With Arkansas set to take on Ole Miss Saturday night, it seemed worth the effort to go back and look at last year's game that was eventually voted game of the year.
At the time, it was viewed as an emotional roller coaster that ended with three touchdowns scored in the final 1:22 that was decided on a 2-point conversion with 103 points on the board in regulation.
However, what it serves as now is a time capsule that offers a glimpse into what has changed over the past year and what didn't change that needed to do so.
The obvious noted change from the outset is the realization that there are so few players who started in this game who will play on Saturday on both sides of the ball. The talent no longer on the field for Arkansas is startling.
Star running back. Gone. Star wide receiver. Gone.
Nearly the entire defense. Gone.
Even in the offensive line, which loves to tout its combined starts, is dramatically different.
There's KJ Jefferson, Ricky Stromberg, Beau Limmer, Simeon Blair and Bumper Pool and that's about it other than a handful of cameos.
The other thing that immediately stands out is how much different KJ Jefferson looks as a player. The young man who duels back and forth with Matt Corral is a very different person than the one who has forced himself through this season.
He is confident. He is explosive. His energy is just so much better.
The difference in power and strength within his arm is night and day when compared to this year. Jefferson repeatedly challenges defenders deep with zip and touch on the ball no matter the depth.
Another Razorback whose demeanor has changed dramatically since then is Arkansas coach Sam Pittman.
Gone was the scowl that has made a near permanent home on his face during games this year. Instead, Pittman wears the look of a child just happy to enjoy life and there's nothing that's going to bring him down.
His 2021 self also looks like he has a better relationship with his players. He's on the sideline smiling, exchanging fist bumps and you can tell his players truly love him and want to fight for him in every way possible.
It's a genuine love-fest on the Arkansas sideline.
At one point Pittman enthusiastically bounds over to the bench and tells every one of his offensive starters that they've got Ole Miss right where they want them and the players respond.
• While watching the game, a tweet popped up by a Razorback fan who said he wasn't worried about Warren Thompson leaving the program because he couldn't catch anyway. As if trying to hit his cue, Thompson streaked up the right sideline on the screen and then promptly dropped a first quarter pass at the 2-yard line that Jefferson laid on him perfectly as he came wide open.
• Trelon Smith was a better back than I recall. He ran the ball so hard for a smaller back and had a great burst once he hit the hole.
• Speaking of smaller backs, Raheim Sanders doesn't appear to be nearly as big as he is this year. It seemed like it was later in the season when Sanders really burst onto the scene, but he definitely jumped off the screen with 139 yards on 17 carries for an 8.2 yard average to go with 26 yards through the air.
• It's easy to forget that Jalen Catalon made it all the way to the Ole Miss game before going out for the season. At one point it's pretty clear that he's definitely hurt, but still comes back in to try to finish the game.
• The same weakness that allows opposing receivers to pull down receptions for huge gains for most of this season was glaringly obvious in the game last year also.
• On a single touchdown run, Jefferson demonstrated all the bad habits that have cropped up this year on a single play. At one point, Jefferson dives for the end zone from way out, extends the ball out with defenders on either side and crashes down on the back of his head with all his weight in the end zone, folding his neck before popping right up.
Not long before this all-encapsulating play, Jefferson scores another touchdown with minimal ball security. The announcers call him out on it, suggesting if it isn't fixed, it could become a problem.
Had there been been natural repercussions for the sloppiness and reckless abandon last year, things might have turned out differently this year.
• Does anyone else remember how little home field advantage Ole Miss had in last year's game? Literally more than half of the stadium was either empty or filled with Razorback fans.
At one point there's a camera angle that makes it look like the mandatory division of the Texas-OU games at the Cotton Bowl, but with massive gaps of metal bench seating all over the place.
How the Rebels had so little support with a charismatic coach at the helm, a quarterback who was No. 2 in the Heisman projections at the moment, in a match-up of two highly ranked 1-loss teams fighting for a legitimate shot at the SEC West championship is beyond fathom and unforgivable. If Ole Miss loses Kiffin to Auburn, Rebels fans will be able to point to this home game against Arkansas as a reason why.
• The last observation was how much this game appeared to mean to Jefferson and his family. The elation following each touchdown, the determination when it looked like no one was there and the immediate plunge of broken-hearted emotion after the referees ruled the penalty on the 2-point conversion was against Arkansas are as palpable as the most well-written Hollywood movie.
Jefferson grew up a short drive from Oxford and it was obvious how much taking down Ole Miss truly meant.
Arkansas and Ole Miss will lock horns at 6:30 p.m. on the SEC Network and Fubo TV.
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