BATON ROUGE — Feel for Arkansas cornerback Jared Collins; the safety on his side was a no-show.
The redshirt freshman from Tulsa spent a split second too long peering at LSU quarterback Anthony Jennings and had no chance to catch up with Travin Dural after the Tigers’ backup receiver ran by him. Nobody has ever been more open for a 49-yard touchdown pass when his team is trailing by three and there is less than 90 seconds to play.
LSU coach Les Miles said offensive coordinator Cam Cameron said it was clear that the Arkansas was unaware of the speed of Dural, who had only caught six passes all year, and that it was time to test that theory. Freshman to freshman with a freshman center was unlikely to say the least.
Somewhere in the third quarter, I became convinced that the Razorbacks, a 24-point underdog, could win and I believed until Jennings to Dural. Up to that moment, I thought about how one superb performance had changed perceptions of Arkansas’ football program from the top down — how doubting fans would come over to:
• Head coach Bret Bielema is the right guy to get Arkansas back on track, a motivational genius.
• Offensive coordinator Jim Chaney is a brilliant play caller.
• Quarterback Brandon Allen can get the job done.
Summed up, forget 52-0 twice and other disasters, the future is bright.
I’m not buying all that lock, stock and barrel, but an Arkansas team on an eight-game losing streak was undeniably impressive against a team that knocked Texas A&M out of the Top 10 last week and handed Auburn its only loss of the year.
At halftime, LSU faithful in the press box blamed the Tigers’ 17-14 deficit on an early injury to Odell Beckham, who entered the game averaging 20.9 yards per touch. Granted, he is not easily replaced, but neither does he play defense and Arkansas made 238 yards in the first 30 minutes.
One 86-yard touchdown drive on eight plays might be a fluke. A duplicate drive says well, maybe this is the real deal. Those two, plus a 75-yarder, wow.
After Sam Irwin-Hill’s punt was downed at the LSU 1, I shared with a seatmate that Arkansas would win as long as the Razorbacks didn’t miss an open-field tackle. After all, the Tigers were trying to go 99 yards with a quarterback who had thrown three passes all year.
In fact, the intent was to bury the fourth quarter injury to Zach Mettenberger, he of the NFL-quality arm, because I didn’t want to distract from Arkansas’ accomplishment.
The Razorbacks came back from 0-7, 7-14 and 21-20 in front of a crowd that Miles said seemed larger in the second half and LSU’s first two touchdowns came on what could have been demoralizing runs of 29 and 23 yards by Terrence Magee. Both times, Magee only had to run through a well-blocked hole.
Despite that, Arkansas’ much-maligned defense turned in a long list of big plays. Braylon Mitchell, Jarrett Lake, Darius Philon, D.J. Dean and Byran Jones each made one or more worthy of recognition. On the topic of much-maligned, Allen deserves kudos for 19-of-29 vs. a defense that held Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel to 16-of-41.
Issued Dec. 4, 2012, Bielema’s free pass expired at 5:12 p.m. on Friday.
If LSU had won big as expected, I would have suggested that the best route for Arkansas fans was to accept the fact that Bielema started with a slim supply of talent, remember there are no midseason trades in college football, zap 3-9 from their memory, anticipate the recruiting class on board on Feb. 5, and speculate about spring practice.
Now, there is something to savor from the 2013 season and positives beyond the future of 11 true and redshirt freshmen starters.