IRVING, Texas — The offenses for Arkansas and Missouri will not be facing each other in the Cotton Bowl this morning.
But with all the attention heaped on both sides, it has seemed that they might.
Media have swarmed the offenses led by the two Heisman Trophy finalists, Arkansas running back Darren McFadden and MU quarterback Chase Daniel. Alleged actions and comments off the field have fueled the coverage, while the defenses watch from the shadows.
McFadden has been in the eye of the storm. KARK-TV of Little Rock reported Thursday that agent Mike Conley helped McFadden get a Cadillac Escalade, an action that could make McFadden ineligible for the game.
But the report’s veracity was questionable. Conley vehemently denied the report, and the station apologized Friday for its lax reporting standards.
The incident still resonated during the weekend, however. Defensive tackle Lorenzo Williams answered as many questions about the slim chance of McFadden missing the game as about how the Tigers plan to contain McFadden.
“If he wasn’t at the party, it would be saddening,” Williams said.
McFadden is expected to play, said Arkansas interim head coach Reggie Herring on Sunday. He upheld McFadden’s character and said proper officials are conducting the requisite investigation into the report.
“As we through this day and age of information, we have to sort it out. The only sad thing is that the sorting out makes it look like there’s something there,” Herring said.
The Razorbacks’ defense also got some attention earlier this week. Several starters revealed they would play the Tigers’ receivers with man-to-man coverage, the Northwest Arkansas Times reported Wednesday. They said they would put a cornerback on All-American tight end Martin Rucker, brashly challenging the Tigers.
“Usually teams that go against this offense use soft coverages, and guys are getting open easily out there,” starting strong safety Matt Hewitt told the newspaper. “They’re going to get a rude awakening Jan. 1, because they’re going to see the press man and a lot of blitz schemes coming after them.
“They forget they’re going against an SEC team. It’s going to be a great match.”
That article woke up the Tigers. It was circulated in the locker room. Rucker had a wide, sarcastic smile when asked about the Razorbacks’ strategy.
“I welcome the challenge,” he said.
Some opponents have attempted the scheme. “A lot of teams have tried it in the beginning, and then they backed off of it midway through the game, first quarter, second quarter,” Rucker said. “We’ve seen man, just not as much as Arkansas plays it.”
As soon as the reports got out, those Arkansas players were silenced.
“They got a tongue lashing. They got put in the corner with the dunce hat on. We spanked them a little bit,” Herring said.
The interim coach reiterated his team’s respect for the Tigers.
“All it take is for you guys (in the media) to get hold of the wrong guy in the wrong corner with the biggest mouth, and all of sudden he is speaking for the team. ... We’ve got a lot of respect for Missouri, and one or two of our players do not speak for this football team,” Herring said.
With the offenses dominating the headlines, conventional wisdom says the defenses are motivated from such a slight. “Any defense ... would draw from that,” Missouri coach Gary Pinkel said.
But Williams doesn’t mind the media fawning over Daniel and the offense. He and his teammates enjoy the show as much as anyone else. “We should be overshadowed. Those guys are amazing,” he said.
The defense gets in trouble for getting off the bench to watch their teammates. “When they got the ball, we want to see what they’re going to do with it. The JumboTron is a little off. We want to go watch the real thing,” Williams said.
But since the Tigers score quickly, perhaps it’s a good strategy.
“Some of those drives last 10 seconds,” Williams said. “We got to be ready to go.”