Quarterback Tyler Wilson went for 359 yards passing and 38 rushing on the LSU defense, playing every bit like a senior in his last collegiate game. His 397 total yards of offense were 94 more than the total new Heisman darling Johnny Manziel accrued against the same Tigers. And yet, the Razorbacks mustered just 13 points in a heartbreaking loss that gave LSU possession of the Golden Boot for another year.
The eighth and final loss of 2012 was oddly representative of the season as a whole, a lost campaign worthy of a book or documentary. Glimpses of the talent on the Razorback roster that made Arkansas a trendy pick to win the SEC West shone through, namely that of Wilson. A determined leader, Wilson fought all season to salvage what he could both on and off the field. But the problems were too voluminous to overcome.
John L. Smith was simply not a good fit despite his familiarity with the program. The obviousness of this odd pairing was evident on Friday when Razorback special teams took the field at perplexing times. With no postseason bid at stake, Smith treated this game — the Razorbacks’ default bowl game — like a late September contest. The decision to kick a field goal literally inches shy of the goal line and trailing 17-10 early in the fourth quarter was rightly met with boos.
One play captured the essence of Arkansas football’s 2012 experience on the gridiron. Another encapsulated the off-field problems. Wilson threw a last ditch pas to the end zone after leading a frenzied final drive. It went incomplete, seemingly hitting the turf with one second left. Mark Ennis screen captured the below:
There was no review, no contest that Arkansas should get one more play. Game over, season over. However, one could argue the season truly ended in April. How fitting that a decision over which Razorback players had no control officially ended the season, considering it unofficially ended that way. Wilson, nor Cobi Hamilton, nor Chris Gragg had any control on Bobby Petrino’s decision to hire his mistress to a university athletic staff position. None of them put Petrino on his motorcycle the day of his accident that unraveled the 2012 season. But all paid Petrino’s penance.
Wilson likely won’t point fingers at Smith, nor at Petrino for his college career ending in such disappointment. That’s not been his style as a consummate leader. I will, though. Petrino let down Wilson and the other Razorback seniors whose final year had such promise squandered.
How much better would Arkansas have been without Smith at the helm? Perhaps the expectations heaped on the Razorbacks after their impressive Cotton Bowl win over Kansas State last January were unfounded. Yes, Wilson was back, and running back Knile Davis was scheduled to return from injury. But the potent Hog passing attack lost Joe Adams and Jarius Wright. Maybe Arkansas was destined to struggle no matter who was on the sidelines.
That we will never know makes the 2012 Arkansas season one of the great mysteries of recent college football history.