FAYETTTEVILLE — Unthinkable two weeks ago, Arkansas and bowl eligible are being mentioned in the same sentence.
Not shouted from the mountaintop mind you, but a possibility with some legitimate legs. Literally and figuratively, the path to 2-2 in the Southeastern Conference was stormy.
The same team that lost its first two SEC games by a smooth 100 points revived the Arkansas fan base with its second straight victory, much the same way nominee Mitt Romney pumped up Republicans with his performance at the first presidential debate.
Two weeks of a combined 73-14 works wonders. The back half of that exacta was Arkansas 49, Kentucky 7 in a game that was delayed slightly more than an hour the first time and mercifully declared official with 5:08 remaining in the third quarter. As word spread, there were high-fives in the pressbox.
Tight end Chris Gragg, who was not in uniform, was inching his way towards the indoor athletic complex before the teams left the field at 6:40 p.m. with Arkansas ahead 14-0 and 3:32 left in the first quarter. Everybody with access to the Weather Channel radar knew what was coming — the over-under on weather delays was established at two long before the kickoff — and every lightning strike extended the delay another 30 minutes.
During the delay, the most encouraging news was that a game that could be ruled official if the teams completed a half.
In the name of good PR, fans who were back in the outdoor seats for resumption of play deserved a discount at the concession stands.
By the time the teams returned to the field in the first half, I couldn’t recall the down and distance — it was second-and-six at the Arkansas 41. Four plays later, the lead was 21, a lead sufficient to prompt a look ahead at Arkansas’ opponents and contemplate the possibility of six Ws.
I was surprised to learn that Ole Miss is open on Oct. 20, same as Arkansas, before playing the Razorbacks in Little Rock. The Rebels ended a 16-game SEC losing streak on Saturday, beating Auburn by 21.
The Ole Miss game will be a dogfight, but if the Razorbacks win, they still would have to defeat a once-beaten Tulsa and one other SEC opponent to qualify for a bowl.
Considering the injuries, the turmoil, and the criticism, that would be a praiseworthy feat.
The fourth time Arkansas had the ball, Jonathan Williams went in motion to the right, turned upfield, took Tyler Wilson’s pass and covered 77 yards in what was officially a four-second drive.
That TD boosted Wilson’s quarterback rating to a phenomenal 358.3 based on 11-of-12 for 263 yards and three touchdowns.
At that point, anything to end the mismatch — it was 49-0 after 34:21 — even word that more bad weather would arrive soon would have been welcome.
The recipe for the rout was simple. For starters, Kentucky didn’t block much and Arkansas did. On top of that, the Wildcats never recognized Williams as an eligible receiver and Arkansas was dead-set on coming after freshman quarterback Jalen Whitlow, who was elevated to starter because of an injury. On the rare occasion that Whitlow had time to throw, he usually missed, explaining his 46 percent completion rate this season.
Kentucky’s defense was so inept that I wondered what was wrong with Arkansas’ offense on its fifth possession. The first four times they had the ball, the Razorbacks needed 20 plays to cover 312 yards. The fifth try was a slow-motion possession that lasted 14 plays.
It was so bad that during the final five minutes of the second quarter that pressbox occupants verbally abused wide receiver Cobi Hamilton for running out of bounds and appreciated a Kentucky penalty that prevented Arkansas from facing a possible punt. Not even Kentucky complained when the clock kept running after Dennis Johnson ran out of bounds at the Kentucky 2.
Harry King is sports columnist for Stephens Media’s Arkansas News Bureau. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.