Arkansas almost completed one of the greatest comebacks in school history Tuesday evening in the 2011 Allstate Sugar Bowl Classic against Ohio State, but a last-minute interception at the Buckeye 17-yard line ended their chances and the Razorbacks fell 31-26.
Arkansas started off slow with two dropped passes that resulted in a 3-and-out, and Ohio State's fumble recovery in the end zone for a touchdown on their opening drive foreshadowed how the game would end. The Buckeyes could not do anything wrong on their way to a 28-7 lead late in the 2nd quarter as Arkansas struggled on offense - giving up sacks, dropping passes and committing penalties. Meanwhile the defense missed multiple tackles and could not seem to get a stop on 3rd down.
"I really feel like we spotted them too much in the 1st half," Razorback Coach Bobby Petrino said. "They came out and made a lot of plays, made some great catches.
"We are a very good football team. I'm very proud of this football team," Petrino said. "This year we competed right there with every single team we played and won 10 games."
Arkansas finished the 1st half the right way with a 2-minute drive that ended at the 4-yard line and a Zach Hocker field goal to pull within 18 points, 28-10. Something happened in the second half.
"At halftime we saw some great leadership," UA defensive end Jake Bequette said. "Guys like Jermaine Love, Tenarius Wright, and [Seth] Armbrust, myself, we all stepped up in the defensive locker room and said 'enough with this.' We couldn't have played any worse in that 1st half. And unfortunately you can't spot a team like Ohio State 28 points in the 1st half and expect to win. We played our butts off in the second half, but it wasn't enough."
Arkansas came out of the 3rd quarter and outplayed Ohio State for almost the entire second half. Slowly, and miraculously, they chipped away at the Buckeye lead. It was 28-10 at the intermission, and as Arkansas' offense slowly picked up points, Arkansas' defense was finding a way to stop those 3rd down conversions (just 2 of 8 with only 108 yards given up in the 2nd half). The momentum was all on Arkansas' side, and the Superdome in New Orleans was rocking with 73,879 in the house, the majority of them Calling the Hogs.
It moved to 28-13 on a 46-yard Hocker field goal with 9:14 remaining in the 3rd…31-13 on a Devin Barclay field goal with 6:10 remaining in the 3rd…31-19 on a Ryan Mallett-to-Jarius Wright 22-yard touchdown connection with 58 seconds left in the 3rd, followed by a Mallett-to-D.J. Williams successful 2-point conversion to make it 31-21…a Jake Bequette safety on OSU's Dan Herron with 12:06 to go in the game…another Hocker field goal to make it 31-26 with 8:55 left in the game…
Then, with 1:15 remaining in the game, Ohio State lined up to punt in a 4th-and-3 situation at their own 38-yard line. The block was on, and it was executed beautifully as Colton Miles-Nash exploded up the middle of the line to get his hands on the ball. Though he had an opportunity to scoop-and-score, Razorback true freshman receiver Julian Horton fell on it at the 18-yard line with 1:09 remaining. There was not a Razorback player or fan in that stadium who did not think the Hogs were about to pull out possibly the greatest comeback in school history.
1st-and-10, a Mallett-to-Williams pass attempt was dropped by Williams…2nd-and-10, OSU defensive end Solomon Thomas snuck back in zone coverage and Mallett never saw him. The backup junior defensive end became a hero, ending the game in an interception - the only turnover of the night for either team.
"I didn't see the guy. He dropped out. I tried to get rid of it quick. They had pressure coming. I didn't see him. He made a great play," Mallett said. "It's not the way you want to end my year, obviously. And I haven't thought about my future. This hurts as a team. We've been so close all year. And we're going to continue to be that way. We're going to come back swinging and get ready to take another shot at the BCS."
Could Arkansas have scooped and scored? Could Mallett have been more aware of Thomas? Could they have had a better start? There are several questions the Razorback faithful will ask themselves about this game that have obvious answers, but something they cannot deny is that this Razorback team played their hearts out. It is almost as if they got the seasoning Ohio State came into this game with in the first half and applied it in the second...aside from a pair of game-costing mistakes on the final possession. When others might have tried to get out with some respect, they came back to win. Out-experienced and seemingly without hope, this bunch set a new standard of what Razorback football is, even in defeat. -Never say die.
