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Andy Hodges

Lack of offense, turnovers, doom Arkansas in surprising loss to Bulldogs

Arkansas wasn’t supposed to lose to Georgia on Thursday night at Bud Walton Arena, but the combination of a lot of things — all bad — led to a 64-55 loss.

“We tried to do a few different things,” Mike Neighbors said later. “It certainly appeared like we tried the same thing over and over and over expecting a different result. I think Einstein said is the definition of insanity.”

The Bulldogs turned the Hogs over 20 times, a season-high for the Razorbacks, while also holding Arkansas to just three 3-pointers, a season-low.

“Maybe the first time this year I’ve been disappointed,” Neighbors said.

There were some warning signs that he apparently didn’t realize (or know about) until it was too late to do anything about it.

Chelsea Dungee, who had 13 points and seven rebounds but also five of the team’s 20 turnovers, said later the team just had a lack of energy the last few days.

“That’s on me,” Neighbors said. “She’s not the only one that said it. That goes to the thing I can do better, which is have a better pulse. I’d like to tell you I had seen it, but I didn’t.

“I thought we had a quiet confidence about us. We were getting on that borderline of having a bit of swagger and maybe that’s what I was attributing it to.”

It wasn’t hard to tell Neighbors wasn’t real happy, although he did a pretty good job of masking it.

“There was no reason not to have any energy,” he said.

Then he started just listing the things he found out. Neighbors wasn’t using any of it as an excuse, but it did point to a lack of focus for this game.

“We just came off a day off and I found out just a minute ago nobody came in to do any extra shooting for the first time all year,” he said. “We had pre-practice on Tuesday, which I just found out nobody showed up for for the first time all year.

“As a result, for the first time this year we’re disappointed.”

This loss is going to stick with Neighbors, although he may have gotten some of it out in a rare post-game talk, which may have involved some straight talk.

The guess here is there may be a more focused team by Sunday.

“I will make sure those things don’t beat us before the game — and I’m not telling you that’s the reason — I’m telling you it’s the first time it’s happened,” he said. “It’s the first time I’ve talked to them — win or lose, home or away — that I’ve ever talked to the team following the game.

“I’m going to leave a little more encouraged. I can tell you if I hadn’t talked to them, I would have been not much fun to be around the rest of the night or tomorrow until I saw them again.”

With Florida coming up in a home game Sunday, Neighbors can’t let this game turn what a lot of fans expected to be two wins into the opposite.

“We’ve gotta take care of one of these two home games,” he said. “You can’t let two homes to people you’re picked around slip by and not regret it.”

Redshirt freshman Erynn Barnum was the Hogs’ leading scorer, matching her career-high with 14 points, shooting 50 percent from the field (6-12) and from three (1-2).

Dungee was the only other Hog to reach double-figures.

Gabby Connally led the way for Georgia, going for a game-high 18 points.

Turning point

The Hogs had a seven-point lead with 3:13 to play in the third quarter after a lay-in from sophomore guard Rokia Doumbia. Barnum went on a solo 7-0 run in just over a minute of clock time early in the third period, but the spark didn’t last long.

Georgia rolled from them on, though, closing the game on a 28-12 run over the end of the third and throughout the fourth period. That run included a 19-2 spurt that put the game just out of reach.

 Hogs highlights

• Barnum matched her career-high in points, going for 14.

• Dungee scored in double-figures for the ninth straight time.

• Senior guard Alexis Tolefree led the Hogs on the glass, pulling down seven rebounds.

• Doumbia recorded three steals, a new career-high.

 The Razorbacks will host Florida in a game is set to tip at 2 p.m. and will be streamable on SECN+.

Information from Razorback Sports Communications is included in this story.

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Andy Hodges

Franks will add numbers, experience to Hogs’ quarterback group

In a position room short on numbers and experience, Feleipe Franks’ announcement Monday afternoon via Instagram that he’s coming to Arkansas was interesting in a couple of areas.

Of course, nobody knows how it will play out, but you would think the Razorbacks are due to have one of these graduate transfer quarterbacks come in and actually grab the job and do something with it.

Last year there were a couple of those that appeared to have as little interest in winning games as they did being here.

Now it will be Franks’ turn after his visit to Fayetteville last weekend where “how genuine everybody is” made the difference.

