Not so great escape fails to ease consternation

Posted: November 5, 2017 at 1:56 a.m.

Arkansas coach Bret Bielema watches a replay during a game against Coastal Carolina on Saturday, Nov. 4, 2017, in Fayetteville.

FAYETTEVILLE -- Never.

That's when the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville is supposed to struggle against Coastal Carolina, a baseball school with a mythical mascot.

The last time anyone heard of a Chanticleer before they won the College World Series in 2016 was in Canterbury Tales.

Until Saturday, when a team that had not won a football game since its season opener against UMass stretched the Razorbacks almost to the limit.

Never is when the fans of the Razorbacks deserve a program that doesn't compete every minute of every Saturday. It wasn't a 39-38 win as much as it was an escape from disaster.

Trailing 17-14 at the half, the visitors opened the second half driving 75 yards on six plays to take a 21-17 lead. Nothing about it said fluke.

The Coastal Carolina defense got in on the action less than two minutes later on a scoop and score for a 31-yard touchdown and a 28-17 lead. Suddenly, memories of The Citadel were flooding back.

This is not the way a team comes home after a win over Ole Miss. The Hogs didn't look like a team Saturday until the fourth quarter, and part of that was the use of players.

All season long fans have been told to wait until they see T.J. Hammonds, and finally against the Rebels they saw a fast and quick running back who was moved to receiver. Then he got in against Coastal Carolina in the second quarter, goes for 9 on his first carry, then 60 on a touchdown pass, and doesn't see the field again until the third quarter when he rushed for 22 yards on his next touch.

His sixth touch of the game was an 88-yard touchdown run that made it 38-32 with 10:09 to play. Finally, using more than five minutes of clock, the Hogs drove 76 yards for the winning touchdown with just 1:55 to play. That's way too close for an SEC team.

Maybe this coaching staff wasn't aware of what happened to Jack Crowe after losing the season opener to The Citadel in 1992.

Obviously the bigger problem was the Razorbacks defense, which gave up big plays and allowed the Chanticleers to convert too many critical third downs.

Perhaps the biggest concern should be the leadership at the UA, and that means at the top. Who allowed a program that was in the Sugar Bowl after the 2010 season to slip to the point it has to charge back to slip by a visiting team that hasn't won a Sun Belt game?

These are the same Chanticleers who lost to Arkansas State 51-17, and they got 10 of their points late in the game against substitutes.

Against the Razorbacks they lined up and played fearlessly, like it was their homecoming, which was one of the reasons Reynolds Razorback Stadium was 15,000 short of the announced attendance of 61,476.

The Hogs rallied to make it 28-25, but Coastal Carolina went 60 yards and got a 32-yard field goal. The Hogs got almost nothing in a drive that ended in a 6-yard punt, and on the first play of the fourth quarter the Chanticleers converted a fourth down, then scored another touchdown. Down 38-25, disbelief seemed to be the prevalent feeling in the stands.

The Razorbacks answered and are now 4-5 on the season. They must win two of their final three conference games, against much better competition, to even get bowl eligible.

There is a problem on a team that hasn't improved since last season.

The Arkansas Razorbacks are supposed to take opponents like Coastal Carolina -- their ninth opponent of the year -- and give them a big paycheck and even bigger defeat.

The fans deserve wins, especially at home, not escapes from disaster.

Sports on 11/05/2017