"We came back," UA tailback Knile Davis said. "We definitely didn't play our Razorback football in the 1st half, we know that. But we came and we were in a jam and we almost won. It came down to the wire. That's all you can ask for."
For a half, Ohio State was the better team, but Arkansas proved they deserve to be mentioned among the elite teams in the country...it just took the players a half of football to figure it out.
Key stats make the difference
Mallett finished the game 24 of 47 passing for 277 yards, 2 touchdowns and the game-ending interception. His favorite target was Joe Adams, who hauled in 9 passes for 120 yards and a touchdown but had a pair of key drops in the 1st half. Williams hauled in 5 passes for 38 yards, not including a critical 2-point conversion. Davis rushed 26 times for 139 yards, and he only had 3 of those in the final quarter of play.
"That was a huge swing of emotions and momentum, everything," Williams said. "The worst part is the last ball I got thrown, I dropped. It's kind of tough, but it's something you just have to learn from and move on."
Ohio State's Terrelle Pryor completed 14 of 25 passes for 221 yards and 2 touchdowns, but he only had 18 passing yards in the 2nd half. He also rushed for 115 on the evening. Dan Herron was the leading rusher among Ohio State running backs with 24 carries for 87 yards and 1 touchdown. DeVier Posey finished with 3 catches for 70 yards and 1 touchdown, and Dane Sanzenbacher had 3 for 59 and a score.
"I was very nervous," Pryor said. "With a great quarterback like Ryan Mallett, our defense is great too, but they had all the momentum in the world. I just love my teammates."
In the end, Ohio State put up 446 yards of total offense to Arkansas' 402, and while the Buckeyes outscored the Hogs, Arkansas outplayed the Buckeyes in the second half. OSU passed for 221 to Arkansas' 277 and rushed for 225 to Arkansas' 125.
Other stats that stand out include Arkansas' 6 penalties for 48 yards to Ohio State's 2 for 15. And while the Hogs had several dropped passes, OSU had none. Ultimately the difference in the game was Arkansas' last-minute turnover. It was the only turnover of the game for either side.
"We played a great team," Ohio State Coach Jim Tressel said. "Arkansas is a great football team. Our kids ought and fought. We had so many injuries on defense. I couldn't be prouder. Our kids fought like crazy tonight. It's a big win for us."
Arkansas opened up on offense and went three-and-out thanks to an Adams drop on a deep post, a Horton drop on a midrange shot and an underthrow thanks to an Ohio State rush. Dylan Breeding's punt went 53 yards and there were no yards on the return. Ohio State took over, 1st-and-10 at their own 26-yard line with 14:33 to play in the opening quarter.
Ohio State had better luck, converting an early 3rd-and-7 with a 13-yard completion to Brown and a 3rd-and-9 at the UA 37-yard line when Pryor scrambled for 37 yards and fumbled forward at the 3-yard line. Arkansas' Jerico Nelson had it but Jerry Franklin knocked it loose and Sanzenbacher recovered it in the end zone for an Ohio State touchdown with 11:41 remaining in the opening quarter. The drive covered 74 yards in 8 plays and took 2:52 off the 1st quarter clock. Barklay's extra point made it 7-0, Buckeyes.
After a surprise onside kick attempt, recovered by Razorback linebacker Freddy Burton, Arkansas rode Davis for 3 plays in-a-row on gains of 5, 6 and 5 yards and then Mallett found Williams wide-open over the middle for 18. Williams appeared to be tackled by Ross Homan, but his knee never hit the ground and Williams ran an extra 17 yards into the end zone for a touchdown. The play was reviewed and it was determined Williams' wrist was down at the 17-yard line. No matter, on the next play Mallett found Adams on a fade pattern in the corner of the end zone for the Hogs' first touchdown. Hocker's extra point made it 7-7 with 9:43 remaining in the 1st quarter. The 5-play drive covered 51 yards and took 1:58 off the game clock.
