Arkansas' Defensive Blame Game
Senior linebacker Marcus Whitmore knelt all alone on the right part of the Arkansas sideline, his head down, his right leg shaking. Sophomore linebacker Desmond Sims squatted to join him and the two just froze there, forhead-to-forehead.
That, too, was symbolic. This team didn't near Southeastern Conference superiority, but it remained close through the 5-6 campaign.
Lots was lost Friday.
The season, the flash and dash of the quarterback Matt Jones era, bowl hopes and coach Houston Nutt's perfect postseason streak and record here – ended for Arkansas on a appropriately windy, dreary day-after-Thanksgiving afternoon in front of 55,829, many of whom were not such super troopers, in War Memorial Stadium.
"It's tough because we didn't get it done today and that's something that I really wanted to do as a senior – to get coach Nutt his seventh bowl game," said senior defensive end Jeb Huckeba.
In case you weren't keeping count:
LSU 43, Arkansas 14.
LSU 468 yards, Arkansas 247.
LSU with the ball 34 minutes, 6 seconds. Arkansas, 25:54.
Look, you can't gain Independence (as in the bowl the Hogs would've been invited to with a win) if you don't put up a defensive fight.
Tigers were wide-open much of the day, particularly during the 80-yard TD drive in the last four minutes of the first half that gave LSU a 27-14 lead, and they bowled over Arkansas for 295 rushing yards.
It's not like Arkansas didn't take some swings. The Hogs had four sacks of big and speedy LSU quarterback Marcus Randall and stuck the Tigers for 43 yards in losses. It wasn't so much a lack of heart, or perhaps even talent, as it was a lack of experience and depth.
Speculation has swirled in bars, restaurants, living rooms, offices and even churches for, uh, Pete's sake, that Arkansas defensive coordinator Dave Wommack will be the fall guy for this losing season that most everyone expected.
With a silly-young bunch (two true freshmen, a first-year sophomore and first-year junior starting along with only two seniors) to work with this season, such thoughts are out of bounds. Seems to us only Arkansas athletic director Frank Broyles would force Wommack to pack, which would not be a fair move.
"I don't know yet," said Nutt when asked if he'll re-evaluate his staff. "I'm not thinking about that right now. I'm really not. I've got to talk to coach Broyles, and he evaluates me.
"I just don't know how to answer that right now because my mind is not on that and we just played a ballgame and it hasn't even been 20 minutes after the game. These guys laid their hearts out there.
"A lot of guys were playing that probably should be redshirted. We knew that. When guys like Batman (Ahmad Carroll) and Lawrence Richardson (both starting corners who left after their junior year last season) ... when half your secondary goes out early ... plus the 10 scholarships that you're missing (over five years because of NCAA sanctions) ...
"(The Tigers are) the defending national champions. And we had them right there at 20-14, and they wore us down.
"(Wommack) did a good job. The things that he did and the things that we had ... a little bit short-handed.
"We all want to win more."
By the time Jones' fourth-and-13 pass from the LSU 17 flittered off the fingertips of Steven Harris' fingers in the left corner of the end zone as the last third-quarter seconds ticked away, the Tigers had a 34-14 death grip on the Hogs and SUVloads of Arkansas fans, usually so supportive here, plowed their way to the parking lots.
Granted, it was hard to watch, no matter the amount of coffee.
Still hampered by the right hamstring and groin muscle pulls that have made him mortal four of the last six games, Jones lost 10 yards on 11 carries and completed just 12 of 29 passes for 152 yards for two touchdowns with two costly interceptions.
"LSU's a good team, defending national champions," Jones said. "They came out there and played hard, played well. That's just how it is."
Bad way for such a great player to go out, sitting through the end of this with senior holder/quarterback/coach-in-training Dowell Loggains on a bench.
"Matt's on one leg," Nutt said. "And I know we could've played better if Matt had been healthy. I know we could. There were some things that we could've done that would've been better, the score would've been much better had Matt been full-speed."
Perhaps. But the fact is, as predicted by all but the most unrealistic of Hogs fans, Arkansas finished in the back of the SEC pack. As the Tigers clearly demonstrated, the Hogs are not yet back in LSU's league, particularly defensively.
"Boy, their depth is just so good," said Nutt of the Tigers, his head shaking.
This season, Arkansas' wasn't.
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