Hogs’ Improved Hand Strength Hasn’t Translated So Far to Grip That Matters Most + More from LSU Loss

Sam Pittman, Isaac TeSlaa, Arkansas football, Arkansas vs LSU
photo credit: Zoom / Nick Wenger

At the end of his postgame press conference that followed yet another heartbreaking Arkansas football loss Saturday night, Sam Pittman lingered at the interview table for several seconds.

His head was lowered, looking at a box score in front of him, but the way he was rubbing his forehead indicated the fourth-year coach was still trying to wrap his mind around what had just happened — a 34-31 loss to No. 12 LSU in Baton Rouge, La.

Narrowly missing out on what would have been a signature win, the Razorbacks blew another double-digit lead and watched as Damian Ramos booted a chip-shot 20-yard field goal with five seconds remaining.

Dating back to last year, five of Arkansas’ last eight losses — including two to the Tigers — have been by three points or less. In fact, since Pittman’s first year in 2020, the Razorbacks now have nine such losses. That breaks a tie with Toledo for the most in the FBS over that span. No other SEC team has more than four.

“We really thought we could come beat LSU tonight,” Pittman said. “We fell three points short, but give (LSU) all the credit because they found a way to win. We’ve got a good football team. We’ve got a lot to work on, but I like this team. I think they fight. I’m proud of our effort, but none of us are happy with the result.”

That result means the Golden Boot will remain in Louisiana for an eighth time in nine years, with the Razorbacks’ lone victory during that stretch coming two years ago in overtime.

Arkansas Receivers Display Hand Strength

As a team, Arkansas couldn’t hold on to a double-digit lead for the second straight week, but its receivers held on to virtually everything they got their hands on Saturday night.

The transfer trio of Andrew Armstrong (6 receptions for 76 yards), Isaac TeSlaa (3 for 31) and Tyrone Broden (3 for 31) combined to catch 12 passes for 138 yards against the Tigers, with several being impressive plays in traffic.

Making his first start with the Razorbacks, Broden reeled in the lone touchdown among that group and it was spectacular. Despite LSU’s Denver Harris being draped all over him and getting flagged for pass interference, the Bowling Green transfer managed to catch the ball and secure it as he fell to the ground in the back of the end zone.

The snag was initially ruled incomplete, but a replay review showed that it was a 19-yard touchdown and the call was overturned. Broden also caught two passes earlier in the game, as Arkansas seemed to try to force-feed its 6-foot-7 receiver.

“He’s got experience, but we just hadn’t got him on the field enough to kind of get in rhythm,” Pittman said. “So we felt like, let’s get him in early. I think he gives us a tall weapon.”

Armstrong and TeSlaa managed to hang on to several passes despite LSU defenders being right on them and swatting at their hands and arms. At one point, ESPN commentators Chris Fowler and Kirk Herbstreit complimented the Razorbacks’ receivers for having such strong grips and sideline reporter Holly Rowe actually talked to strength coach Ben Sowders, who told her they worked on it quite a bit over the summer.

KJ Jefferson vs. Jayden Daniels

It took a little bit, but Arkansas vs LSU lived up to its billing as a showdown between arguably the two best quarterbacks in the SEC.

“That’s what you come to the SEC for,” Arkansas quarterback KJ Jefferson said. “Two elite quarterbacks going at it and battling, leaving it all out there on the field. That’s what we talked about, even after the game. We shook hands and we both gave each other respect, and we moved on.”

Jefferson completed 21 of 31 passes for 289 yards and three touchdowns and added 48 yards on the ground for the Razorbacks, while Jayden Daniels completed 20 of 29 passes for 320 yards and four touchdowns with 36 rushing yards.

“Both of them made plays,” Pittman said. “Daniels made plays with his feet as well, especially in crucial situations. But I thought as the game went on, both quarterbacks got in rhythm and both of them were really hard to stop.”

Coming off a subpar performance against BYU, Jefferson threw the ball better and had some nice runs on reads, Pittman said. He did get picked off immediately after getting the ball back via an interception by his defense in the first quarter, but Jefferson’s second interception of the game came on a last-second Hail Mary.

His three scores Saturday night gives him 77 total touchdowns in his career, which ties Matt Jones for the most in UA history. He’s also only 114 yards away from breaking Jones’ record for total career yards.

“I think he came in wanting to show the world he was a good quarterback as well as Daniels and I think people think that,” Pittman said. “We’re just disappointed we couldn’t finish out the game.”

As for Daniels, he completed only seven of his first pass attempts before going 13 of 15 the rest of the way, with one of those two incompletions being on purpose in the closing seconds.

