The animosity toward Gus Malzahn has mostly dissipated.
Auburn’s head coach was, as most of you are aware, Arkansas’ offensive coordinator for one fateful season in 2006. Things went well before they went poor. The Razorbacks went 7-1 in the SEC and made the league title game. They also lost four total games, experienced internal, then external turmoil, in the one season was Malzahn was around.
The story has been told countless times in this neck of the woods. To this day, for my money, it remains the oddest thing to happen to the Arkansas football program in my lifetime. Odder than the Bobby Petrino ordeal, even.
When Malzahn left, he left in a tizzy, although to everyone’s credit involved, it could have been much darker, much worse. A segment of the fan base despised Malzahn for what it thought he had done to the program. Another segment despised head coach Houston Nutt for handling things the way he did. The truth, like always, probably lies somewhere in the middle.
But as time has passed — the infamous parent meeting with athletic director Frank Broyles has its 10th anniversary this December — Malzahn has largely been forgiven. Time heals wounds and all that. Stops in Tulsa and Arkansas State helped as they put Malzahn in places on the Razorbacks’ periphery, even if the latter came after Malzahn won a national championship at Auburn as offensive coordinator. Plus, he was (mostly) always still highly thought of in Fayetteville’s next town to the north, my home, Springdale. And as an Arkansas native, born and raised, longtime folks, friends of the family and the like, they were never going anywhere.
Then the frustration returned. It didn’t creep back in. It was here full bore. He came back to the SEC as Auburn’s coach and in his first year the Tigers beat a woeful Arkansas team and went on to the BCS national championship game, and nearly won it. Malzahn and Arkansas coach Bret Bielema had arrived at their two schools the same year, so the comparisons were natural. Some saw the Razorbacks’ difficulty and the Tigers’ success and bemoaned missing out on hiring Malzahn. Others were jealous. And still others were plain mad. Things were not helped by the public feud, real or fabricated, between the two coaches, who to this day have clear personality differences.
After that first year, though, Arkansas got better. Auburn got worse. Last year, the two flip-flopped. The Razorbacks beat Auburn in four overtimes in Fayetteville. Exacting the win was cathartic and probably the ultimate reason — that and Malzahn and Bielema’s coming to terms publicly — the rancor toward the Auburn coach is largely gone.
If you believe, however, the team and the fan base think Auburn is just another game, with Malzahn as coach, I fear your head is in the sand. Other than beating Alabama, which everyone in the SEC hopes, the Tigers are the game the Razorbacks want to win, hostility toward the coach or otherwise.
Greg Ostendorf at ESPN writes that Auburn and Arkansas aren’t exactly what people think they are. Such as, Bielema’s team isn’t all about power running and Malzahn’s spread isn’t all about the pass. Common knowledge among both fan bases, but good insight for everyone else.
Jordan Rodgers, former Vanderbilt quarterback and The Bachelorette contestant and current little brother of Aaron and SEC Network analyst, says Arkansas will not only cover the spread against the Tigers but will win straight up.
— Paul Finebaum (@finebaum) October 20, 2016
Arkansas had a couple players on the St. Louis Post-Dispatch’s midseason All-SEC team. Center Frank Ragnow was the most likely and he made it. The other was a bit of a surprise: wide receiver Jared Cornelius. Check the link for the whole list.
Good buddy Kurt Voigt at the Associated Press, where I received my start in this business, takes a look at the Arkansas defense through a different lens.
I said “not quite” on this a couple days ago, but radio host Bo Mattingly writes Arkansas is a nationally relevant program again right now.
Arkansas governor Asa Hutchinson is proposing a revenue slash at War Memorial Stadium, the place Arkansas plays its once-a-year game in Little Rock. This per the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.
To run or not to run, that is the question
Arkansas has been called “Running Back U” by more than a few people in the last couple years. While I think it’s a ridiculous phrase, Arkansas has, yes, had a slew of great running backs over the last couple dozen years.
Auburn has, too, and in fact, the Tigers’ backs may be a touch better.
It’s no different this year as Arkansas’ Rawleigh Williams III leads the league in yards rushing and Auburn has two players, Kamryn Pettway and Kerryon Johnson, in the top seven (fourth and seventh).
