HawgBeat - Hogs own top-10 droughts for punt, interception returns for TDs
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Hogs own top-10 droughts for punt, interception returns for TDs

Joe Adams was one of the best punt returners in SEC history.
Joe Adams was one of the best punt returners in SEC history. (Arkansas Athletics)

When Joe Adams returned a punt 51 yards for a touchdown against Kansas State in the 2012 Cotton Bowl, it was Arkansas’ peak as a football program over the last three decades.

Fielding the punt near midfield and in front of his own sideline, the All-American returner picked up several blocks as he made his way across the field and eventually raced down the opposite sideline to give the Razorbacks a 10-0 lead early in the second quarter.

Arkansas’ offense had sputtered to start the game, but Adams’ punt return touchdown - the fifth of his career - sparked the Razorbacks to a 29-16 victory that capped the third 11-win season in school history. They finished ranked No. 5 in the polls and were riding high with back-to-back seasons with double-digit wins.

Then Bobby Petrino drove the program into a ditch - literally - and it hasn’t recovered. In the eight years since, Arkansas is just 37-62 (.374) overall and has as many winning seasons as winless SEC seasons.

Not surprisingly, Adams’ big play in the Cotton Bowl was the Razorbacks’ last punt return for a touchdown. The 99-game stretch without such a score is the ninth-longest current drought by an FBS team.

Tulane owns the longest drought, as it hasn’t had a punt returned for a touchdown since Week 6 of the 2004 season - a stretch of 188 games. The only Power Five teams with longer droughts than Arkansas are Georgia Tech (140 games), Purdue (133) and Michigan State (107).

These kind of stretches are not too uncommon in the Razorbacks’ recent history, though. Not including blocked punts, Adams is just one of three players to return a punt for a touchdown since Arkansas joined the SEC in 1992.

Orlando Watters had two - against South Carolina and Tennessee - in that inaugural season, but it was nine years until Marvin Jackson scored the first of his two career punt return touchdowns in 2001 - against Georgia.

Jackson’s second was against New Mexico State in 2003 and then it was seven years until Adams’ first, which was against Ole Miss in 2010. There were 101 games without such a score between Watters and Jackson and 83 games between Jackson and Adams.

With a dynamic playmaker like Treylon Burks - who led all FBS freshmen with 14.4 all-purpose yards per touch last season - returning punts, it isn’t much of a stretch to say the Razorbacks are due for a punt return touchdown in 2020.

Arkansas is also in the midst of a long drought without an interception returned for a touchdown. Its last pick-six came in Week 9 of the 2016 season, when it knocked off No. 10 Florida 31-10.

A deflected pass by Luke Del Rio on the Gators’ first offensive play of the game fell into Santos Ramirez’s lap and he took it 24 yards to the house. That gave the Razorbacks a 7-0 lead in a game they never trailed.

It’s been 40 games since that play, though, giving Arkansas the eighth-longest pick-six drought in the FBS. Ball State owns the longest drought, as it hasn’t had one since Week 2 of the 2010 season - a stretch of 120 games. The only Power Five team with a longer drought than Arkansas is Baylor (46 games).

That is an unusually long stretch for the Razorbacks, as their previous longest drought during the SEC era was 33 games between pick-sixes by Jerico Nelson against Vanderbilt in 2010 and Tevin Mitchel against Rutgers in 2013.

Arkansas has recovered or returned seven fumbles for touchdowns during the current drought, but it would make sense for the Razorbacks to have a pick-six in 2020 and snap that streak. It’s even more likely when considering it sounds like their base defense will be a 3-2-6, meaning six defensive backs on the field.

Which of the Razorbacks’ droughts - punt return for a touchdown or pick-six - do you think ends first? Click here to vote in our poll and discuss the topic with hundreds of other Arkansas fans on The Trough, our premium message board.

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