That is a positive for new coach Sam Pittman and offensive coordinator Kendal Briles. A lot of people had him as a lock to join the Les Miles’ experience at Kansas but the new Hogs’ coaches apparently made a pitch and were able to close the deal.

Franks completed 367 of 622 passes for 4,593 yards, 38 touchdowns and 17 interceptions in his Florida career. Franks rushed 189 times for 438 yards and eight touchdowns.

He was injured against Kentucky this past fall. An ankle injury that required surgery ended his 2019 season. Before being injured against the Wildcats, Franks completed 12 of 17 passes for 174 yards, a touchdown and an interception.

Franks will be the biggest player in the room right off the bat at 6-foot-6 and 238 pounds. More importantly, he’s the most experienced, particularly in the SEC.

Competing with him will be redshirt sophomore John Stephen Joes, redshirt freshman K.J. Jefferson and redshirt senior Jack Lindsey along with North Texas walk-on transfer Cade Pearson.

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Andy Hodges

Briles may be looking for escapability at quarterback more than power

New offensive coordinator Kendal Briles has done a few interviews in his few weeks at Arkansas, but it’s clear he’s not looking for a quarterback to be an extra running back.

He hasn’t put it like this, but the interpretation of what he’s telling people in interviews he wants a quarterback that can escape and make something out of nothing.

He’s not looking for somebody to play running back.

A lot of people don’t really understand that. When freshman K.J. Jefferson finally got into a game against Mississippi State this past season, everyone was excited that he ran over a little ol’ safety who didn’t have an angle or momentum to do anything but get run over.

That’s not something a quarterback in the SEC West will be able to survive long doing.

“You do that too much in the SEC West, you’re going to beat him up,” Briles said in an interview that aired on Pig Trail Nation recently.

Jefferson found that out the hard way, getting knocked out in his first start against LSU the next week. Jack Lindsey also got dinged in the final game against Missouri.

A lot of quarterbacks don’t know HOW to run against big-time college players. A lot of them played in high school against opponents who weren’t as big or as athletic. Most never played after high school.

They could get away with running over the occasional opponent.

LSU’s Joe Burrow won a Heisman Trophy this past season not for his running ability but throwing the ball. Clemson’s Trevor Lawrence will start next season as the leading candidate for the Heisman and that’s not for his legs.

Oh, nearly every winning quarterback has a few plays on film that have him running the ball for a big gain. Nearly all the time they either dodge people or step out of bounds.

It’s called a business decision.

For the last four years, the Hogs have had quarterbacks that somehow thought proving their toughness involved trying to run over people. Every one of them ended up missing action due to injuries, mostly concussions.

Let’s face it, things were bad enough trying to dodge pass rushers considering how the offensive line played too often. They made it worse by trying to run over defenders.

“I like a guy that’s mobile enough that he can extend plays,” Briles said in the interview on Pig Trail Nation. “I don’t necessarily want to run a guy.”

In other words, being able to escape trouble, make something out of nothing and get out of bounds.

Preferably after getting past the first down marker.

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Andy Hodges

Calipari’s ejection works heavily in Kentucky’s favor, sinking Hogs

The only person that knows if John Calipari got himself tossed on purpose Saturday afternoon at Bud Walton Arena isn’t talking, but it wouldn’t be surprising if he did.

“The whole momentum changed after that in Kentucky’s favor … in every way, shape and form,” Eric Musselman said later. “We had the momentum during the dead ball, and after that, it completely changed.”

The Wildcats turned a three-point Arkansas lead with 8:19 to play into a 10-point lead four minutes later and held on the rest of the way for a 73-66 win.

With the game tied at 44 and most of the 19,200 in attendance smelling blood in the water, Calipari wandered too far onto the floor and get hit with a technical, which he then pushed into an ejection.

The guess here is none of that happened by accident. Calipari has been around the block before, his team was not exactly playing its best and needed a spark.

Apparently he didn’t tell anyone. A lot of coaches will alert his second-in-command to be ready when he’s planning on getting tossed. Kentucky associate coach Kenny Payne didn’t get that at all.

“Unfortunate,” he said later about Calipari’s ejection. “For me especially.”

Payne, who was part of Louisville’s 1986 national championship team, said later he didn’t think Calipari was trying to get thrown out.