The Tigers really picked on redshirt freshman cornerback Jaheim Singletary, as the former five-star recruit was beaten in coverage on three of their touchdowns — both of the 49-yard scores by Brian Thomas Jr. and on Malik Nabers’ 20-yarder.

“A lot of times (Daniels) didn’t have to be on because we weren’t covering them good,” Pittman said. “That’s going to happen every now and then, but it happened too many times for us to win tonight.”

Another Fake Field Goal

Seeking a spark after yet another drive stalled out in the red zone, Sam Pittman dialed up a fake field goal – and it worked to perfection.

After initially lining up like they’d go for it on fourth-and-2 at the 19-yard line, the Razorbacks called a timeout and sent the field goal unit out when play resumed. However, instead of placing the ball down for Cam Little to kick it, holder Max Fletcher took off with it and gained eight yards.

That set Arkansas up with a first down at the 11, but back-to-back sacks of KJ Jefferson pushed it completely out of the red zone and forced it to take the field goal anyways. Rather than regaining the lead with a touchdown, the Razorbacks pulled within 17-16 on Little’s 40-yard kick.

It was reminiscent of Reid Bauer’s 23-yard scamper at Death Valley in 2021, as that also still ended up in a field goal. In that scenario, though, Little made a much easier 27-yarder instead of having to attempt one from 50-plus.

“It’s the same one we ran to the left two years ago when we were here, but we ran it to the right,” Pittman said. “We felt like, hopefully they wouldn’t talk about a fake because they were worried if we were gonna go for it or not. Which we were, we were just using the field goal formation. Max did a nice job and they blocked it up real nice, we just didn’t get more points out of that than if we just would’ve kicked it.”

Fletcher – who received quite a bit of criticism for his two shanked punts against BYU – also booted his lone punt 53 yards Saturday night, forcing a fair catch and pinning the Tigers at the 14.

The Aussie now owns a 44.7-yard average this year, which would rank fifth on the UA single-season list and be the Razorbacks’ best mark since Dylan Breeding in 2012 (45.6). Take out the two shanks and he’s averaging 48.8 yards, which would be a school record.

Other Arkansas Football Tidbits

Sam Pittman never completely ruled him out during the week, but star running back Rocket Sanders ended up not making the trip to Baton Rouge. It was the third straight game he’s missed with the knee injury suffered in the season opener.

In his place, AJ Green got the start again, but it was Rashod Dubinion who handled the largest chunk of the workload at running back. He finished with 113 yards of offense — 78 on 15 carries and 35 on three receptions.

As mentioned above, Tyrone Broden made his first career start with the Razorbacks, replacing Jaedon Wilson in the starting lineup. In a corresponding move, Isaac TeSlaa slid into the slot.

On defense, Hudson Clark made his second straight start, but this time it was at safety, replacing Alfahiym Walcott. Lorando Johnson slid back to nickel, while Dwight McGlothern and Jaheim Singletary returned to the starting lineup at cornerback.

Speaking of McGlothern, he came down with his second interception of the season — and the sixth of his Arkansas career — in the first quarter. He needs four more to crack both the UA’s single-season and career top-10 lists for interceptions.

Honoring Greg Brooks Jr.

Both teams wore “3” stickers on their helmets during Saturday’s Arkansas vs LSU game in honor of Tigers defensive back Greg Brooks Jr., who had a large brain tumor removed last week.

The Louisiana native began his career in Fayetteville, playing three seasons with the Razorbacks, before transferring back home to play at LSU.

Now a super senior, Brooks was elected a team captain this year and was set to be one of the Tigers’ best defensive players in 2023.

According to the ESPN broadcast, Arkansas football coach Sam Pittman was invited by Brooks’ family to visit him at the hospital Saturday morning.

Up Next for Arkansas Football

It isn’t technically a road game, but Arkansas will once again be away from home next week, as the Hogs travel to Arlington, Texas, for its annual matchup with Texas A&M at AT&T Stadium.

The Aggies (3-1, 1-0 SEC) fell out of the top 25 with a loss at Miami (Fla.) in Week 2, which was sandwiched between blowout wins over New Mexico and ULM, but they’ll enter the game fresh off a 27-10 win over Auburn on Saturday.

Starting quarterback Conner Weigman went down with a lower leg injury late in the first half, but backup Max Johnson — who has started games at both LSU and Texas A&M — filled in nicely. He completed 7 of 11 passes for 123 yards and two touchdowns and helped the Aggies pull away in the second half.

It will also be the second straight year Arkansas has faced former head coach Bobby Petrino. Last season, he nearly led Missouri State to a shocking upset. Now he is the offensive coordinator at Texas A&M.

Arkansas vs LSU Highlights

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Here is Sam Pittman’s full press conference after Arkansas vs LSU:

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