State of the Hogs: Ready for 2006

Arkansas' players and coaches walk into South Carolina and walk out with their eight straight win and still ride atop the SEC as the league's only unbeaten squad.

Columbia, S.C. -- You've heard it a million times, that line about preferring to be lucky rather than good. Mix the two and you have an Arkansas team which has run off eight straight.

Go back to victories over Vanderbilt and Alabama when near misses in the kicking game by both opponents helped the Razorbacks win by a combined three points.

And, I'd even throw in some luck against nobody Louisiana-Monroe the previous week when two center snaps over the punter's head set up 14 first-half points for the Razorbacks.

The Hogs scored on some luck in Saturday's 26-20 victory at South Carolina. They got a blocked punt for a safety after a huge punt on the previous play was wiped out for an illegal formation. Then, with just two seconds left in the first half, the Hogs got a gift touchdown when Casey Dick's lob bounced off two USC defensive backs and right to Marcus Monk at the goal line.

No doubt, the Hogs produced their share of bonafide good plays, mostly from tailbacks Darren McFadden and Felix Jones. McFadden cut off blocks by Peyton Hillis and Damian Williams for a 43-yard TD dash and then erased a holding penalty to take a sprint draw 14 yards for another touchdown three plays deep in the second quarter.

Luck ran out for Mitch Mustain, the Hogs' true freshman quarterback who was 7-0 as a starter. He lasted just three plays. He was high for Monk down the left hash and was intercepted on his first pass, a third-and-7 throw from his own 39-yard line that gave the Gamecocks the ball at their own 47.

It was all Dick at quarterback the rest of the half, unless it was McFadden taking the direct snaps with Dick split wide. McFadden gobbled up 29 yards on one of those plays and also handed to Felix Jones on a dippsy-do reverse (with a fake of the double reverse to Dick) for another 20 yards.

I like the way the schedule sets up for this Arkansas team and have ever since I saw it 12 months ago. And, I'm not just talking about the way the Arkansas side of things. It's also about how the opposition has had to use up so much emotion the week before meeting the Hogs. How about Vandy losing a close call at Alabama the week before the Hogs went to Nashville? How about Auburn staring at Florida the week after Arkansas visited the Plains. How about the Hogs falling between Tennessee and Florida on South Carolina's slate? And, how about the Hogs getting Tennessee at home next week after the Vols took a gut shot from LSU?

All of those are important, but not nearly as important as all of those seniors playing key roles for the Hogs. It doesn't hurt that Dick hung in there all season while Mustain got the hype and most of the practice snaps. Or that Darius Vinnett hung in through knee surgery and concussions to come back this week to snuff out South Carolina's last chance.

Cornerback coach Bobby Allen smiled when he was asked if the Hogs were living a charmed life.

"Maybe, maybe," Allen said. "I've been telling Darius that God had a plan for him. I told him this week that it might be his time. I figured this was going to be his kind of game. He'd been down and was struggling."

However, there was no luck involved in the interception, just a perfect call from defensive coordinator Reggie Herring.

"We'd been playing man underneath with two safeties in deep zone," Herring said. "I didn't think they could keep hitting those plays. They were just red hot, great throw after great throw and all of those circus catches.

"It was frustrating to see them do that for two straight drives in the third quarter. So I said what the heck, the only thing left is to play some zone. We did and Darius, bless his heart, he is precious. He got us the turnover and then the offense made the big drive to run out the clock."

It reminds me of the PGA Tour star who gets a break early in a tournament, perhaps a tee shot that is doomed to land out of bounds, but hits a tree limb and bounds back to the fairway. Next thing, he's made birdie, adds three more and never looks back. Is this Arkansas team, the last SEC team without a league loss, the best team in the nation's best conference?

I'm not prepared to say that. But I'm getting used to hearing four, five, six press box voices say in unison, "There he goes. There he goes. He's gone."

There's no luck to that. It's McFadden blasting through the first man, and then cutting off perfect blocking. He does it against everyone in the SEC. No, that's talent.

I still don't see McFadden on any of the Heisman Trophy watch lists. That's fine.

Let everyone around the country think Auburn is the SEC West team headed for Atlanta. Maybe two or three more tail whippings will convince them. Until then, I'm just fine with being lucky.

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