“I seriously doubt it,” he said with a big grin. “I wish if he had done it on purpose he would have given me a heads-up.”

He simply told the players it was crunch time.

“It’s an execution game,” he said. “They last thing [Arkansas] is expecting us to do is rebound and push the ball up the court. Well, that’s what we did.”

He said Calipari gave him a big hug in the locker room after the win and congratulations. If they didn’t have it in their game plan to do that, Payne made a decision that may have completely changed the course of the game.

For all of their preparation work, Musselman may not have put in the plan. Dejected after the game, he sounded like he was expecting something different.

“Surprisingly, their post-ups didn’t really hurt us with our lack of size,” he said. “The rebounding did, for sure, but it wasn’t like they were just throwing it in the post and that was hurting us.”

The sold-out crowd was there for the tip and didn’t leave early. On the floor you could sense the momentum starting to swing to the Hogs with the crowd getting more amped up as the score tightened.

Then it slipped away when Calipari either made a shrewd coaching move … or just flat got lucky.

Musselman actually looked almost shocked later.

“This one hurts,” he said. “We had an incredible environment in the building. We don’t want to let our fans down and it’s hard to create that atmosphere and get that atmosphere back. The locker room’s hurting.”

Now he’s got a different challenge in that he can’t let Kentucky beat the Hogs twice in one week.

Arkansas has to go on the road to Mississippi State for a Wednesday night game.

“Right now we’re all hurting,” Musselman said. “We need a day to regroup. We’ve got to try to learn from a loss.”

Calipari made some coaching moves like shutting down Hogs’ guard Jimmy Whitt, Jr., who ended up with 14 points … all in the second half.

But the biggest move may have been getting thrown out, which wasn’t planned before the game, but might have been one of those in-game decisions.

It was one Musselman couldn’t counter.

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Andy Hodges

Kentucky game big for Razorback fans and it’s really been awhile

Who: Arkansas Razorback (14-2, 3-1 SEC) vs. #10 Kentucky Wildcats (12-4, 3-1 SEC)
What: Razorbacks to play in SOLD-OUT Bud Walton Arena for the second time this season.
When: Saturday – Jan. 18 – 3:00 pm
Where: Fayetteville, Ark. – Nolan Richardson Court at Bud Walton Arena
• TV: ESPN (Bob Wischusen, Dick Vitale and Kris Budden)
CLICK HERE to Watch ESPN Online
Radio: ESPN Arkansas 95.3 in the River Valley, 96.3 in Hot Springs and 104.3 in Harrison-Mountain Home (Chuck Barrett and Matt Zimmerman)
CLICK HERE to listen on HitThatLine.com
Sirius/XM: XM Channel 381, Streaming Online on channel 371
Live Stats: www.Arkansas.StatBroadcast.com

You know Arkansas’ annual game with Kentucky is a big deal because the ESPN mother ship is coming to town with the top broadcasting crew and that includes a color commentator some thought retired years ago.

Assuming he doesn’t automatically end up somewhere in the ACC by accident.

Seriously, though, this is a big game for Eric Musselman in his first season mainly because, well, the Razorbacks and Wildcats are tied in the SEC standings.

Raise your hand if you saw that coming before the season. Forgive me, though, if I don’t wait around.

You can listen to the game on the radio with the TV sound muted at ESPN Arkansas 95.3 in the River Valley, 96.3 in Hot Springs and 104.3 in Harrison-Mountain Home.

Online, you can listen to the game here at HitThatLine.com.

Kentucky coach John Calipari has been on record as being impressed with Musselman’s hiring since October after congratulating Jerry Jones, which may have been the first he’d heard of the Hogs’ new basketball coach.

He’s done nothing since then to give Arkansas any bulletin board material.

“They play really hard. They play rough,” Calipari said Friday. “They aren’t big but that doesn’t seem to hurt them on either end of the court. They have specific roles of what guys are going to do, what kind of shots they’re going to take and they do it.”

Musselman probably just shrugged when he heard that.

“Every game has got its own identity and comes up with its own theme the minute the refs throw the ball up,” he said Thursday afternoon.

Not for the fans, who have always approached the games with Kentucky at a fever pitch, regardless of the record or rankings.

The SEC let the Razorbacks in back in 1992 to give a different color to the league’s basketball tournament. In other words, somebody who could pose a challenge to Kentucky that had a color other than blue.