Neither crack this list, though. Not yet. They’re only sophomores. But they continue the tradition of some super-skilled ball carriers at the two schools. Here are the 10 best, five from each team, over the last 25 years.
10. Jonathan Williams (2012-15)
No doubt Williams would be higher had he not missed his entire senior season with a broken foot. Instead, he left Arkansas with just one 1,000-yard season, though another 900-yard one in his pocket, too. He was a bruiser and it was sad to watch him miss last year.
9. Madre Hill (1994-98)
Hill is one of the best Arkansas youth players of my lifetime. Famous since childhood in this state, he never flamed out. Was a rock for some meh Arkansas teams in the mid-90s.
8. Cedric Cobbs (1999-2003)
One of my favorite players, and not even because I was an Arkansas guy, in college football during my years of high school. Cobbs was the best player most years in the early and middle era of Nutt.
7. Tre Mason (2011-13)
Slight guy who scored touchdowns by the boatload. Mason surprised a lot of people being as good as he was. Much as Cam Newton gets the credit, that national championship-winning team might not be one without Mason.
6. Ronnie Brown, Auburn (2000-04)
Like Williams, Brown could be higher. He just had to share the backfield with another great. He was the smaller, speedier of the two, didn’t have nearly the same number of carries and was still a No. 2 overall pick in 2005.
5. Alex Collins, Arkansas (2013-15)
Collins and Williams will always be remembered as the two players who first started the Arkansas turnaround in the post-Petrino era. He’d have torched the record books if it wasn’t for one player on this list. And he’s second in every category, anyway, practically.
4. Rudi Johnson, Auburn (2000)
One year was all it took for Johnson. He was only on the Plains the single season but he set a school record for carries and was No. 2 for single-season yards. He also had a very good NFL career after he left.
3. Stephen Davis, Auburn (1993-95)
A banger and bruiser, the toughest runner on here. Davis was a prototype college football running back in frame and output in the 1990s. Had he had one more season, only Bo Jackson would probably top him Auburn lore.
2. Carnell Williams, Auburn (2001-04)
“Cadillac” was everything. Big. Strong. Fast. He still holds the Auburn record for rushing touchdowns with 45, that even with sharing the backfield with Brown.
1. Darren McFadden, Arkansas (2005-07)
Easy, right? Twice a runner-up for the Heisman Trophy, McFadden is perhaps the best running back ever in the SEC. He owns the Arkansas record books and is perhaps the school’s best-ever skill player.
Apologies to Ben Tate and Felix Jones.
Those Diamond Hogs
The Razorbacks finished their Fall World Series, a best-of-five intrasquad set, a little earlier than figured Thursday as Team Gray beat Team Cardinal, 21-4, in Game 3 to get the sweep.
— Razorback Baseball (@RazorbackBSB) October 21, 2016
In Cardinal’s defense, Gray was loaded. Carson Shaddy and Luke Bonfield, the only players to hit over .300 last year, were both on the team. Newcomer Jared Gates, who played second in junior college but at first the whole series, hit clean-up and had four RBI. He looks like, right now, the likeliest starter at that position when Arkansas opens its season in late winter.
As for where the Diamond Hogs will fit in the SEC this year after last season’s cellar finish, we’ll save that for a later date. Just don’t count on it being the very bottom again. Not with Dave Van Horn coaching.
Arkansas has a final fall practice Friday before returning to individual workouts the rest of the semester.
- The Arkansas volleyball team starts a four-match homestand at Barnhill Arena on Friday. The Razorbacks play Alabama, Auburn, Mississippi State and Georgia, hoping to end a streak of six straight SEC losses.
- Arkansas men’s tennis had a decent day at the ITA Central Regional Championship on Thursday. Singles players went 3-2 and doubles teams went 3-3 on the day. Arkansas has six singles players in the Round of 64 on Friday and the doubles team of Mike Redlick and Jose Salazar in the Round of 16.
- Arkansas’ Division I hockey team has a homestand at the Jones Center this weekend. Illinois State visits Friday and Saturday night at 7:30 each night. The two teams split a series in Illinois earlier this weekend.
Yee-Haw! Today in Arkansas
Not linking to a story today for this segment. As the kids say …
Just gonna leave this right here:
— KNWA News (@KNWAnews) October 20, 2016