Maybe Best Team Won't Win

Tracy Rocker talked about playing LSU earlier this week. The interviewer asked him about the high level of talent Arkansas would face in Little Rock today.

"They are good at every spot," said Rocker, the Arkansas defensive line coach. "What we'll see from LSU will be as close as you get to playing against an NFL team in college."

Defensive end Jeb Huckeba had just spent an hour watching LSU tape when this writer reminded him of his coach's remarks. He agreed with Rocker, calling the Tigers highly athletic and intensely physical in every spot. He said the Tigers have "the best players in America." Then, Huckeba, a UA team captain made a comment that sent chills down my neck.

"It's a great, great challenge, but I expect us to win this game," Huckeba said. "We plan on going down there and getting a victory and playing in a bowl game. It's going to be a war and we will be ready to play.

"They have great, great players. We know that. But, I'm telling you we are going down there to give a great effort and win that game."

Why? How? Isn't Matt Jones still ailing at quarterback? Didn't the Tigers win the national title last year and return a lot more starters than the Hogs?

Huckeba just grinned. He couldn't provide many answers to those questions, just that he expects to win.

The better team doesn't always win. Games aren't played on paper. Funny things happen in football.

I remember the time Oklahoma went to play a juggernaut Nebraska team in Lincoln to end the season. The undefeated Cornhuskers were favored and had better players at almost every position. They were playing at home. The Sooners lacked their usual swagger and even noted during the week that it was clear that Nebraska had the best players and best team.

Scott Hill, then a player and later an assistant coach for Barry Switzer, was asked to deliver the pregame prayer. He closed with this plea, "Lord, don't let the best team win." Oklahoma won.

That was a very good Oklahoma team, much better than this Arkansas team. The Hogs should not beat LSU, but there are some things that could greatly benefit them against the Tigers.

LSU has nothing much to gain by winning. The Tigers are probably going to the Cotton Bowl either way. About the most interesting thing the Tigers have been pointing to this week has been Houston Nutt's perfect record in Little Rock. They would like to end that streak. Rest assured, that is not a thought that will promote effort for four quarters.

Arkansas has much more to motivate. These seniors want to make it seven straight bowl trips under Nutt. They want to avoid Nutt's first losing season. And, they are looking for one notable scalp to validate their season.

Aside from the intangible stuff concerning the magic of War Memorial Stadium, there are some real reasons to think Arkansas might win. LSU's offense is geared more to running the ball than to the pass. The UA defense isn't great in either area, but can roll into an eight-man front to stop the run a lot easier than it can cover the pass.

If Jones has some magic left in those gimpy hamstrings, the Hogs could win. Maybe that's what Huckeba knew this week when he delivered that chilling line. Maybe that's why he expects to be bowling again this year.

"I know that Matt will make some plays, if not running then passing," Huckeba said. "I don't worry about Matt. I just worry about doing my job, playing physical and hard.

"This should be a fun game for the linemen. This is the kind of football you look forward to playing. I love to hit. When I was at linebacker, I loved the isolation play. You block everyone else and leave the linebacker and the fullback. The tailback cuts off that block from the fullback. If you are the linebacker, you just try to blow up the fullback, break his shoulder. I loved those plays."

That's the kind of mentality that will permeate the field on Friday. The meek should stay clear.

The play in the trenches promises to be intense no matter who has the ball. Both coaching staffs are telling their players, we plan to put it in the laps of the offensive line and knock the other guys off the ball.

Hence, an old-fashioned slobber knocker awaits us. I can almost guarantee that the game will not be artistic. Odd things will happen with funny bounces of the ball because of the defensive pressure applied, all of that because of the hitting wars which develop between the tackles.

That usually means there will be a few turnovers. LSU leads the SEC in turnovers allowed. If that trend continues and Jones can deliver an antiseptic performance, perhaps it will be a day when the team with the best players doesn't win.

Clay Henry is the publisher of Hawgs Illustrated, a Stephens Media Group

publication. His column appears each Friday.

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