Exactly why a league that prides itself on marketing has, more or less, dropped the ball on that. You’d think they would figure out a way for that game to be played twice a year.

This one is big at this point of the schedule. Which actually has Musselman starting to sound a little like Nick Saban in his pregame speech.

“You prepare the same way, then your level of play shouldn’t fluctuate like a yo-yo, either,” he said. “You should be ready to play every night as a player, and as a coaching staff, you should have great preparation.”

Tell me if you just read those words you come up with several coaches that could be saying it.

Kentucky leads the all-time series, 32-11, but Arkansas is 7-7 versus the Wildcats at home. The last time Arkansas defeated Kentucky was a season-sweep in 2014.

First, the Razorbacks upset then-No. 13 Kentucky, 87-85, in overtime, on Jan. 14 thanks to a Michael Qualls dunk at the buzzer. A month later (Feb. 27) at Rupp Arena, Arkansas once again pulled out an overtime win to defeat then-No. 17 Kentucky, 71-67.

30-30-30

• Jimmy Whitt Jr., scored a career-high 30 points versus Vanderbilt to become the third Razorback to score at least 30 points this season. Mason Jones (41 vs Tulsa and 32 vs Rice) Isaiah Joe (34 Ole Miss • 33 TX Southern) were the others.

• Arkansas also had three players score at least 30 last season, including Daniel Gafford (32 vs LSU) • Mason Jones (30 vs Florida 30 vs Miss State) • Isaiah Joe (34 vs FIU).

Second half surge

• Isaiah Joe averages 18.6 minutes in the second half and Jimmy Whitt Jr., averages 18.4. Mason Jones follows at 16.4, followed by Desi Sills (14.6), Adrio Bailey (11.8) and Jalen Harris (10.4).

• Despite the extended minutes, Arkansas puts up better numbers in the second half: 1st HALF: 35.0 ppg • 43.9 FG% • 29.2 3PT% * 65.9 FT% • 64 steals; 2nd HALF       39.1 ppg • 45.68 FG% • 33.9 3PT% * 82.5 FT% • 77 steals

Razorbacks among NCAA winningest teams; best start since …

• Arkansas’ .875 win percentage is 14th-T in the NCAA.

• Arkansas is 1 of 15 teams in the NCAA with two or fewer losses.

• Arkansas is 14-2 overall for the first time since 1997-98. The ’97-98 team lost game 17 to fall to 14-3.

• Arkansas is 3-1 in SEC play for the first time since 2015-16. Arkansas will be looking for its first 4-1 in SEC play since opening 9-1 in league play in 1997-98.

No. 24 in NCAA NET, No 9 in RPI

• Arkansas’ NCAA NET remained 24th after a 75-55 win vs Vanderbilt.

• Arkansas’ NET is 2nd-best among SEC schools behind Auburn (13). Others of note: LSU (26), Kentucky (35), Alabama (44). Florida (48), Georgia (55).

• Arkansas’ NET of 24 is better than 6 teams ranked in the AP top 25.

• Arkansas has an RPI of 9, better than 16 teams ranked in the AP top 25.

Mason Jones is THE TEAM LEADER

• Mason Jones leads the Razorbacks in: Scoring (18.1) • Rebounding (6.1) • Assists (54) • Steals (29)

• Jones is THE ONLY PLAYER IN THE SEC to rank among the top 20 in scoring (3rd) and Rebounding (15th and also rank among the top 11 in steals (4th), 3-pointers made (8th), defensive rebounds (7th) and FG% (11th).

Putting Arkansas 3-point defense … or Joe’s success … in perspective

• Arkansas leads the NCAA in 3-point field goal defense as opponents have shot below 29% from long range 14 times. Overall, opponents are a combined 63-of-281 from long range (28.8%).

• Arkansas opponents have made 64 3-pointers in 281 attempts.

• Sophomore Isaiah Joe has made 63 3-pointers in 176 attempts.

Arkansas has best trio in SEC

Arkansas is the only team in the SEC to feature:

• Two players in the league’s top 5 for scoring — Mason Jones (3rd / 18.1) • Isaiah Joe (4th / 17.8)

• Three players in the league’s top 20 for scoring — Jimmy Whitt Jr.  (13th / 14.8)

Isaiah Joe on Jerry West Shooting Guard of the Year Watch List

Arkansas sophomore Isaiah Joe was named to the 2020 Jerry West Shooting Guard of the Year Award watch list, the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame announced today.

