Required to turn in the ballot for Arkansas’ most outstanding senior with 15 minutes to play, the candidate of choice says volumes about the Razorbacks vs. Tulsa through three quarters Saturday.
Among the 19 players listed alphabetically, the circle went to the second name on the list, punter Dylan Breeding.
At that point, his 69-yard punt had set up a field goal, his 61-yard kick had extricated Arkansas from a deep hole, and his on-the-run sidewinder was one hop too many from stopping inside the Tulsa 5.
Too bad there was no way to wait another 5 minutes or, even better, until the end of the game.
Moments after the ballots were collected, senior quarterback Tyler Wilson and wide receiver Cobi Hamilton launched a brief and effective campaign. Unlike political ads, this one was positive from start to finish and the follow-up sequence was good enough to convert any of the undecided.
Wilson’s pitch for votes began with a 20-yard completion before Hamilton got involved by somehow fighting around a defender to snag a throw for 41 more. The punctuation was a well-designed tunnel screen that Hamilton carried to the lip of the Tulsa goal to set up a TD for 19-15.
Not as spectacular but effective nonetheless, Wilson’s throw under pressure — he got up limping — to Hamilton was good for 29 yards and flipped field position in Arkansas’ favor a few minutes later.
In the fourth quarter, Wilson was 6 of 9 and Hamilton was on the receiving end of five of those passes for 99 yards.
Even then, the four-point victory was not secure until Chris Smith ran through Tulsa quarterback Cody Green and Byran Jones recovered Green’s fumble. The fact that Tulsa had one final chance resulted because Arkansas was unable to make a yard on fourth down from the Tulsa 16.
If Arkansas had had more than a yard to go, coach John L. Smith would have ordered a field goal attempt. Instead, he said, his thinking was, “Let’s win it right here.”
Trying to run behind an overload on the right side, Dennis Johnson made nothing. Maybe that failure underscores the truth that nothing comes easy for this team.
In the end, the best thing to be said is that Arkansas finally won a close game. Before Saturday, the Razorbacks were 0-3 in games in which the margin was less than 10 points.
Maybe the result only supports the theory about the talent gap between the Southeastern Conference and Conference USA. After all, the Razorbacks are below average in the SEC and Tulsa is 5-0 in CUSA.
For the longest time, it looked as if Arkansas’ special teams — Breeding’s contributions, Nate Holmes’ 25-yard punt return, Zach Hocker’s two field goals and the first blocked extra point since 2004 — would be the difference, particularly, because Tulsa missed a field goal and an extra point.
But, Julian Horton’s fumble led to a field goal for a 15-13 Tulsa lead and Dennis Johnson misplayed a kickoff, creating a field position nightmare.
Unable to stop Ole Miss when it mattered a week earlier, the Arkansas defense allowed only 125 yards in the second half.
Cornerback Tevin Mitchel turned in one of the biggest plays, tracking down running back Trey Watts after a 45-yard gain on a well-designed screen. From the 5, no receiver was available on first down, a direct snap to Watts netted nothing on second down, Mitchel defended a third-down pass and Trey Flowers batted down a fourth-down pass.
Twice, Smith — Flowers’ counterpart on the other side — hung out around the line of scrimmage and knocked down passes.
By the way, Hamilton wound up winning the Crip Hall Award as the outstanding senior. He had 11 catches for 177 yards, giving him a school-record 69 receptions for the season. He also sprinted about 40 yards to make a tackle after Wilson’s only interception of the game.
Harry King is sports columnist for Stephens Media’s Arkansas News Bureau. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.