AUBURN, Ala. -- Assignments are made at Sports Illustrated based on perception. For this Saturday at Jordan-Hare Stadium, the perception was that No. 2 Auburn would validate a ticket to the SEC title game behind tailback Kenny Irons.
Sports Illustrated sent its man to Auburn to write that story in what is to be an expanded SEC package this week. As Arkansas drove for the clinching field goal in the fourth quarter, the Sports Illustrated man sat down beside the Hawgs Illustrated man to begin gathering info on a new story. He wanted stuff on Darren McFadden and Felix Jones, each of whom bested Irons on this day of smashmouth on the Plains.
I answered the questions. I told him that it was a case of McFadden and Jones, with 145 and 104 yards respectively, finally being healthy at the same time.
The SI man nodded, then provided his editorial comment as Jeremy Davis made it 27-10, the final score, with 3:53 left with a 22-yard field goal.
"Houston Nutt outcoached Tommy Tuberville today," SI senior writer Austin Murphy said.
The SI man nailed it. Just minutes earlier, Mark Murphy, publisher at Inside the Auburn Tiger, said something similar.
Of course, it wasn't complicated stuff. Yes, there was the trick play, the hidden back, tiny Reggie Fish galloping for 28 yards to set up the final Arkansas touchdown.
Other than that, it was about physical football and it had the Arkansas linemen beaming at the end. It lent itself to a grand celebration that was just modest enough.
Oh, it was close to getting out of hand. Offensive guard Robert Felton grabbed the big white flag with the giant Razorback with intentions on planting it smack on the Auburn logo painted at midfield. Assistant coaches Reggie Herring and Mike Markuson blocked him.
"We aren't doing that here," Herring shouted in Felton's ear. "They have too much class here. Let it go."
Herring, once a long-time linebacker coach for Pat Dye at Auburn, was as right as he's ever been. And, he was also on target when he talked about the role reversals from last year when Auburn smashed the fragile Arkansas team in Fayetteville.
"Our team fought harder and got stronger as the game progressed," said Herring, the Arkansas defensive coordinator. "You watched it. It was like that when we were on offense and when we were on defense. We got stronger, Auburn got weaker. That's supposed to be a characteristic of them, not us. It was a total swap."
And, so it was. Who would have thought it. There was the Auburn city police escort waiting for the Arkansas bus to load up. He found McFadden to ask for his autograph.
It reminded me of what Nutt said just minutes before when he made sure to give his linemen more of the spotlight than perhaps the backs who ran for all of those yards or the receivers who caught some key passes or the quarterback who executed a no-turnover game.
"I think Darren will get his," Nutt said, talking about attention. "We know we have great backs, but this team has great seniors. They led this team. So many played well, just about everyone. Give credit to our defensive line. Give credit to our offensive linemen. Give credit for the receivers who made some big catches early to keep them from crowding us.
"Darren? He'll get his. I think everyone sees what he is, one of the best backs in the country. It's going to be hard to deny him that."
Yes, it'll be front and center this week in Sports Illustrated. And, they'll be talking about Houston Nutt and what he's done at Arkansas after back-to-back losing seasons. Perhaps some of the attacks on the coach will slow down.
"I hope so," said Jim Lindsey, chairman of the athletic council on the UA Board of Trustees. "I hope so. This was about as good as it gets. It's as good as we've had recently."
Players were hoping the talk about their coach was over.
"This is a sigh of relief for all of us," said defensive end Jamaal Anderson. "Coach Nutt has been through a lot. He's the reason we are all here. Everyone of us came here because he was in our home as head coach. Hopefully, this kind of a win takes care of it for now. We wanted to give him that today. Now, he can stay here.
"But this isn't just it. We have to keep our heads on straight. We need more wins. We need to do more than this. Now, we showed what we are capable and we have to add to it. This game is what we need to do each time."
Markuson said it best as the players were boarding the bus.
"You saw what happens when you win it at the line of scrimmage today," Markuson said. "You run the ball and stop the run and everything becomes easier. It makes you look good everywhere. I'm so proud of the linemen. They controlled things on the line of scrimmage."
And, because of that, the SI man can write all he wants about Darren McFadden.
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