Fans can vote for their favorite player HERE.

Information, notes from Razorback Sports Communications included in this story.

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Andy Hodges

Whitt finds lots of points, Chaney finds playing time as Hogs roll past Vandy

On a night when Arkansas’ usual scorers weren’t, Jimmy Whitt, Jr., stepped up big and Reggie Chaney got out of the doghouse and paced a 75-55 win over Vanderbilt at Bud Walton Arena.

Whitt had a collegiate career-high 30 points while Chaney got 14 points. Chaney alone scored one point more than the Razorbacks’ usual scorers Isaiah Joe (12) and Mason Jones (1).

The Commodores came in pretty much ready to not let Joe and Jones have their usual big nights.

PHOTO BY ANDY HODGES | HITTHATLINE.COM

“They did a great job of crowding Mason and crowding Isaiah, which allowed Reggie to get some looks around the rim,” Hogs coach Eric Musselman said later. “It certainly allowed Jimmy, as well.”

Whitt just thought getting his big number was, well, cool. Especially doing it where he started his career before transferring to SMU before returning this season as a graduate transfer.

“It was cooler that I did it here rather than anywhere else, being able to come in my last year and reach a milestone like that in front of the fans I started with, I think it hit me right there and that was the coolest part for me,” Whitt said.

Chaney simply hadn’t been playing well and saw his playing time virtually disappear after a horrible game at LSU that included a technical for slapping the ball that had clearly ticked off Musselman.

He had to play his way back into what is admittedly a small rotation of seven or eight players on a big night. Musselman clearly had questions about him.

“I knew I had to earn that trust back,” Chaney said later. “In practice I’ve been going really hard.

“He still believed in me tonight and played me, so I went in and I had to do what I had to do. Tonight I came in and gave my best hustle and earned a little bit of his trust back.”

Arkansas needed it.

PHOTO BY ANDY HODGES | HITTHATLINE.COM

First half notes

• Chaney scored eight points off the bench with 7:10 to play in the first half. His season high coming into the game was six on two occasions He had only scored eight points the previous five games combined.

• Arkansas used a 12-3 run from 9:53 to 2:39 to go up nine, 29-20.

• Vandy’s Maxwell Evans answered with an old-fashioner 3-point play and a 3-point for the Commodores.

• Desi Sills got Arkansas back on track with a 3-pointer. The teams traded baskets and the Hogs lead by six, 34-28, at the break.

• Whitt scored 17 first-half points, including two dunks. He was also credited with his first 3-point attempt of the season, a desperation shot as the buzzer sounded to end the half.

• Chaney finished with eight points and Sills had seven with a team-best five rebounds.

PHOTO BY ANDY HODGES | HITTHATLINE.COM

Second half notes

• The Commodores got within four, 37-33, with 17:24 in the second half. The Razorbacks answered with an 8-0 run — its largest run of the game — to take a 12-point lead. The Hogs led by double digits the final 16:10 of the game.

• Joe hit back-to-back 3-pointers and Whitt had a dunk for the run.

PHOTO BY ANDY HODGES | HITTHATLINE.COM

Game notes

• Arkansas’ starting lineup was Whitt, Joe, Sills. Jones and Adrio Bailey for the 15th time this season.

• Arkansas won the tip. It was the ninth time in 16 games. Arkansas is 7-2 in such games.

• Bailey scored the first points of the game on two free throws at 19:17. Arkansas has scored first 11 times and is 9-2 in such games. It was the first time Bailey scored the team’s first points.

• Arkansas out-rebounded Vanderbilt 38-30. It was just the fourth time Arkansas has out-rebounded an opponent this season.

• Vanderbilt entered the game first in the SEC in 3-point percentage (.375) and second in the SEC in 3-pointers made (9.5). The Razorbacks held Vandy to just 5-of-20 (25%).

• Arkansas leads the NCAA in 3-point field goal percentage defense (22.8%).

PHOTO BY ANDY HODGES | HITTHATLINE.COM

• Vanderbilt had zero steals. They entered the game fifth in the SEC by averaging 7.6 steals per game. The last time an Arkansas opponent had zero steals was North Texas on Jan. 3, 2004.

