This Officiating Crew Blew It

Arkansas coach Houston Nutt was not mad. Not angry. Not upset.

Furious fits.

After the bizarre 35-32 loss against South Carolina here that likely punts the Razorbacks (3-5, 1-4 in the Southeastern Conference) from minor bowl contention, a shaken Nutt addressed the media in a small nook across from the visitors' locker room Saturday afternoon.

He had tried damned hard to forget about the insane call (with some 11:30 left in the first quarter) throughout the rest of this wacky game.

But after it, the justified fury came charging back to the forefront.

Nutt was visibly upset, but kept his control in front of a small group of reporters. Behind closed doors – and off the record – he made his true feelings obvious.

"They made a terrible mistake," said Nutt, on the record.

"They" were referee Matt Austin, umpire Wilbur Hacket, linesman Conrad Carney, line judge Michael Shirey, back judge Timothy Smith, field judge Charles Showalt and side judge Stanley Dixon, and they compromised one of the worst officiating crews these tired ol' eyes have ever seen.

On a beautiful, sky-blue day, this bunch saw little right.

Arkansas had a chance to, if not blow South Carolina away, at least do some early crowing against the Gamecocks. Really, it's hard to imagine the Hogs giving up a 14-0 lead, which is just what they should – no, would – have had.

Leading 7-0 because Vickiel Vaughn guessed perfectly on a Dondrial Pinkins pass, picking it off at the Arkansas 48 and zipping in stride to the right for a touchdown, the Hogs kicked off in front of 78,800 irritated folks in Williams-Brice Stadium.

South Carolina's Brian Brownlee, a tight end by trade, tried fielding a short kick at his 22-yard line. The ball slipped right through his hands and from his belly and Arkansas' Michael Grant alertly pounced on it.

Jubilant Hogs went wild as the South Carolina defense trotted back onto the field.

But hold it. You kidding us?

The press box, even though stuffed with plenty of South Carolina homers, was awash with shock.

Claiming an "inadvertent whistle" by Carney (according to Nutt), the play was disallowed, the kickoff repeated.

That time Brownlee handled it, albeit barely.

Did Nutt hear a whistle from this crew that called 15 penalties for 114 yards (the bulk of that mess in the first half) and allowed South Carolina players to flagrantly shove Hogs after a load of first-half plays?

"No, I didn't hear any," Nutt said. "(The officials after the game) said they feel horrible about it."

If the ball went directly through the arms of Brownlee, to the turf and into the arms of Grant, when was the whistle supposedly blown? Surely not before Brownlee failed to field it.

"That's what I was asking," Nutt said. "(Carney) said about the time the ball hit his hands, he blew the whistle. That means everything's dead on the spot.

"I, I ... that's awful."

After fielding its first kickoff, South Carolina methodically drove while testy Hogs tried to separate the Gamecocks from their black helmets. When the Gamecocks reached the Arkansas 23, Nutt called timeout.

"I just wanted to settle everybody down, and that was me, too," Nutt said. "I was probably the worst one upset about (that sorry whistle call), and I could tell our players were still mad.

"So I wanted to make sure our players, ‘Hey, that's over and done. They made a mistake. Let's get back. Let's keep our composure and that's going to start with me.'"

This was not a game for that. Job, that remarkably patient fellow from the Bible, would've failed this test:

* A Peyton Hillis fumble caused by Marque Hall led to a 57-yard Ko Simpson TD return and 21-17 South Carolina lead with 9:43 left in the third quarter.

* A terribly underthrown Matt Jones pass was picked off on the next series by Taqiy Muhammad, who returned the ball 34 yards to the Arkansas 23, setting up a 5-yard quarterback draw from Syvelle Newton for 28-17.

* After Arkansas rallied to within 28-25 early in the fourth quarter and claimed a 32-28 lead after a De'Arrius Howard 7-yard plunge with 3:24 left, the Gamecocks easily drove 62 yards, finishing it with 1:09 left on a Newton to Troy Williamson 14-yard dink pass that included a Vaughn whiff of a tackle attempt at the 10-yard line.

* After taking over on the Arkansas 37, Jones scrambled for 17 yards, putting the Hogs within sniffing distance of a field goal that would push this into overtime. But on the next play, Jones inexplicably chunked the ball toward the goal-line, where three Gamecocks waited on it. Simpson intercepted.

Game over.

It's a testimony to the Hogs – most of whom were smeared in grass and supremely dejected – that they continued to fight through adversity, much as South Carolina (lost Pinkins late in the first half; had a fake punt option blocked, etc.) did.

Arkansas had its chances and gave too many away to a decent team in Keystone Cops style.

One call did not decide this game.

Or did it?

"It's awful," Nutt said.

It was.

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