FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. — Louisiana Tech kicker Jonathan Barnes’ 39-yard fourth-quarter field goal attempt sailed through the air for what seemed like an eternity.
Arkansas fans nervously held their breath as Donald W. Reynolds Razorback Stadium fell silent, awaiting the outcome of Barnes’ try.
The next sound heard inside a stadium of 69,132 fans was the ball clanking off the front of the south end zone’s left upright. The kick was no good. And the Razorbacks had new life.
Arkansas followed with a 13-play, 77-yard drive capped by a game-winning touchdown pass from Austin Allen to Jeremy Sprinkle, allowing the Hogs to escape their season opener with a 21-20 victory.
“That’s what we needed,” senior wide receiver Keon Hatcher said of the missed field goal. “(Louisiana Tech) messed up. That was a good chance for (Louisiana Tech) to try and seal the deal, but now the offense got the ball and we’re about to go do something with it, and that’s what we did.”
Had Barnes’ kick split the uprights, Louisiana Tech would’ve taken a two-score lead with just over 14 minutes to play. Considering the way Arkansas had played — especially in the second half — a 9-point lead at that point would’ve felt nearly insurmountable.
“We needed a big play,” said senior wide receiver Drew Morgan. “Wherever it came from. The football gods were looking out for us. I’m blessed to see that it went our way.”
Louisiana Tech coach Skip Holtz referenced the miss as a “big momentum swing” in a game his 26-point underdog team from Conference USA went toe to toe with a SEC opponent. Other than that, he praised his team for their competitiveness, as did Arkansas coach Bret Bielema.
While the outmanned Bulldogs have plenty of positives to take away from Fayetteville, the Razorbacks are left searching for answers to a multitude of issues with a date at No. 13 TCU looming next Saturday.
- The offensive line surrendered 4 sacks and paved the way for only 106 rushing yards with a 2.7 yards per rush average.
- The wide receivers, particularly senior Cody Hollister, had trouble catching the ball.
- The injury bug, which was so familiar to Arkansas early last season, may already be starting to bite again. Cornerback Kevin Richardson II, wide receiver Jared Cornelius and tight end Austin Cantrell all left the game Saturday with undisclosed injuries and did not return. Those players are all being relied upon as significant contributors. How long they’ll be out remains uncertain.
Those issues will be addressed beginning with a Sunday film session. On Saturday night, the Razorbacks were just happy to have squeaked out a win.
“We won, and we won by one, but in the record books for the rest of time it’ll say a W and you’ve got to learn to appreciate those,” Bielema said. “Learn. Big time. Learn, learn, learn. Understand why it was close. Why we had failure in the first half. Why things happened in a certain way.”
Senior linebacker Brooks Ellis added: “The game was nerve-racking, but a win is a win. We were happy to get the win and we have to learn from the mistakes we made in order to move on to TCU.”
The Hogs are well-aware TCU awaits, and maybe they even had an eye on the Horned Frogs with Louisiana Tech still in front of them. Who knows?
But this much is almost certain: relying on the luck of the goal post to save them will be a recipe for disaster in Fort Worth.