Commentary

Razorbacks add another chapter to crazy 2007 story

Updated: November 24, 2007, 8:51 PM ET
By Ivan Maisel | ESPN.com

BATON ROUGE, La. -- Arkansas beat No. 1 LSU, 50-48, in triple overtime. The game didn't end until Razorbacks corner Matterral Richardson picked off a two-point conversion in the back of the end zone, and thank goodness he did. When the senior picked off Matt Flynn's pass intended for Demetrius Byrd, he saved America from having to answer this question:

Has the No. 1 team in the country ever given up 50 points in a game? That John Wooden didn't coach?

Arkansas prevented one crisis but stoked another. Because of this game, because LSU's 19-game winning streak at Tiger Stadium is over, the fans at home have had enough. The head coach is on his way out.

The Tigers' Les Miles? No, the Razorbacks' Houston Nutt.

It sounds crazy, but so has everything else in a season in which 12 top-five teams have been beaten by unranked opponents. LSU's loss opened the door for No. 3 West Virginia or even -- remember them -- No. 5 Ohio State, whose national championship chances were left for dead in Columbus two weeks ago after the 28-21 loss to Illinois.

The staff that got thoroughly out-Xed and out-Oed now may be fought over by two national powers. The coaches who got outcoached will be asked to stay where they are and showered with salary increases.

The staff that did the out-Xing and out-Oing now waits to see where it will be coaching next year, although if Miles wants to leave LSU for his alma mater, he had better hope that Michigan athletic director Bill Martin spent Black Friday at the Briarwood Mall in Ann Arbor and not in front of the flat-screen.

[+] EnlargeLes Miles
AP Photo/Alex BrandonLes Miles and LSU saw their BCS hopes vanish.
"We understand that this cost us and what was at stake," Miles said of his team.

The losers stay and the winners move on, which is how playoffs work. But college football, as we all know, doesn't have a playoff. So the winning coaches don't move on to the next round. They move on to another campus.

Barring a change of heart in the Arkansas administration, Nutt's 10-year career in Fayetteville is all over but the negotiating.

"Was that not a long, beautiful game, though?" Nutt said.

The lame-duck Hog lapped one end of his Razorback Red tie over the other, the last coach in the coaches locker room. He called it the best of his 75 victories at Arkansas.

"Boy, I tell you. That was something," Nutt said. "This is No. 1. It was Texas in the [2000] Cotton Bowl or Texas at Texas [2003], Tennessee at home [1999], but this is it. No. 1. Coming down here, bringing The Boot back. Oh, it's big."

By winning this trophy game, Arkansas takes home The Boot, a 24-karat gold map of these two border-sharing states. And in the coming days, Nutt will get a golden boot of his own. He isn't going to resign, not with annuities at stake.

"It's in their corner. I'm in a good position," he said, laughing.

Yes, that would be fair to say. Arkansas finished 8-4, beat LSU for the first time in five years, and played its way into a much better bowl.

For 11 games, LSU had overcome its deficiencies with desire and heart and all of those qualities that the best coaches know how to teach but can't describe. The Tigers had clawed their way to No. 1 by winning three games in the final 90 seconds of regulation. LSU had overcome a three-overtime loss at Kentucky to reclaim its position to play in the BCS Championship Game in its New Orleans backyard.

[+] EnlargeDarren McFadden
Chris Graythen/Getty ImagesDarren McFadden torched the Tigers for 206 yards and three TDs on the ground.

In the end, though, the Tigers were no match for a Wild Hog, the Arkansas offensive set that featured junior tailback Darren McFadden at quarterback. LSU came into the game ranked second in the nation in total defense (257.6 yards per game) and fourth in the nation in rushing defense (78.6).

McFadden shredded the Tigers for 206 rushing yards and three touchdowns on 32 carries. He also completed 3 of 6 passes for 34 yards and a touchdown.

And here's something else that sounds crazy: McFadden may not win the Heisman Trophy.

"The numbers speak for themselves," McFadden said after the game, when elation provided relief for the pounding he took and for three first-half fumbles. "There's nothing I can say about that. Last game of the season, we just let it go."

Let's take a look at those numbers. McFadden finished the season with 1,725 rushing yards, breaking the school record he set last season. He scored on runs of 16, 73 and 9 yards. Don't let the triple overtime cheapen his statistics. McFadden rushed for 180 yards and two touchdowns in regulation.

"He certainly had a Heisman performance today," Miles said.

McFadden fumbled the opening kickoff at the Arkansas 25. But Flynn, befuddled by zone defense that Arkansas had rarely shown this season, couldn't move the Tigers and they settled for a 32-yard field goal.

Flynn never seemed quite right Friday, at one point completing only 1 of 9 passes. He finished 22-of-47 for 209 yards and three touchdowns. The Tigers, despite dominating the early field-position game, scored only two field goals and ended up trailing 7-6 at the half.

In the second half, the LSU defense never had an answer for the Wild Hog. They focused so much on McFadden that fullback Peyton Hillis rushed for 89 yards and two touchdowns, including a 65-yard score in the third quarter, and added five receptions for 62 yards and two touchdowns. Tailback Felix Jones rushed for 85 yards on only nine carries.

"We always play good when we need to. Sometimes, it's too late, though," LSU tight end Richard Dickson said. "We should have put that game away earlier. You can only win so many close games. It's a mental and physical drag. We've been doing this for so long and it just kind of caught up with us."

Both teams scored touchdowns in each overtime. It came down to one play, a play that Arkansas made. It's difficult to say whether LSU could have won in three overtimes and remained No. 1. LSU still can play for a chance to play in New Orleans in January. But it will be Jan. 1 in the Sugar Bowl, not Jan. 7 in the BCS Championship Game.

Arkansas will play in another bowl, perhaps for the last time under Nutt. If someone hires him before the bowls, the Razorbacks may have played their last game under him.

"This is the best thing that's happened," McFadden said. "We been through a lot of ups and downs this whole season. Folks taking shots at our coaches, players and everything. It's just a great feeling to beat the No. 1 team."

Ivan Maisel is a senior writer for ESPN.com. Send your questions and comments to Ivan at ivan.maisel@espn3.com.

Ivan Maisel | email

Senior Writer, ESPN.com

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