Ford Looks Back At 1995 SEC Title Game

FAYETTEVILLE — Danny Ford lives in Central, S.C., a little town halfway between Atlanta, Ga., and Chattanooga, Tenn., hard by Pendleton, S.C., and four miles from Clemson, S.C., where Ford coached the Tigers to a national football title in 1981.

He dabbles in two or three businesses, just as he did when Arkansas came calling in 1992 for help with its football team. Ford ended up serving as the Hogs' head coach from 1993-1997 and lifting the team's recruiting to a point where Arkansas won the Southeastern Conference West Division in 1995. That 1995 season included a trip to the SEC Championship Game against a powerful Florida team that featured quarterback Danny Wuerffel and receivers Ike Hilliard and Chris Doering. Florida beat Arkansas, 34-3. Ford, with one eye on his grandson and another on his business dealings, cordially took time to revisit the game by cell phone last week. "It was so long ago, it's hard to remember a lot," Ford said. "It was a very fine Florida team with a really fine quarterback in Wuerffel. Joe Lee Dunn was our defensive coodinator at that time and he was going to blitz, blitz. We hit the quarterback all night, but he still completed passes. But we hit him really well." The Razorbacks, 8-3 to that point in what would wind up as an 8-5 season, actually led 3-0 after a long, game-opening drive on which tailback Madre Hill suffered a knee injury. Following Todd Latourette's 36-yard field goal for Arkansas, Florida drove 80 yards in seven plays, with Wuerffel hitting former walk-on Doering with a 22-yard touchdown pass. The Gators never looked back. "Madre getting injured in the first quarter hurt us," Ford recalled. Hill set a UA single-season record of 1,387 rushing yards in 1995 — just broken by Darren McFadden last Friday — and he returned to the Florida game briefly before realizing the extent of his injury. Barry Lunney Jr., Arkansas' senior quarterback that year, has always believed that some of the plays which gained six to eight yards with others carrying the ball against Florida might have gone 40 or more yards with a healthy Hill, because of Hill's speed. "We started the game really well," Ford said, "but we did not finish very well." Still, Arkansas was driving while trailing 24-3 during the third quarter when a tipped Lunney pitch went to Gators nickelback Ben Hanks, who returned the ball 95 yards for the back-breaking touchdown. "It was an option play on short yardage on the goal line," Ford said. "We were trying to get back in the ball game. Florida had the better team, but I thought we had a shot at them and our players did, too. We were not the most gifted team, but we played hard. But that 95-yard return was a 14-point swing." Instead of possibly getting within 24-10, with some momentum, Arkansas fell behind 31-3. The Gators finished with 396 total yards to Arkansas' 299. But the killer stat was turnovers: Arkansas 4, Florida 0. Ford needs a knee replacement — "It's bone on bone" — but otherwise he said, "I'm healthy as a horse. And I'm happy for Arkansas this season." He's caught glimpses of the Razorbacks on TV, and he spoke to the Little Rock Touchdown Club this year. "I saw some of the Tennessee-Arkansas game, with McFadden at quarterback," Ford said. "I flip around and watch three or four games on Saturdays. Arkansas has done a real fine job. I was glad to go back and see old friends. I ran into three of our players from 1995 (Anthony Lucas, Verl Mitchell, Earl Scott), and all three are doing well." Would Ford ever coach again? "I don't know," he said. "I've got to get my knee well. I'll wait until the spring to maybe get it replaced; I've got to feed the cows first." The last time Ford referred to his cows as a priority, he ended up returning to coaching at Arkansas. Lately he's gone around speaking to Clemson touchdown clubs as part of that 25th anniversary celebration of the national title. Maybe that's whetted his appetite for football again. Fans at Alabama, Ford's alma mater, used to say to Arkansas fans when Ford was the UA coach, "If y'all get tired of him, send him down our way." Whether one of Bear Bryant's boys would still be viable in his late 50s as a candidate at Alabama is questionable, despite Gene Stallings' success there in the 1990s, but Ford seems to have kept up with the SEC. "From what I've seen, Arkansas is as good as Florida — or at least it's not overwhelming odds against them," Ford said last week. "Arkansas is about on par with most of them in the SEC. (Former Auburn coach) Pat Dye tells me that LSU has got the best players in the conference — really good at every position." After the Hogs lost 31-26 to LSU, UA coach Houston Nutt did not disagree. SEC Championship Games 1992: Alabama 28, Florida 21 1993: Florida 28, Alabama 13 1994: Florida 24, Alabama 23 1995: Florida 34, Arkansas 3 1996: Florida 45, Alabama 30 1997: Tennessee 30, Auburn 29 1998: Tennessee 24, Mississippi State 14 1999: Alabama 34, Florida 7 2000: Florida 28, Auburn 6 2001: LSU 31, Tennessee 20 2002: Georgia 30, Arkansas 3 2003: LSU 34, Georgia 14 2004: Auburn 38, Tennessee 28 2005: Georgia 34, LSU 14 2006 Arkansas vs. Florida

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