‘Mo' Or No, Every Play Is The Game

FAYETTEVILLE--Sights and sounds from the Southeastern Conference Championship Game in Atlanta:

Before the kickoff, Florida fans boo the Tennessee "Legend of the Game," because he's from hated Tennessee. All the Arkansas starters on defense and offense are introduced. When Darren McFadden is introduced, an explosion of noise comes from the estimated 20,000 Arkansas fans in a crowd of 73,334 in the Georgia Dome. Both teams take the field at the same time, drowning out some introductions of Gators starters. Arkansas sophomore Reggie Fish of Mesquite, Texas, generously listed at 5-foot-7 and 156 pounds, shakes his fist in the direction of the Florida players and seems to be talking to them also. The Hogs lose the toss for the second straight week and third time in 13 games. They get the ball first but go three-and-out on their first two possessions. They use four quarterbacks on their first four official snaps, in this order: Casey Dick, Darren McFadden, Felix Jones, Robert Johnson. On Arkansas' first two third-and-3 situations, Jones is stopped for no gain from the Wildcat formation, and McFadden is also stopped for no gain. Florida makes the game's initial first down after seven minutes of play. Both offense begin to take hold, on a night when Arkansas will make 18 first downs and Florida 17. Ol' Mo Mentum can't decide which team to play for. One recalls the late Washington Redskins coach George Allen's wonderful truism: "Every play is the ball game." If only we could all remember that, in football, golf and life. It's up to us how we respond to every happenstance, every development, every adversity. Florida takes a 17-0 lead, falls behind 21-17, then responds to a fourth-and-10 pickle at its own 15-yard line with a remarkably gutsy call: a fake punt/reverse for a 17-yard gain and a first down. "The fake punt?" Gators coach Urban Meyer says later. "I think if we're not going to be successful, we're going to shoot everything we've got, and I think you saw us shoot everything." Arkansas stiffens, forces a fumble that Florida manages to recover, but still hands the Gators a fourth-and-1 dilemma at the UF 41. Meyer, who had mismanaged the clock at the end of the first half, now uses his third and final timeout of the second half with 3:58 left in the third quarter. Some press box occupants chorus, "This is the ball game." Except, Meyer changes his mind and orders a punt. Later, he explains, "I have smarter coaches (than I). I was going to go for it there, but the comment over the headset — Greg Mattison is actually the one — I flipped over on defense and he kept saying, ‘It's early, a lot of football left. Let's pin them in there and play some great defense,' which most of the time we have. "Obviously I listened to my assistant coach and we punted down there and a good thing happened. Great punt." Eric Wilbur's 54-yard punt causes Fish to lose track of his position on the field. Fish muffs the punt near the UA 5-yard line and Florida recovers in the end zone for a touchdown and 24-21 lead. The Razorbacks gamely try to recapture Big Mo, but fall 38-28. Fish manfully answers every question after the game. Hogs coach Houston Nutt and offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn encourage Fish, and Malzahn says, "Reggie Fish will make some big plays for the University of Arkansas before he is done — I guarantee you that." How about in the Capital One Bowl game? Then Fish will again be the lovable Mesquite Skeeter, or Arkansas' Little Big Man. That's what I'd like to see. GRANT HALL IS A MORNING NEWS SPORTS WRITER. HIS COLUMN APPEARS EACH MONDAY AND THURSDAY. E-MAIL: GHALL@NWAONLINE.NET

Hawgs Daily Top Stories