Jay Cutler gobbled up Reggie Herring's zone blitzes, dime packages like he was the Southeastern Conference's best and most experienced quarterback. Time after time, he threw up a soft floater into an area that had been vacated by a defender and it settled gently into a receiver's hands.
Should we be surprised? Nope. That was the pre-game thought on Vanderbilt's senior signal caller and he did not dissapoint.
But, make no mistake, the Arkansas secondary, supposedly much improved, made him look like super man in a 28-24 loss. The Hogs made some plays and batted some balls down, even got a rare interception against Cutler.
But even if you wipe away some questionable holding and pass interference penalties flagged against the UA secondary, that group still was in position to make a play or two that might have reversed the outcome.
"He is an NFL prospect, just like we said," said Herring, the Arkansas defensive coordinator. "We got pressure and forced him to do what we wanted and that was throw some balls up. You saw it. He was on his heels and threw up some goat balls. They came down with them and we never made any of those plays.
"You want him to throw some of those up like that. We had our nickel and dime packages in those (last two drives). We had our best athletes out there and he whipped them."
Safety Reggie Kelly said, "He did just throw some up. Jump balls. That's what they were. You want to get that situation and we made him look good. We have to get some of those. They got them all it seemed and that's our fault."
It left players in the Arkansas dressing room shaking their heads in disbelief. De'Arrius Howard wanted to crawl under his locker after the Hogs couldn't produce on either side of the ball in the fourth quarter.
"I just can't believe it," Howard said. "I can't believe we let this one slip away. It's a real, real sick thing."
Slip away is the right way to describe what happened to the Hogs after Cutler erased a 24-13 Arkansas lead.
Arkansas did some things right on offense, just not enough right to put the game away. Quarterback Robert Johnson made more plays than he did against Missouri State in the season opener. He just didn't make enough when the Hogs needed to move the chains with a lead when the field position was favorable.
The key play may have been a third-and-two scramble that lost yardage just after a 44-yard Felix Jones kickoff return. Johnson started right with thoughts on a called play-action pass with 11 minutes to go. After reversing his field, it looked like a sharp cut might produce the yardage for the first down.
"They did have it covered and I had to run," Johnson said. "And, there was a lane to cut it inside when I started back to the left. When I bounced it outside, that was wrong. I messed that one up and it was a big play in the game. We needed to get some points there and run more clock. I remember that one. I kept going wide and there might have been something if I cut it hard to the middle."
It was clear that the Arkansas players second guessed many of the calls made by the officials. They also questioned the several instances when the replay official in the press box elected to review calls, but did not change any of them, including a completed pass that may have bounced.
"That was tough, alright," said Kelly. "There was a pass interference at the end. First, it was uncatchable. Neither of us were going to get it. And, there really wasn't any contact. He didn't do anything to me and I didn't do nothing to him. We both went up and it was way over us. I don't know what game he was watching on that one."
Herring wasn't buying any of that.
"First, you can't comment on the officials," Herring said. "They call ‘em and they aren't going to change them. I've learned that. We had opportunities still after that."
Southern Cal, the nation's top-ranked team, looms next.
"We have to grow up and grow up fast," Herring said. "Tonight the defense had a chance to get it done. Face the music. We didn't."
Commentary: Vandy's Playmaker
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