”

Skipper left the field with both hands holding the top rung of his face mask, shaking his head almost every step of the way.

Bielema thought there were other plays that cost the Hogs, but not beating yourself is one of his key winning edges in the program.

“As a head coach, I have to coach him better,” Bielema said. “With Dan, there are a lot of positives on and off the field. That's part of one of the things that can be a life lesson.

“Obviously, it's a huge teaching point. There's no room for it.

“We talk about earning everything. We earned that penalty.”

The Hogs had other chances to win the game. They drove from their 33 to the Aggie 27 before John Henson missed a 44-yard field goal with 2:29 left that would have made it a two-score lead again.

That was too much wiggle room for A&M quarterback Kenny Hill. He hit touchdown passes of 86 and 59 yards, the last at 2:08 in regulation. Then, there was a 25-yarder to Malcome Kennedy to open the overtime.

“It looked like a flare,” safety Alan Turner said of the final A&M touchdown. “We had our eyes in the wrong spot, including me. We bit down on the flare and turned (Kennedy) loose.”

It left no one in the middle of the field. Hill had only to loft the ball over middle linebacker Brooks Ellis for the touchdown.

Bielema said he turned to look at the eyes of the defensive backs on all three of those plays. He saw the same thing each time, eyes turned the wrong way.

“Defensively, we knew we couldn't give up the big plays,” he said. “On the two deep balls, our eyes were wrong. Eyes tell you everything. They can turn into lying eyes. The part that's exciting, we can eradicate that.”

It wasn't much solace for the disappointed Razorbacks.

“We feel like we gave one away,” said A. J. Derby, the tight end who caught a 44-yard Allen bomb for a 28-14 lead when the Aggies sold out on third-and-1.

“We played good football and had them right where we wanted them. We just left too many points on the field. The penalties hurt.

“We felt like we were about to put the killer blow on them. People talked about (A&M) being a final four (playoff) team. We felt like we belonged on the field with them and had we were right there. We just left too much off the board.”

Allen lost a center exchange with Mitch Smothers for the only Arkansas turnover, early in the game. He hit 15 of 27 passes for 199 yards. But, there was nothing in the fourth quarter. After rushes of 12, 17 and 17 yards to set up a first down at the A&M 31, there was another fumbled snap, this time with freshman center Frank Ragnow recovered for a 2-yard loss.

“We got a decent drive, but we stalled,” Allen said. “It comes down to playing clean and hurting ourselves. We got a big play called back and we made mistakes.”

Allen didn't say anything to Skipper after the penalty.

“I never worry about Skipper,” Allen said. “He's as hard of a worker as we have. There was no doubt that he would bounce back. I know he's taking it hard. We all are taking it hard.

“It's tough to lose, tough. We played so well, but we made critical mistakes. We talk about it all the time, how are you going to bounce back from adversity. We couldn't bounce back.”

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