• Arkansas tied a season high with 19 assists. They also had 19 in the season-opener against Rice.

• Arkansas shot a season-low 53.3% from the free throw line (8-of-15). The Razorbacks were 29th in the NCAA in free throw percentage entering the game.

• Arkansas is 3-1 in SEC play for the first time since 2015-16. Arkansas will be looking for its first 4-1 in SEC play since opening 9-1 in league play in 1997-98.

• Arkansas is 14-2 overall for the first time since 1997-98 as well. The ’97-98 team lost game 17 to fall to 14-3.

• All 12 Razorbacks saw game action.

Information, notes, from Razorback Sports Communications are included in this story.

Categories
Andy Hodges

Hogs looking at transfers, but could one here be developed?

With all this talk about Arkansas looking at potential transfer quarterbacks, you have to wonder how the guys already on the team feel about that.

It’s getting to the point where signing day is more of a starting point than a destination.

Especially with quarterbacks.

Joe Burrow just won a national title at Ohio State after transferring to LSU from Ohio State. Three of the quarterbacks in this year’s playoff games began their college careers somewhere else.

Which makes it reasonable that new Razorbacks coach Sam Pittman and offensive coordinator Kendal Briles are at least expressing interest.

Former Houston quarterback D’Eriq King and Florida’s starting quarterback at the beginning of this past season are the latest names drawing interest. Feleipe Franks is reportedly visiting Fayetteville this weekend, which is a big one in the recruiting world.

King was recruited by Briles to the Cougars and is one of the more highly-regarded signal-callers in this year’s talent relocation. Hog fans are hoping that’s enough to maybe convince him to come to Arkansas.

As for Franks, he is considered to be leaning towards Kansas and Les Miles, who recruited him hard when he was at LSU. He’s also visiting Mississippi State where Mike Leach is now the coach.

We may get a clue how good Pittman and Briles are as recruiters early with the Hogs. Let’s face it, they’re selling blue sky and opportunity at this point.

After back-to-back 10-loss seasons there’s no foundation. With eight different players starting at quarterback over the last two seasons and five of those guys gone, well, there’s not exactly a returning superstar to replace.

The three on the roster now — Jack Lindsey, John Stephen Jones and K.J. Jefferson — haven’t had a lot of development at the collegiate level. That’s code for lack of coaching, by the way.

All three have positives and negatives.There are some that feel looking at possible graduate transfer quarterbacks is a knock on the ones already here.

No, it’s not. The view here is if they’re not winning to compete for a job, you wonder how they’ll compete for wins.

With classes started for the spring semester getting a grad transfer in for spring practice has got to happen sooner rather than later … and they are recruiting some high school quarterbacks.

But unless Pittman and Briles can land a solid transfer, the most interesting thing in spring practice may be how well the ones already here can be developed.

After all, Hog fans have no idea how that could work out based on recent history.

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Andy Hodges

Johnson becomes latest Hogs’ connection selected for Pro Football Hall of Fame

When Jerry Jones brought Jimmy Johnson to Dallas nearly 31 years ago, he was about the only one that would admit he wanted him.

Nobody at the time could envision both of them would be in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

When Dave Baker, the president of the Hall of Fame, walked on the set of Fox’s halftime show during the NFC playoff game Sunday night he made the announcement Johnson was being inducted as a coach.

Johnson is now the fourth former Razorback selected for the Pro Football Hall of Fame. The others are Lance Alworth, Dan Hampton and Jones.

It was Johnson who recruited and coached Hampton for two years with the Hogs.

Johnson, for the first time in the roughly 47 years I’ve known him, got red-eyed with emotion.

And, yes, in case you’re wondering, I first met Johnson when he was coming through my hometown of Warren in the spring of 1973. He stopped to talk to Lumberjacks coach John McGregor, who hollered across the locker room to me to find a film on a game played in the fall of 1972.

Johnson had just been hired as defensive coordinator of the Razorbacks by Frank Broyles during the worst three-year stretch of his tenure. He was trying to find players anywhere.

The biggest difference back then was the coaches were driving their own cars and hoping there was a gas reimbursement when they got back to Fayetteville.

He was climbing the coaching ladder and probably had no idea at that time of the meteoric rise his career would take a little about a decade later.

