Heading into USC's turf next week, the University of Arkansas football team knows it is going to be in for some adversity going up against the two-time defending national champions and current No. 1 Trojans.
But one guesses they sure didn't expect to face as much a week earlier from Vanderbilt in their own house.
Jay Cutler's 6-yard touchdown pass to Marlon White with 30 seconds left completed a Commodore second-half rally from 11 points down and gave them a 28-24 SEC opener win over Arkansas before 68,215 shocked patrons at Reynolds Razorback Stadium.
The Razorback crowd seethed at several calls in the fourth quarter - from the refs and Arkansas - to no no avail.
"This was a disappointing loss," Arkansas head coach Houston Nutt said. "We had our chances, but let some opportunities slip away...There were some questionable calls, but that's life. You've got to be able to overcome those."
It certainly was a huge win for Vanderbilt and head coach Bobby Johnson.
"We struggled in the first half and they did a great job of pressuring us," Johnson said. "We finally settled down and Cutler did a great job and Cutler made some unbelievable throws. He was really confident. He is the guy I want on my team in those situations."
Cutler, an all-SEC pick who was stymied for almost the entire first three quarters, came alive after his team fell behind 24-13 on Roberth Johnson's 16-yard TD pass to Peyton Hillis with 30 seconds left in the third quarter.
The Vandy QB, who was 23-of-45 passing for 278 yards and 2 touchdowns, then hit White with a 20-yard pass early in the fourth quarter and then the game winner with 26 seconds showing on the clock.
Arkansas sophomore quarterback Robert Johnson was 17-of-26 passing for 204 yards and two touchdowns and senior running back De'Arrius Howard rushed for a career-high 139 yards.
"This is a sick feeling," Howard said.
But Johnson's only inteception of the night on the next posession allowed Vanderbilt (2-0, 1-0) to begin celebrating with their small contingent of fans while winning their first two road games for the first time since 1999.
Arkansas (1-1, 0-1) jumped out to a 10-0 lead early in the second quarter, but missed on a couple of opportunities to increase that lead, lost momentum as Vandy would rally for 13 straight points.
The home team found itself down 13-10 when Vanderbilt kicker Bryant Handfeldt booted a 27-yarder with 11:55 remaining in the third quarter.
After an exchange of punts, the Razorbacks then reclaimed the lead by marching 70 yards in 8 plays with the big play of the drive a 22-yard pass from Johnson to Hillis that set Arkansas up at the Vanderbilt 9.
Howard than took it 13 yards to the Vandy 6 and after he lost a yard, Johnson zipped a pass to sophomore Marcus Monk in the end zone for a 7-yard touchdown that coupled with Chris Balsiero's PAT surged Arkansas ahead 17-13 with 6:05 left in the third quarter.
Although the Razorbacks failed to increase that advantage after a Michael Coe interception, the home team would take their next possession to the house again with a 5-play, 47-yard jaunt that was capped by Johnson's screen pass that he caught and then bulled over defenders into the end zone for a 16-yard scoring pass.
That touchdown came with just 30 seconds left in the third quarter and Balseiro was true again on the PAT to give Arkansas a 24-13 lead heading into the fourth quarter.
Although the Arkansas defense did give up a 71-yard run in the second quarter, the Razorback defenders did a commendable job on Cutler for the first three quarters.
But Cutler did show why he is so highly regarded and an NFL prospect by leading Vanderbilt back into the game, staying in the pocket and completing a pair of big screen passes right as he was getting plowed over.
He would end up connecting with White on a 20-yard touchdown and Vanderbilt got it to 24-21 when Cutler then connected on for a two-point conversion pass with 12:44 remaining in the game.
Cutler and his teammates then started a drive that got them into Arkansas territory at the 42, but two big sacks by true freshman Freddie Fairchild for 10 and senior Desmond Sims for five yards forced a 46-yard field goal attempt.
Arkansas took a timeout right before Hanfeldt connected on his first attempt, but then missed the second one wide right.
The Razorbacks failed to move the chains giving Cutler one last shot with 2:22 remaining at Vanderbilt's 24.
He completed a fourth-down pass to keep the drive alive and got his team to the Arkansas 20 with :45 seconds remaining.
Randy Kelly was then called for pass interference with 30 seconds left putting Vandy on the 6 yard line.
Johnson, who had passed for just 88 yards in a 49-17 win over Missouri State a weekend ago, made his case as the best quarterback in this particular game by completing 17 of 26 passes for 204 yards and the two scores.
He certainly looked good early Arkansas' offense came out of the chute clicking on all cylinders with an 8-play, 86-yard march through the Vandy defense on the Razorbacks' opening possession.
That drive included Johnson passes of 12 to tight end Mason Templeton and 19 to Monk and five runs by Hillis, but was then capped by Howard's 39-yard dash on his first carry of the game.
Balsiero's PAT pushed Arkansas ahead 7-0 less than four minutes into the contest.
It could have been a two-touchdown lead on the Razorbacks' second possession which began at their own 10, one that was even more impressive considering it covered 89 yards in 18 plays.
But the Commodores kept that final yard to themselves by refusing to let Hillis gain entry to the end zone on three straight attempts.
"They slammed it down our throats a couple of times," Johnson said. "But the fourth down stop in the first quarter was huge. It would have really been hard to come back from being down fourteen to zero."
Arkansas did push its advantage to 10-0 early on in the second quarter on Balseiro's 37-yard field goal after a six-play, 37-yard drive - that would have started at the Vandy 10 if a nice punt return by Coe had not been negated by a penalty.
The Razorbacks then helped Vanderbilt out considerably with a pair of third down-and-long defensive penalties - a hold and an interference call that got the Commodores in position to score on Cutler's 1-yard leap where he got the ball into the end zone.
It looked like Vanderbilt would then take the lead when tailback Cassen Jackson-Garrison got loose into the secondary and shed several defenders along the way to a 71-yard run.
Darius Vinnett kept him from scoring, but the game was then deadlocked 10-10 on Hahnfeldt's 27-yard chip shot field goal.
Cutler was just 5-of-16 passing at halftime for 41 yards and had just six yards rushing, but Arkansas' 5 penatlies for 55 yards helped Vanderbilt considerably before the break.
Johnson hit on 8 of his first 10 passes, but then went just 2-of-8 before the rest of intermission to stand 10-of-18 for 114 yards at halftime.
Hillis finished the game with 15 carries for 39 yards and 4 catches for 60 yards.
Arkansas and USC will hook up next Saturday night in a 9:30 p.m. Central time game in Los Angeles that will be telecast nationally by Fox Sports Net.
QUOTES WILL BE ADDED AFTER POSTGAME INTERVIEWS
o o o
Vanderbilt 28, Arkansas 24
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