LITTLE ROCK — Arkansas’ goal against Louisiana-Monroe was to put together a confidence-building performance in its final tune-up before Saturday’s showdown against top-ranked Alabama.
Instead, the eighth-ranked Razorbacks left Little Rock with one of the most embarrassing losses in school history.
Louisiana-Monroe stormed back from a three-touchdown deficit to tie the game late in regulation, then beat the Razorbacks 34-31 in overtime in front of an announced crowd of 53,089 in War Memorial Stadium on Saturday night. The Arkansas loss snapped a 10-game win streak in Little Rock and also erased a 20-game win streak against nonconference opponents in War Memorial Stadium.
More important, it leaves the Razorbacks — who were confident they would be fine after coach Bobby Petrino’s offseason firing — at an unpredictable crossroads after two games under John L. Smith. Arkansas (1-1), which carried championship hopes into the season, limps into its conference opener.
“We have to pull together,” Smith said. “We all contributed to the loss. And I don’t want to see any of this and this, which is naturally what you get because that’s the easy thing to do and that’s what losers do is they point fingers. Hopefully we have no losers. Hopefully they’ll all wrap their arms around each other and come together.”
There’s no guarantee it will happen, though, after ULM quarterback Kolton Browning shredded the Razorbacks in leading his team to 550 yards. ULM trailed 28-7 early in the third quarter before putting together 75-, 39- and 90-yard scoring drives to shock the crowd and force overtime.
Arkansas couldn’t move the ball during the extra period, settling for a 37-yard field goal from kicker Zach Hocker. Browning won the game with a fourth-and-1 scramble, collecting a 16-yard touchdown to win the game for the Warhawks.
It sent ULM’s players rushing onto the field to celebrate with their quarterback, who finished 42 of 67 for 412 yards with 3 touchdowns and an interception. The elusive Browning also added a game-high 69 rushing yards with another touchdown.
“We couldn’t get them off the field,” Smith said. “He made play after play after play.”
Said defensive coordinator Paul Haynes: “We didn’t finish the game again.”
Arkansas’ defense, which also struggled against Jacksonville State, took the brunt of the blame Saturday night. But an offense that lost quarterback Tyler Wilson to an “above the shoulders” injury late in the first half, was equally guilty in the loss.
Backup quarterback Brandon Allen stepped on the field confidently, leading the Hogs to a 66-yard scoring drive to open the third quarter. He capped the drive with a 13-yard touchdown pass to receiver Mekale McKay to give the Hogs a 28-7 lead.
But he crumbled from there. So did the Arkansas offense, which grinded to a halt after the third quarter touchdown drive. The Razorbacks managed just 32 yards on 18 plays over its final six possessions in the fourth quarter and overtime.
Allen finished the completing 6 of 20 passes for 85 yards with a touchdown and interception in place of Wilson. Arkansas rushed for 96 yards, 23 in the second half.
“Very tough situation. Very, very tough,” Smith said of Allen. “It’s unfair, I think, to pass a judgment on him at this time. … Believe me, it was not any one person.”
Said running back Knile Davis: “If you can’t run, you can’t win.”
ULM, which scared Arkansas in a 31-7 loss in 2010, improves to 4-34 against SEC teams. It was the program’s first win against a ranked team since moving to the Football Bowl Subdivision (formerly Division I-A) in 1994.
The performance left ULM coach Todd Berry beaming with pride after the game.
“I told the kids at halftime it was going to the fourth quarter and then it’s going to come down to who blinked first,” Berry said.
“When it went to overtime … I trusted we weren’t going to flinch.”
Arkansas did. And it leaves the Razorbacks to pick up the pieces after a devastating night in which saw several players suffered more than just emotional pain.
Wilson, who threw for 196 yards and two touchdowns with an interception in the first half, was not on the sideline in the second half after his injury. Smith said it’s too early to provide an update on his status for next week’s Alabama game.
There were even more severe injuries, too. Cornerback Tevin Mitchel had to be carted off the field on a back brace after a head-to-head collision with a teammate in the second half. Mitchel lay motionless while trainers tended to him, but Smith said he believes the sophomore will be all right after a scary injury.
Not long after the cart got Mitchel to an ambulance, it was back on the field for fullback Kody Walker. The redshirt freshman, who started in place of injured senior Kiero Small, suffered what appeared to be a severe injury to his left leg.
It all culminate in a nightmare of a night for the Razorback. Smith, though, tried to cobble together optimistic as he recounted his team’s collapse. He said any loss is devastating, but noted Arkansas still hasn’t dropped a game in conference play.
“There’s no reason for us not to get ready to beat Alabama,” Smith said.
Linebacker Tenarius Wright, who was one of two players in the postgame interview room Saturday, said the Razorbacks have no other choice but to bounce back.
“I am shocked and I am mad at the same time,” Wright said. “I don’t want to show anger. I want to be strong for my team. Our team has to come together and stay together as a family and get ready for next week.”