Johnson was one of the senior captains on the undefeated 1964 Razorback team that got a version of the national championship, the only one in school history. He was a smallish lineman that got by on quickness and made the key defensive stops against Nebraska in the Cotton Bowl to secure the undefeated season.

None of that mattered when he came to Dallas at the end of February 1989.

Jones had proclaimed he was worth several first-round draft choices alone in replacing Tom Landry, who was too stubborn to leave and probably over-stayed his usefulness with the Cowboys by about five years or so.

Yeah, he did. I was there and had seen it first-hand from 1982.

Johnson came in and cut Hall of Fame lineman Randy White. About a month after coming to Dallas he fired another Hall of Famer in personnel director Gil Brandt, who had hosted Johnson in the Dallas Cowboys suite at the Super Bowl a few weeks earlier in Miami.

But what Johnson got was the No. 1 draft choice in Troy Aikman to go with another Hall of Famer in wide receiver Michael Irvin (who suddenly became a different player under his old college coach).

He brought discipline and accountability to the Cowboys, which had been sorely lacking under Landry. The team had become a clown show where the owner didn’t like the coach and ordered he be fired a couple of years previously … but the general manager was more intimidated by the coach and gave him a million-dollar new contract instead.

When Jones basically bounced into the press conference that he was buying the team, he created a ton of pressure for Johnson, who was trying to be as low profile as possible in the situation of replacing Landry.

Fans suddenly took out their dislike for Jones on Johnson, who just went about re-making an entire franchise. There were rough spots with Jones, but it was mainly a pair of egos clashing over who should be getting most of the credit as the team improved year by year.

When it all came together with Super Bowls in 1992 and 1993, things boiled over and Johnson was ready to leave and Jones was willing to pay several million dollars to help make that happen.

Maybe the most impressive thing about Johnson coming to the NFL in his five years in Dallas, though, was his ability to change himself and adapt to the professional game. He actually thought in 1990 he wanted to trade Aikman and go with Steve Walsh, but Jones said that wasn’t going to happen.

Johnson, who got a degree at Arkansas in industrial psychology, put that to use and became Aikman’s best friend. Their relationship changed because Johnson changed.

He saw he needed to make some changes and did what he had to do to win games.

After leaving Dallas in the spring of 1994, Johnson worked at Fox a few years before going to the Miami Dolphins where he never was able to duplicate his Cowboys’ success.

Johnson has worked as a studio analyst with Fox since retiring from the Dolphins after the 1999 season because, he said, he was “burned out.”

His NFL career was just nine seasons. The record wasn’t that impressive, but what he did was show the entire league you could trade in draft choices just like a commodity.

Oh, and you could build a championship football team out of rubble in less than five years.

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Andy Hodges

Can Leach finally win a big game making move to SEC with Bulldogs?

Let the fun and games begin in the SEC West.

With Mississippi State hiring Mike Leach on Thursday, the safest bet is the crowd for the Mississippi schools at SEC Media Days this summer in Atlanta will have significantly more in attendance than in the past.

Arkansas fans wanted Leach during the search process to replace Chad Morris. Athletics director Hunter Yurachek reportedly talked to him, but that was never going to work financially. Leach didn’t have a lot of interest in trying to fix the Razorbacks’ mess without a ton of money.

He either thought things in Starkville were better or the Bulldogs’ faithful put enough money on the table to where he couldn’t say no.

We won’t know the answer to that until we hear the numbers.

Maybe the biggest indicator of that is Leach becomes the first coach hired at State that is a sitting head coach since 1949.

Let that sink in for a minute.

For over 70 years the Bulldogs have only been able to manage hiring coaches that were coordinators somewhere or were in the unemployment line.

Hog fans that were carrying the torch for Leach to be in Fayetteville for years will be ready to jump off the cliff now.

The problem is exactly why Leach has been considered such a hot prospect by Arkansas fans kinda makes you want to shake your head anyway.

The only thing he consistently has been successful at is entertaining press conferences and an offense that can score a ton of points one week, then disappear the next week. That usually involves the big games, by the way.

His best team at Texas Tech was 11-1 … then promptly lost to Houston Nutt’s first Ole Miss team in the last Cotton Bowl played AT the stadium with that name.

At Washington State, his best team dropped an early game to USC, then lost to Washington the end the season and instead of the Rose Bowl took a postseason trip to San Antonio for the Alamo Bowl.

