As the Arkansas Razorbacks bullied their way to a 38-13 lead at the end of three quarters in last week's Liberty Bowl matchup with Kansas, the sunset over the western horizon painted "a picture no artist could draw," borrowing from Mayberry's resident idiot savant-turned-Marine Gomer Pyle.
The view from the east stands of the Liberty Bowl--whoops, make that Simmons Bank Liberty Stadium--indeed was sublime, as was the anticipated outcome.
But an hour later, those 30,000 Hogs fans and that depleted roster of Hog players were facing an ending no horror writer could craft. Because such an end would've strained even the boundaries of that genre's supernatural bent.
In a four-hour microcosm of this strange 2022 season, mercifully ended with a trophy, the Razorbacks were busy. How so? In turn, they teased of greatness, tripped over themselves, took the best shot of the men in stripes, hung on for dear life, responded to adversity, tripped over themselves some more, teased of more greatness, took yet more blows from the stripes and ultimately just out-gritted (by a hair) a game bunch of Jayhawks whose fans have suddenly rediscovered football.
For most of three quarters in Memphis, Arkansas looked the part of a middling SEC team against a middling Big 12 team. Which usually translates to "much better." But combinations worked against the Hogs: KU has a mobile if not accurate QB with crafty receivers, Arkansas corners and defensive linemen were held longer than FedEx packages with bad shipping codes--if not outright tackled--and the Pac 12 crew calling the game did so without apparent regard for its own officiating future. (If that's what they face each fall Saturday on the West Coast, we can't blame Southern Cal and UCLA for expatriating.)
The flags weren't overwhelming in number, certainly not for KU. But in creativity and timing, they were so in spades against the Hogs. Late flags and replay robbery gave the Jayhawks new life more than once when the good guys seemed to have put the game on ice.
Indeed, it was a microcosm of 2022. Played out within a concrete football time capsule--not far removed from our own here in central Arkansas (to which the Hogs return to open '23). A time capsule reduced to porta-potties because of Memphis' weather-related issues with the pipes.
Fitting. On so many levels. The perfect capper to a season of hard luck, hard injuries and at times, hard reality.
The Razorbacks' 7-6 bowl-winning '22 campaign is over. And that's a long KJ Jefferson scramble better looking than 6-7. There were lows all right, but the Hogs were three plays from 9-3. And if given the chance, most fans would've taken seven wins in year three once Sam Pittman arrived back on the Hill, considering the ditch out of which he was tasked with towing the program.
Anyway, that sublime sunset in Memphis hinted at shades of cardinal, and wisely or not, we'll take that as a good omen.