Ohio State came right back with a 7-play, 68-yard drive that took 2:26 off the clock to make 14-7 following the extra point. The drive was highlighted by a 31-yard completion to Sanzenbacher and runs of 11 and 9 yards by Herron. He went untouched up the middle on the 9-yarder for the touchdown. The Buckeyes kicked off to the Razorbacks with 7:17 remaining in the opening quarter.
Arkansas was putting a nice drive together on possession No. 3, but it all stopped when Mallett was sacked by Dexter Larimore for minus-8 yards on 2nd-and-9. His 3rd-and-17 pass attempt went incomplete and the Hogs were forced to punt. Breeding got off his second good punt of the night with a 47-yarder that pinned the Bucks down to their own 1-yard line with 3:09 remaining in the 1st quarter.
That proved to be beneficial as the Hogs held the Buckeyes to a 4th-and-1. Adams fielded the 44-yarder at the UA 46-yard line with no return, just under a minute to play in the quarter. Arkansas ended the 1st quarter with a Demarcus Love false start to put them in a 3rd-and-11 situation at their own 45-yard line.
Both teams held the ball 7 minutes and 30 seconds in the opening quarter. Arkansas had 99 total yards, 39 rushing and 60 passing. The Hogs had 6 1st downs but were 0-for-2 on 3rd downs. Ohio State had 151 yards, including 94 on the ground and 57 through the air. They were 3 of 4 on 3rd downs and also had 6 1st downs.
The Hogs opened the 2nd quarter by doing something they could not do in the 1st, converting a 3rd down. Arkansas was held to a 4th-and=1 soon afterwards at the OSU 30-yard line. Mallett's pass attempt over the middle was deflected by Cameron Heyward who snuck back in zone coverage over the middle. Ohio State took over 1st-and-10 at the 30-yard line with 12:43 to go in the half.
Arkansas' 3rd-down defensive struggles continued on 3rd-and-8 from the Arkansas 15-yard line as Pryor found Sanzenbacher in the end zone for a touchdown over Nelson with 9:53 remaining in the half. The extra point capped the 8-play, 70-yard drive that took 2:50 off the game clock to make it 21-7, Buckeyes.
Arkansas looked like they would overcome a holding penalty after a 19-yard connection to Wright, but Davis was tackled for a 3-yard loss and then Adams dropped his 2nd pass of the game, which would have been a big gainer. Ohio State burned their first timeout after that, likely to warn the players of a possible fake punt. Arkansas punted OSU 36 yards to their own 18 with 7:24 remaining in the half.
The Buckeyes seemed to reel off 1st down after 1st down on their 5th possession, but they stalled at the UA 33-yard line and went for a 50-yard field goal on 4th-and-8. Barclay's attempt sailed wide left, and the Hogs took over with 5:15 remaining in the half, down 21-7.
What seemed like a good opportunity for the Hogs to get on the board and take down the clock turned out to be just the opposite as Arkansas went the wrong way all 3 plays - a Davis run for minus-1, a Larimore sack for minus-9 and another sack for minus-4. Ohio State got the ball back at their own 33 following Breeding's punt with 3:13 to play in the half.
OSU made Arkansas pay with a 6-play, 68-yard drive that was finished off by a 43-yard Pryor-to-Posey bomb for a touchdown. The play put the Buckeye's ahead 28-7 with 1:59 remaining in the half.
Arkansas did not have much time, but they moved the ball all the way down to the Ohio State 3-yard line on a 21-yard completion to Cobi Hamilton. With just 4 seconds remaining, the Hogs opted to take a 20-yard Hocker field goal as time expired to pull to within 18, 28-10 entering the half. The 13-play drive covered 83 yards and was highlighted by a 21-yard strike from Mallett-to-Adams on 4th-and-15 and a 25-yard Davis run.
At the half, Mallett was 13 of 25 passing for 178 yards and 1 touchdown. He was sacked 3 times. Davis had 14 carries for 82 yards and Adams had 6 catches for 92 yards and 1 touchdown. Pryor was 13 of 19 for 203 yards with 2 touchdowns. He also rushed 6 times for 52 yards. Herron had 10 carries for 58 yards and 1 touchdown. Sanzenbacher led the Buckeyes in receiving with 3 catches for 59 yards and a touchdown.
