STARKVILLE, Miss. — One way or another, there is no choice but to renege on a promise.
During a third-quarter conversation with a couple of cohorts, when the Razorbacks only trailed 17-14, I said the column would concentrate on the Arkansas positives from the game against Mississippi State.
For the final 42 minutes, they were so few and far between that keeping such a commitment would produce copy about a dozen inches shy of the contractual obligation.
In that case, it would be a matter of padding with silliness. For instance, research showed it was possible for Jon Gruden to catch a flight from his home base in Tampa, Fla., to Columbus, Miss., take in the Arkansas game with an eye on his supposed new gig as the Razorback coach, and hop a Sunday flight to San Francisco to work Monday Night Football.
Sure, the Golden Triangle Airport in Columbus is about 20 miles from Starkville, but Gruden could have rented a red convertible, put the top down, and made the drive.
If only Arkansas coaches had subbed Brandon Allen for Tyler Wilson early in the fourth quarter, a Gruden groupie with a free-running imagination could speculate that the ESPN analyst had asked to see the redshirt freshman in action.
Instead, Allen did not enter the game until only 35 seconds remained.
It was poetic that Wilson scrambled on his final play, sliding to keep from being leveled by a defender. Not unexpectedly, he competed to the end, pointing out to Julian Horton that the junior wide receiver had run the wrong route on the previous play.
A cynic would find something positive in Arkansas’ 45-14 loss to the Bulldogs and that is that we can finally put an end to speculation that the Razorbacks could mathematically squeeze into a bowl game. The Razorbacks’ postseason hopes are as dead as the idea that Gruden will be the next Razorback coach.
Other than that, the criteria about positives would have to be expanded to include the ambiance — the delicious chocolate chip cookies available in the press box and the Kiss Cam where the middle-aged woman with the wide brim hat commandeered her man for a peck to be displayed on the video board.
As for the on-field action, Arkansas’ demise snowballed.
The Razorbacks’ first 21 plays produced 151 yards, nine first downs and 14 points. During that time, Wilson had time to throw, thanks to the offensive line and contributions from Dennis Johnson. The Razorbacks’ other two possessions of the half netted 62 yards, two first downs, and no points.
At the half, Wilson was 14 of 15. Equally important, Arkansas had 76 yards rushing on 18 attempts.
In the second half, Wilson was 9 of 14 with two interceptions and the running game netted 50 yards.
“After the poor start early with our defense, I thought we made a lot of plays,” said coach Dan Mullen, whose team is 8-3 and possibly Gator Bowl-bound in his fourth year as the Bulldogs’ head coach.
The first four times the Razorbacks faced third down, they converted. The rest of the way, they were 2 of 8. Mix in the power running of 230-pound back-up quarterback Dak Prescott near the Arkansas goal, some zippy passes by MSU starting QB Tyler Russell, Wilson coming up 2 feet short on a fourth-down scramble, a bad decision by Johnson to reverse his field in the shadow of the Arkansas end zone, and five turnovers, and you have all the ingredients for a slippery slope.
Three of the best four teams in the Western Division of the Southeastern Conference have outscored Arkansas by a combined 155-24 this season, and LSU is likely to pile on Friday in the season finale at Fayetteville.
After that, it will be time to hire the next coach.
That is not a knock on John L. Smith, just an observation that a new face is a much-needed positive for Arkansas fans.
Harry King is sports columnist for Stephens Media’s Arkansas News Bureau. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.