Louisiana-Monroe owns the SEC. Not really. No, really: U.L.M. owns the SEC – with a slight caveat. The Warhawks are as good against the SEC as any non-B.C.S. conference program in the country, I should say. Last night, the Warhawks beat Arkansas, 34-31, in overtime, to notch the program’s second win against the nation’s premier conference since 2007. The victory joins that earlier win against Alabama in Nick Saban’s first year; the two wins sandwich seven losses, but that’s neither here nor there.
U.L.M. plays in the Sun Belt – the S.B.C., not the SEC. The Warhawks are added onto an SEC’s team non-conference schedule as an easy win, a smooth, satisfying victory that has the added bonus of coming against an F.B.S. team, not an F.C.S. opponent.
It’s just like U.L.M. to throw a wrench into Arkansas’ plans. For one, the Warhawks are the most unorthodox program in a league defined by its unorthodox takes; the Sun Belt needs to be different to hang in the F.B.S., if not to run with each other during conference play.
The Warhawks run a 3-3-5 defense behind coordinator Troy Reffett – that’s one piece of evidence of the program’s unconventional stance. It’s a defense that gives trouble to B.C.S. conference teams for a simple reason: teams like Arkansas, Alabama and even Florida State, which struggled a bit with U.L.M. last fall, are largely unfamiliar with the scheme.
Arkansas was caught looking ahead. With Alabama up next, the Razorbacks took U.L.M. lightly, thinking that they could roll out with a less-than-strong effort and still win – because the Warhawks are still in the Sun Belt, after all. With the Tide looming, the Razorbacks were caught napping.
That’s no excuse for Arkansas. It’s not – because there’s no excuse for Arkansas, Bobby Petrino or no, to lose to a team from the Sun Belt. The only excuse Arkansas has isn’t an excuse, exactly: U.L.M. wanted it more. U.L.M. outplayed us. They outworked us, out-hustled us, out-wanted us.
So, a few takeaways. I can give you five can’t-fail guarantees after watching U.L.M. dunk the Razorbacks at home:
Arkansas isn’t beating Alabama. Obviously. This was clear before last night, but it’s clearer than crystal today. The Razorbacks have no prayer, even if Tyler Wilsons upper-body injury is not as severe as the early CBS report that he had broken his collarbone made it out to be.
Nor is Arkansas beating L.S.U. in November. Again, there’s no chance. The Tigers are too good, too strong, too fast for Arkansas. While the Tigers have flown in under the radar – hard to believe, in a way – they ripped Washington apart at the seams in a 41-3 win in Baton Rouge.
Arkansas isn’t winning the SEC. Well, you’re not winning the SEC if you can’t beat L.S.U. and Alabama. For now, I’d put Arkansas fourth in the West, behind the Tide, Tigers and Mississippi State. The Bulldogs look great against Auburn, though Gene Chizik’s team is in bad shape.
Arkansas isn’t landing an at-large B.C.S. bid. With Alabama and L.S.U. headed to the B.C.S., the only way the Razorbacks get in – and this suggests that the Razorbacks get on a tear – is if the Tide and Tigers have another title-game rematch.
Finally, John L. Smith is not coming back in 2012. It was already a long-shot at best. Today, after this? There’s just no chance. At best, the Razorbacks are going 9-3 – and that’s not enough to make Smith the permanent solution. Instead, Arkansas will leap into the coaching pool in December, throwing lines after Charlie Strong and Steve Sarkisian, among others.
Enough about Arkansas, because this game was about the Warhawks. This is potentially a job-saving win for Todd Berry, who was very much on the hot seat entering this season. It’s a huge victory for this team’s confidence heading into next weekend’s date with Auburn, let alone for the Sun Belt season.
The win validates Reffett’s work with this defense, which has been outstanding. The victory takes some press away from Louisiana-Lafayette and Louisiana Tech, two in-state rivals who have stormed onto the national scene thanks to a strong 2011 season.
It’s a huge win for the program. And you know what? Watch out, Auburn. The way you’re playing and the way U.L.M. is playing – watch out, is all.