Arkansas finished the half with 234 offensive yards, including 178 through the air and 56 on the ground. OSU had 338 total yards with 203 passing and 135 rushing. The biggest difference aside from yardage was Ohio State's 6-for-8 mark on 3rd downs versus Arkansas' 3-for-9. The Razorbacks also committed 5 penalties for 38 yards while the Buckeyes had none.
Arkansas got a 3rd down stop on Ohio State and forced a punt at the 13:03 mark of the 3rd quarter. Arkansas took over 1st-and-10 at their own 19. The Hogs then put together a long, 11-play, 52-yard drive that took 3:49 off the game clock and was capped with a 46-yard Hocker field goal, bringing the Hogs to within 15 points, 28-13.
The Arkansas defense stepped up and forced the Buckeyes into a 3-and-out. Adams fumbled the punt return while he was running, but it was recovered by Arkansas' Greg Gatson with 7:32 remaining in the 3rd quarter.
Arkansas could not get anything going on possession No. 9 as they were forced to punt. After an illegal touch, the ball was moved to the OSU 45-yard line with 6:10 remaining in the 3rd quarter.
Arkansas could not hold OSU scoreless on their 9th drive as they went 26 yards in 5 plays and had to settle for a 46-yard Barclay field goal to make it 31-13 with 4:10 remaining in the quarter. The drive took 2 minutes off the game clock.
Arkansas came back with a pretty 7-play, 75-yard drive that was capped by a 22-yard Mallett-to-Wright touchdown pass on a fade. The Hogs opted to go for 2 points to pull to within 10 points, and Mallett found Williams just shy of the end zone where he stretched the ball across to complete the conversion. Arkansas kicked off to the Buckeyes with 58 seconds remaining in the 3rd quarter.
Arkansas held Ohio State to a 3-and-out, thanks in part to the first called penalty on the Buckeyes the entire game, a holding call on 3rd-and-10. Pryor threw the ball away on 3rd-and-20 as the half expired, bringing up a punting situation.
The Buckeyes punted to Arkansas with 14:46 remaining in the final quarter. Arkansas stalled at the 41-yard line following a Larimore and Heyward sack. Breeding's punt was downed at the OSU 4-yard line with 12:06 remaining in the 4th, Buckeye's up 31-21.
On the first play, Arkansas' Anthony Leon hit Herron, who eluded the tackle and bounced it back into the end zone where he was tackled by Bequette for a safety, pulling Arkansas to within 8, 31-23. Arkansas got the ball back on the ensuing kick and Ronnie Wingo returned it to the UA 44-yard line.
Arkansas moved 26 yards in 6 plays but stalled at the 30-yard line where they lined up for a 47-yard field goal that Hocker sent right down the pipe to pull the Hogs to within 5 points, 31-26 with 8:55 remaining in the game. The drive took 2:57 off the game clock.
Arkansas had the Buckeyes in a 3rd-and-16 situation and even though the snap was bobbled, Pryor managed to pick up 15 yards, and the Buckeyes opted to go for it. Herron fumbled the ball and it was recovered close to the 1st-down marker but ended up 6 inches short, and Arkansas took over at the Buckeye 38-yard line with less than 6 minutes to go in the game. A holding call and a wide-open drop by Lance Ray forced the Hogs into a punting situation, and once again Breeding placed the ball inside the OSU 5-yard line.
The Buckeye's took over, 1st-and-10 at their own 4-yard line with 4:33 remaining in the game, holding on to a 5-point lead, 31-26.
Ohio State moved the ball and Arkansas burned their timeouts until the Buckeyes were left in a 4th-and-5 situation at their own 38-yard line, calling a timeout as the play clock ran down to 1:15 left in the game. Arkansas would get a shot at the win.
But instead of having to go from their own end of the field, Arkansas called for a block with Nash getting up the middle to make the block. Horton lost his feet and fell on the ball, though he had a chance to scoop and score to give the Hogs the lead.
With 1:09 remaining, Williams dropped a Mallett pass attempt and then Mallett missed defensive end Solomon Thomas creeping into the middle of the field to get in position for an interception that ended Arkansas' comeback bid. The Buckeyes took a knee twice and took home the 31-26 win.