He has won some games, but not particularly consistently and few big games.

As one State booster told me earlier, “it will be interesting to see how he fits in with the culture of Mississippi State.”

That will be interesting. He’ll also have to be able to recruit at a level he’s never been able to get near during his head coaching years.

Athletics director John Cohen fired Joe Moorhead last week after it became clear he had completely lost the team which was beset with problems on both sides of the ball and in the middle.

That’s what got Morris fired at Arkansas, too. Players and many of the fans weren’t buying into his trying to turn the Razorbacks into Clemson. He apparently didn’t have many original ideas and tried to duplicate what Dabo Swinney had done somewhere else.

Nobody really knew what Moorhead was trying to do in Starkville. It was a curious culture mis-match from the initial hiring and apparently never really got better.

Nobody really knows how this will change the balance in the league other than the always-simmering rivalry between the Bulldogs and Ole Miss may now reach the boiling stage pretty quickly and not settle down soon.

Meanwhile, Sam Pittman will probably just keep quietly working.

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Andy Hodges

Musselman showing little interest in waiting to develop winning habit

Maybe the biggest thing in basketball that can’t be taught is height and Eric Mussleman showed Saturday night that Arkansas can figure out ways around it.

He played five guards at times in the 69-59 win over the Texas Aggies before a raucous sold-out crowd at Bud Walton.

“It was a little risky,” he said later.

He knew that coming in. In life, height is a product of either genetics or luck. For college basketball teams you either recruit it or figure out ways around it which was — more or less — what Musselman did against A&M.

“They’re comfortable, no matter who the five are,” Aggies coach Buzz Williams said later. “They’re interchangeable.”

The Razorbacks saw a 42-33 halftime lead disappear fairly quickly in the second half, primarily because the odds would have been long they could hit water falling out of a boat in the middle of a lake.

“What I didn’t think would happen is that we would struggle to score,” Musselman said in the postgame.

The Hogs were 2-of-6 from the field, 1-of-2 at the free-throw line and found themselves clinging to a 50-48 lead with 13:11 to play in the game.

About a minute later Musselman brought in Jalen Harris for the only player that gets into games with some height, Adrio Bailey, and the offense found some life. Arkansas shot nearly 50 percent (7-of-13) from the field.

The Hogs, behind Mason Jones and Isaiah Joe, opened a 66-56 lead with 3:52 left, but A&M got a final score from Andre Gordon with 3:36 to play and Musselman basically took the air out of things on offense.

“That small group was really good at getting stops when we really needed it,” he said. “There was a little bit of clock management, we were playing a little bit of a gamble running the clock down, but we thought it was the best way to handle the last four and-a-half minutes of the game.”

What doesn’t get the attention is how well this team plays defense, mostly just scrambling and disrupting things for the other team on offense.

“If you study their defensive numbers, they’re through the roof,” Williams said.

Desi Sills got his attention. Not with his quiet 13 points, four rebounds and two steals, but the disruption he caused in the Aggies’ offense.

“[Sills] is very, very pesky,” Williams said. “Really, really good on-the-ball defender.”

He was just part of the problem for A&M.

“The pressure is contested on every dribble, contested on every pass,” he said. “They own the elbow. That’s probably one of their defensive principles. They make it every hard to get it to the elbow.”

The Hogs committed just nine turnovers in the game, compared to the Aggies’ 17.

“That was a cushion we just couldn’t overcome,” Williams said.

On top of all that, the crowd of 19,200 was a factor in the game, too.

“We handled an incredible college basketball environment in many respects about as well as we could,” Williams said.

Musselman, playing like a chessmaster at times with some calculated gambles, got his first taste of how loud it can get.

“The crowd’s energy was insanely awesome,” he said later. “Had a buddy in from the Bay Area who said he’s never seen an arena as loud as that in his life.”

He might want to get used to it.

While the odds are every gamble he takes won’t work out as well as Saturday night, he’s shown through this team getting to a 12-1 record nobody predicted he’s moved the chess pieces around the board a couple of times before.

Let’s face it, did you think they would be here? Most people were willing to give Musselman a pass and just wanted to see a direction headed up and some fairly decent recruiting.

It’s apparent he wasn’t waiting around on anything … particularly wins.