Was it just me, or was it the strangest night you've seen at Reynolds Razorback Stadium? Never mind that Texas won, 22-20, in a bizarre finish when the Hogs turned it over three straight times down just two points in the final quarter.
I guess the entire week was strange. It was quiet at my office on Monday and that's not normal. Then, I realized it was Labor Day and I was the only one working.
Then, there was all the talk about the possibility President Bush would attend.
It got crazier as the week progressed. There were more phone calls for tickets than I can ever remember. Just to clarify that situation, I don't have ANY season tickets. My wife has two, but she isn't giving them up, ever. Don't call.
Then there was Thursday's practice when I noticed students setting up tents outside the gate they enter at Reynolds Razorback Stadium. They wanted to make sure they were on the front row so they slept in line two nights waiting for the game.
The students were let in the stadium some four hours before the planned 7:45 p.m. kickoff. (ESPN would eventually push that kickoff back to 7:57 because the earlier game was running long.) I got to the stadium at 4 p.m. just in time to see a UA student (he had a student ID) dressed in burnt orange sent to the exit. He had the gall to try to sit in the UA section. Ushers took him out as the students chanted, "Kick him out, kick him out."
The only others treated to any louder taunts were the Texas players themselves. They were booed every time they came onto the field, including the first time they entered the stadium some three hours ahead of game time when they strolled out in street clothes.
The atmosphere was out of this world. Some have wondered why the Fayetteville crowds never matched the intensity of the Little Rock crowds. That was never a problem Saturday night. I've always maintained that if the Hogs played well in a big game in Fayetteville, the crowd would do its part. That was the case this time.
The end of the game was as bizarre as anything I can remember. I was in the process of writing my commentary for The Morning News when Matt Jones fumbled the ball back to Texas with just under three minutes to go. Had to tear that lead up and do a quick rewrite. I had Chris Balseiro kicking the game winner in the lead that was on my screen.
I started to think about what the Texas celebration might be like when the final horn sounded. After all, the Hogs had done it up right on UT's field last year in Austin. I figured Texas owed the UA faithful a nice little celebration of its own.
That wasn't on the mind of the Longhorn players. They congratulated the Arkansas players in a true show of respect, ran quickly to the 4,000 or so in burnt orange in the north end of the east stands, then jogged to their locker room.
Afterwards, Texas coach Mack Brown, perhaps more relieved than anything else, pointed out that his bunch was treated with class from start to finish. He said Arkansas fans "couldn't have been better." They were loud, he said, but that's about what he expected.
In the Broyles Center, Houston Nutt was taken to a new area for his post-game media briefing. It's usually a crowded setting with five to six TV cameras and about 20 reporters toting tape recorders. There was me and Craig O'Neill, the Little Rock TV guy, to greet Nutt.
Of course, by then it was about midnight. All of the other reporters were probably still in the press box trying to make their deadlines. Strange and bizarre. A post-game talk from the head coach in one of the most entertaining games played in the old stadium in years and years and no one was there to listen to him.
Well, I listened and asked questions. He answered them all. I asked if he knew a little more about his young team, enough to know it is better than advertised?
"Yes, we are," Nutt said. "We've got a good ball club. We just have to get them back up this week. We played a very good team tonight and went toe-to-toe with them. It hurts because we expected to win."
When did he figure out that this bunch of Hogs was better than what he expected?
"Tonight," he said. "I didn't know for sure until tonight. I know Texas is better than last year. I think we can be pretty good.
"What we know is that we have character and heart. We didn't quit. We came back after Texas had good starts both halves. We played hard all the way to the end. We just made too many mistakes."
I picked Texas to win. Part of that was a wait-and-see attitude with a young Arkansas team. I've seen them make great play after great play in practice. But is that the offense doing great things or the defense making mistakes? When you play against yourself, it's hard to tell sometimes.
I wanted to see the young offensive line against a solid defense before putting too much hype on this team. That's not fair to anyone when all you've seen them play against is New Mexico State. Now I've got a better feel for this group. Texas has speed on defense and an attack mentality. The Hogs were protecting well enough up front.
What I liked most of all was the quickness and athletic ability of this line. The blocking on the screen pass to Dedrick Poole was the best I've seen in several years on that type of play. We've been a poor screen team, and the promise over the summer was that this more athletic line would be able to bring some new dimensions to the offense, especially on screens. That looks like a possibility now.
There is nothing good that comes from a loss. The Hogs are still just 1-1, exactly where I figured they would be at this point in the season. But I do feel better about their chances to do better than the 5-6 that I've written down as their likely destination. I think there is now hope for a bowl trip, something I wasn't thinking about one month ago.
There are things to fix. The safeties must still figure out how to play the pass and the run at the same time. That sounds like an impossible task, but that's what safeties have to do in a defense that tries to play the run first with eight of the 11 players.
I've seen plenty of long passes given up this preseason in practice. Part of that is the big-play capabilities of the UA offense and an exciting bunch of wide receivers. But part of it is inexperience in the secondary.
I like Vickiel Vaughn and Lerinezo Robinson, the two starting safeties. I think they are both going to be fine players. I'm guessing both learned a lot from the Texas game. They'll get to study film and see how Texas used its tight ends and learn how to defend those plays better in the future.
They'll continue to improve in the secondary. I've seen enough of Bobby Allen, the secondary coach, over the past seven years to know he is a capable and solid coach. He'll get the maximum out of this bunch. They've got the talent, just need more seasoning. They are getting that on the run now.
You'll see a big difference from the way this secondary has played the past two weeks and how it will look in four or five more weeks.
The wide receivers are the part of this team that has impressed me the most over the past couple of weeks. I thought the Hogs would be inexperienced there and maybe not effective after losing George Wilson and Richard Smith to graduation.
I've been pleasantly surprised with the way they have played so far this season. I can remember early in August watching the Hogs playfully come onto the field before they even stretched to start the workout. Steven Harris was talking to another wideout about a story he had seen in The Sporting News with a ranking of SEC schools by position. He noted that the UA wide receivers were ranked 11th best in the SEC.
I haven't seen every group of wideouts in the SEC, but I'd tend to agree with Harris without even seeing them all. Matt Jones has said numerous times that he thinks this group of wideouts will be the SEC's best by next season.
Carlos Ousley is better than I expected. He makes plays and runs great routes. And, he can throw a nice little pass, too. I'd seen that double pass, caught by DeCori Birmingham against Texas, worked on in practice several times, but didn't know if it would be successful in a game. Obviously, Ousley is a gamer and can make things happen. Chris Baker is much improved. Cedric Washington and Harris have solid talent, too.
It's obvious that the Hogs are going to throw deep more than in the past. Matt Jones has under thrown two or three deep routes so far in the first two games. He hasn't been under throwing them in practice. I suspect that we will see him begin to hit those open post routes in front of receivers than behind them.
I was thinking about those near misses on the deep routes as I headed to my car about 1 a.m. Sunday night to try to make it through the still thick traffic to my home, I began to think about all that I'd seen over the course of the week. I began to think about what might be ahead the rest of this season.
I decided that all of that was good news. It's fun to see those plays, even if the timing was just a bit off.
I finally reached my house at about 1:30 a.m. and couldn't go to sleep. I sat in a chair thinking about what I had seen over the past week.
Then, it dawned on me that it might be the last time Arkansas played Texas in a regular-season game. I can't imagine anyone in Austin wanting to try Arkansas again. That's bizarre, too, but it might be true.
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