With the regular season now in the rear view for Arkansas, this week's Pearls is about living in the recent past. Grant me this one chance to do the canned "season in retrospect" routine, and I shall reward thee with sporadically amusing observations and possibly one more potshot at the deposed Ole Miss coach!
BEST OFFENSIVE PLAYER: From year to year, so long as Bobby Petrino remains head coach, this will be an accolade flush with candidates. For this columnist, though, the selection of Jarius Wright comes without hesitation. Wright was absent from the Troy game due to injury, and the Hogs accordingly floundered in the second half of what should have been a rout. It was his record-setting effort against Texas A&M that rescued this team for good, his clutch scoring grab against Vandy that settled the Hogs by halftime and his long TD catch against South Carolina that turned that game permanently. The senior from Warren is a viable NFL talent for three reasons: blazing speed, precise routes, and a devil-may-care willingness to endanger his modest frame as a crossing receiver and run blocker.
BEST DEFENSIVE PLAYER: Harder call, to be sure, and this may draw a few barbs, but nobody was more quietly efficient than Eric Bennett. The sophomore from Oklahoma was the lone genuinely consistent element in the secondary, a reliable tackler who emerged as reliable in coverage as well as run support. His three interceptions were second on the team, two of them being decisive, mood-altering plays in unsteady wins against Ole Miss and Vanderbilt. Apologies to seniors Jerry Franklin and Jake Bequette, both of whom had princely moments throughout the year, but Bennett was an unexpected anchor in a particularly maligned backfield.
BEST SPECIAL TEAMER: Joe Adams muffed a couple of punts. I'm not holding that against him, nor do thousands of YouTube commenters, all of whom are erudite and eloquent, natch.
BEST MOMENT: It would accordingly be illogical to deny Adams' instantly legendary return against Tennessee this nod, but when Broderick Green, thought to be lost for the year, came back against Texas A&M and punctuated a rousing comeback with a short TD run, it gave both the player and the team sweet redemption.
WORST MOMENT: Off the field, no question that Garrett Uekman's passing applied harsh brakes to the Hogs' November surge; on the field, Ole Miss' late recovery of an onside kick, largely enabled by the hands team standing in admiration of the fluttering oblong ball, had the conference's historically inept bottom-feeders envisioning an upset until Bennett snatched away Randall Mackey's final heave.
BEST GAME: All facets clicked in the Razorbacks' 44-17 dismantling of Mississippi State in the prelude to the ill-fated LSU contest. But for an early Tyler Wilson fumble and a throwaway score at the end, Arkansas so thoroughly embarrassed the Bulldogs that Dan Mullen called it the worst game his team has played in his three years as MSU's lead-visor-overseeing-bad-quarterbacks.
WORST GAME: It is all too tempting to cite the Ole Miss debacle here, but a win is a win, even if achieved at the expense of the coaching fraternity's version of Lewis Skolnick and the rest of the TriLambs. The worst game, rather, was the 38-14 loss to Alabama, which had all the earmarks of a common collapse, namely a rare mental lapse by Petrino when he failed to call timeout early on a fake field goal alignment and some woeful tackling on Marquis Maze's long punt return. The entire game film should have been produced by Irwin Allen.
BEST NUMBERS: Dennis Johnson averaged an astonishing 9.6 yards per touch this year and over 130 all-purpose yards per contest; Wilson's 22-6 touchdown-to-interception ratio is a close second, and combined with Ryan Mallett's final stats the prior two seasons, Arkansas starting quarterbacks have chucked 84 TDs while throwing only 25 picks since 2009.
WORST NUMBERS: The Hogs amassed only 64 yards rushing total in their two losses, and had only 49 minutes of aggregate possession time against LSU and Alabama. To tip this present balance of power in the SEC, Arkansas must exercise dominion over the clock. This will, in turn, cause helpless and frazzled wives of opposing coordinators to wax unhinged on weekly religious programs.
BEST-CASE SCENARIO: First 11-win season and year-end Top 5 ranking since 1977-78. Recruits come from far and wide to immerse themselves in the rebirth. John Daly hangs out on the sideline more. Concession stands at Reynolds Razorback Stadium begin offering beef tenderloin and lump crab cocktail. Jim Robken comes back to lead the band. Tusk will be allowed to run loose on the field and will make out with a female sideline reporter...
You know, I'm getting ahead of myself. Robken ain't coming back.