This week, the Arkansas football program has gotten more love than it has in years. Coming off a stunning 21-14 upset win at Mississippi State, the Hogs have gotten votes in the AP Top 25 poll, been awarded defensive player of the week awards and saw their coach, Sam Pittman, rank first in analyst Pat Forde’s most recent list of the top ten first-year coaches.
Still, as much as Razorback fans respect their new coach and how well he has Arkansas playing, the same can’t said for media in other parts of SEC country. When they see the Hogs match up against other SEC heavyweights, they have trouble seeing beyond the piñata the program became in the last three years.
We’re seeing this happen as the Razorbacks prepare to travel to Alabama to play Auburn, which has won six of the last seven games since Arkansas native Gus Malzahn took over as head coach.
Since that season, Malzahn’s teams have averaged 46 points a game against Arkansas. It’s gotten especially lopsided as of late. Here are the series’ three most recent scores: Auburn 52, Arkansas 20 in 2017; Auburn 34, Arkansas 3 in 2018; Auburn 51, Arkansas 10 in 2019.
It’s one thing for Tiger fans to have fun with this recent track record against Arkansas (which they do), but it’s another thing for the state of Alabama’s most established media outlet to throw shade the Razorbacks’ way.
That’s what happened earlier this week when AL.com, a media conglomerate which includes the Birmingham News (Alabama’s oldest and largest newspaper), published this:
Now ain’t that fancy.
Apparently, the editorial staff at AL.com forgot about the premise of objectivity. They would rather follow the Saturday Down South (or, ok, Best of Arkansas Sports) tact and figure out the best way to rile up an opposing fan base.
To be fair, this is an opinion column that plays up how Auburn quarterback Bo Nix’s progress has stalled in his sophomore season — it’s not meant to be a report.
Still, the fact that Al.com’s editors would push such a headline speaks to how little respect Arkansas has even in this promising season where it’s 1-1 so far.
The Chad Morris Factor
A big reason for that lack of respect is Auburn offensive coordinator Chad Morris, who did only two things well in this two seasons at Arkansas — recruit and keep away from scandal.
“Fifty seven of the active scholarship players currently on the roster endured some or all of the 18 losses under Morris’ watch, which includes an 0-14 mark in SEC games, a 2-4 mark against Group of Five opponents and an undefeated 2-0 record (barely) against the FCS,” Trey Biddy wrote on Hawgsports.com.
Look, I’m sure Chad Morris is a great guy off the field. But let’s face it — his smoldering failure of an SEC head coaching experiment turned these 57 Razorback players into a national laughingstock.
Publicly, the Razorbacks who have played under Morris and Pittman are downplaying what it means to suit up against their former coach. “Wonderful coach. Wonderful guy,” wide receiver De’Vion Warren said. “Didn’t have any problems with him. He had what was best in mind for our team, and that’s really it. It’s just another game.”
“No extra emotions,” cornerback Greg Brooks added. “We’re just going to go out there and treat it like it’s a regular team. Like he’s just a regular coordinator. We’ll just do our thing.”
But you know that beating Morris will mean more to the players than they are letting on. Safety Joe Foucha, bless his heart, makes a nod to how many of his teammates must be feeling. “He can game plan, scheme, all he wants. We are getting ready as a defense for whatever he throws at us. Trick plays, anything, it doesn’t matter,” Foucha said.
“We’re going to be ready as a defense. We’re going to be dialed in, we’re going to be focused. We’re going to be ready for whatever Coach Morris has ready to throw at us. We’re going to be all over it. That’s all I can say about that.”
Even though most onlookers still expect Auburn to steamroll Arkansas (Auburn is a 14 point favorite), the Hogs know they have the psychological advantage against Morris. They know his back-of-the-napkin, way-too-complicated schemes like the back of their hand and will be looking to blow into the Plains like an unforecasted hurricane*.
Plus, there’s this: In the last two years, Chad Morris offenses have scored a total of 14 points against Barry Odom-led defenses (counting the UA-Mizzou game in 2019 after Morris had been fired).
However, since Auburn’s offense has struggled mightily so far, Razorback fans should be concerned that Gus Malzahn may take over and start calling the plays on the offensive side of the ball again.
“I’m sure at some point, Gus will take the keys back,” college football host Paul Finebaum said this week.
As has been his habit, Malzahn will run out of patience with this arrangement and eventually take over again, Finebaum added. “People in Auburn talked about it in the beginning ‘oh what a great relationship they have.’ It’s obvious why Gus Malzahn (hired) Chad Morris. They’re friends. He needed a lifeline after a disastrous run at Arkansas which guess what, we saw Saturday night what some new blood and sound coaching can do. It can lead to a victory.”
*In the video above, Foucha had one of the best lines you’ll ever see from a Razorback football player. When asked what effect the approaching Hurricane Delta might have on the game Saturday, he said: “Eagles, when it’s raining and cold, they go inside. You know a Hog, we love that mud. We love that water. That’s what we’re gonna be on Saturday, some wild Hogs.”
And here’s the newest video from Hogs wide receiver Mike Woods. His apology for giving Hog fans a near heart attack at the end of the MSU game is pretty funny.
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