Fool me once, shame on you.
Fool me twice, shame on me.
Arkansas is going into the 2024 football season looking to shed the disappointment of last year, where it limped to a 4-8 finish after promising that it would fix the issues that plagued it at the end of 2022, even though that season ended with a winning record thanks to the Liberty Bowl victory over Kansas in triple overtime.
Most of the prevailing wisdom going into 2023 was that the Razorback football program had gotten rid of the troublemakers, so to speak, whether that was the strength coach or the nutrition staff or whomever Sam Pittman had deemed unworthy of maintaining a place in the locker room.
Pittman hired two new coordinators, Dan Enos and Travis Williams, and the former ended up being fired after just eight games. That brought national embarrassment to the program in an email scandal where he was found corresponding with UA students from his UA email account just minutes after a loss to Texas A&M in Arlington.
Firing Enos was supposed to reset things, provide a fresh start and all that jazz. It didn’t exactly seem to go that way, road win versus the Gators aside, in the season’s depressing homestretch.
Taking Stock in Isaiah Sategna’s Comments
Even post Dan Enos, however, things apparently remained dysfunctional behind the scenes. That much is clear when after Wednesday, when Arkansas wide receiver Isaiah Sategna went on statewide radio on Hit That Line Arkansas and said that the Arkansas program had gotten rid of some of the “negatives and some of the cancers in the locker room.”
“Last year we had four wins and I just didn’t think we were a four-win team,” Sategna told The Morning Rush co-host Tye Richardson. “We lost a lot of games by 3 points, 7 points, and I just feel like we were a lot closer than a lot of people think. Last year wasn’t a reflection of Arkansas football.”
Sategna obviously didn’t name names and wasn’t going to throw anyone in particular under the bus. But peeling back layers of the 2023 season and reading in between the lines of certain situations can probably lead one to a pretty good indication of who or what he might be referencing.
The season took a major tumble when the team lost to BYU, a game which had started auspiciously enough with a Sategna punt return ending in pay dirt. The offense sputtered after getting off to a 14-0 lead and the hesitancy for them to use KJ Jefferson in a sneak scenario was troubling, and it seemed like Jefferson was off with his receivers the whole night.
Things improved against LSU, despite a narrow loss, but then the Texas A&M game happened and the same questions were asked yet again. See Enos’ emails.
Two more narrow losses to Ole Miss and Alabama were hard to stomach, and then everything came to a head in a 7-3 loss to Mississippi State on Oct. 21.
Jefferson couldn’t connect on what should’ve been an easy touchdown pass early in that game and they had to settle for a field goal. What was worse was his body language the remainder of the game, which was nothing short of pitiful. He looked like he’d rather be doing anything but playing quarterback for the Razorbacks.
An emotional victory at Florida (the first ever win in Gainesville for Arkansas football) was just a momentary salve as the team returned home the following week and got absolutely steam rolled by Auburn, looked pedestrian in much of the first half against FIU even in a victory and then was obliterated by Missouri in the season finale.
In late December, Jefferson announced he was hitting the transfer portal. He ultimately decided on UCF to play for one Gus Malzahn.
An insider to the football program and a close confidant of Sategna said that Jefferson spent the majority of last year’s offseason reading his press clippings, collecting NIL payments and turning down any offers to throw with the rising 2023 receiving corps, instead deciding to go out to the West Coast and display his skills at a quarterback camp.
That would account for his inability during the season to really develop a rapport with any of the receivers outside of Andrew Armstrong. Not to mention potential jealousy over what Jefferson and other offensive “stars” were making in NIL versus what other players had to settle for.
Of course, it’s also worth noting that Jefferson wasn’t the only player to hit the transfer portal this offseason and Sategna did mention “cancers” in the plural, so he may have been referencing more than just Jefferson, if that’s who he was referring to in the first place.
What Will Change for Arkansas Football in 2024?
Isaiah Sategna mentioned in his interview that the team feels closer and that they should accomplish more because of this.
The thing is, we heard all of this stuff last year too. From Pittman, from players and from assistant coaches.
Until the team takes the field and lines up against someone else, it’s all window dressing. Having an offensive coordinator like Bobby Petrino, who is such a stickler for detail and doesn’t accept anything other than a player’s best, should help the offense achieve way more than it did in 2023, sure.
But again, in the era of NIL and the transfer portal, all it takes is one guy to get upset about what another player is making or the playing time that he thinks he deserves that he isn’t getting, and that player can become another negative in the locker room that eats away on the mission at hand like acid.
Sam Pittman really needs to avoid those types of situations occurring in 2024, or the season could spiral out of control again. This time around, I think he and everyone else knows what will happen if history repeats itself.
Outgoing Arkansas Football Transfers
Besides Jefferson, here are some others:
DT Anthony Booker Jr. — SMU
DT Taurean Carter — Colorado
DB Malik Chavis — UNLV
LB Jordan Crook — Arizona State
RB AJ Green — Oklahoma State
DB Jaylen Lewis — Temple
OL Devon Manuel — Florida
WR Sam Mbake — Kilgore College
LB Chris Paul Jr. — Ole Miss
LB Mani Powell — UNLV
RB Rocket Sanders — South Carolina
OL Joey Su’a — Arizona State
LB Jaheim Thomas — Wisconsin
See more on each of these here:
Watch Isaiah Sategna’s full interview below:
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