MEMPHIS Mallett claims award
Ryan Mallett became the third Arkansas quarterback to win the Liberty Bowl MVP award, but the first to actually win the game.
Mallett struggled during much of the Razorbacks’ 20-17 overtime victory against East Carolina on Saturday night in the 51st annual Liberty Bowl, completing 15 of 36 passes for 202 yards and 1 touchdown.
Still, it’s probably not surprising the quarterback of the winning team got the MVP award, though it easily could have gone to East Carolina tailback Dominique Lindsay, who rushed 33 times for 151 yards.
Lindsay wouldn’t have been the first MVP from a losing team. It’s happened a few times, including Arkansas quarterbacks Joe Ferguson (in 1971 when the Razorbacks lost to Tennessee 14-13) and Greg Thomas (in 1987 when they lost to Georgia 20-17).
Arkansas’ other award winners Saturday night were receiver Jarius Wright (most outstanding offensive player) and safety Tramain Thomas (most outstanding defensive player).
Wright had four catches for 90 yards. Thomas returned an interception 37 yards for a touchdown and had nine tackles.
East Carolina’s outstanding players were Lindsay on offense and senior linebacker Chris Mattocks (forced fumble, eight tackles) on defense.
The big question leading up to the game, and immediately afterward, for Ryan Mallett is whether he’ll return to Arkansas for hisredshirt junior season or make himself available for the NFL Draft.
Of course, Mallett didn’t give a definitive answer.
“I’m going to celebrate tonight with my teammates,” he said. “I promise I’ll let you know when I decide to do something.”
Reports of Arkansas having more than 50,000 fans at the game weren’t an exaggeration.
From a color standpoint, the Liberty Bowl appeared to be filled with strawberries, with a few grapes dropped in.
Arkansas’ first rushing attempt of the game resulted in the first lost fumble by a running back this season in 310 carries.
Dennis Johnson took a handoff and gained 13 yards, but outside linebacker Chris Mattocks stripped the ball from him and strong safetyLevin Neal recovered it for the Pirates at the East Carolina 33 with 13:52 left in the first quarter.
Mattocks said he forced the fumble using the same stripping technique the Pirates practice in drills every day.
Shut out for half
Arkansas failed to score in the first half for the second time this season and trailed the Pirates 10-0.
The Razorbacks trailed at Alabama 14-0 at halftime of a 35-7 loss at Alabama on Sept. 26 in the season’s third game.
It also was the second consecutive game in which the Razorbacks didn’t score a first-half touchdown.
Arkansas trailed at LSU 17-6 at halftime in a game the Tigers won 33-30 in overtime.
Back in lineup
Arkansas safety Tramain Thomas and linebacker Jerico Nelson started in place of Matt Harris and Wendel Davis, who were suspended for the game because of a curfew violation.
Thomas made his fourth start of the season, but his first in 10 games. Nelson made his second start.
Jerry Franklin moved from an outside linebacker spot to the middle - where Davis had 11 starts this season - and Nelson started where Franklin normally does on the outside.
Kudos to the fans who braved temperatures in the 20s.
The crowd was announced at 62,742, second-largest in Liberty Bowl history. The largest was 63,816 for the Mississippi State-Central Florida game two years ago.
It was 29 degrees at kickoff at 4:30 p.m., and by halftime it was 27 with a wind chill factor that made it feel like 22 degrees. By late in the game, the windchill factor was 15 degrees.
The weather figured to affect the players in terms of some dropped passes - and maybe some missed field goals? - but Ryan Mallett said it didn’t bother him.
“I went to school at Michigan. I was fine,” said Mallett, who transferred to Arkansas after playing for the Wolverines as a true freshman. “I don’t think it had any effect.” False alarm
The East Carolina team had its sleep disturbed in the middle of the night by a prankster at the team hotel.
The fire alarm went off about 2:30 a.m. at the Hilton, the Pirates’ team hotel, said Tom McClellan, East Carolina’s assistant athletic director for media relations.
The team had to evacuate the hotel out into the cold, and the Pirates were allowed to return to their rooms after the all-clear was given at about 3:45 a.m., McClellan said.
Sports, Pages 32 on 01/03/2010
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