There weren’t too many folks left in the Reynolds Razorback Stadium when the final whistle on Auburn’s 38-point beat-down of Arkansas pierced the brisk, November air last Saturday. Nor, for that matter, were many Arkansas football fans still watching the SEC Network broadcast of one of the Razorbacks’ most depressing losses of this decade so far.
Those who gutted it out, however, saw a curious sight.
Despite a loss that destroyed any hope of an Arkansas bowl berth, and failed to right the ship after consecutive setbacks at home vs BYU and Mississippi State, some Razorback players almost seemed happy as they high-fived, hugged and chummed it up with Auburn football players at mid-field.
It’s one thing to be gracious with the opponent when you’re on the winning side. Or, perhaps, in the aftermath of one of those “moral victory” type losses on the road against the likes of Georgia or Alabama that make things temporarily seem as if they are on the right track.
It’s an entirely different thing when it happens at home against a team that had no absolutely business skull-dragging you, as former Razorback great Clint Stoerner recently pointed out on the Buzz 103.7 FM.
Clint Stoerner Can’t Believe What He Saw
He sees a problem “when you’re putting just an awful product on the field, if you’re not embarrassed, if you’re not in fear of losing your job, if you’re not just angry, frustrated to the point of where, ‘Hey, man, that handshake or that hug or that meeting of midfield, that can wait. I got to get in this locker room and figure out what the hell’s going on with my squad or with my play, personally.'”
Stoerner isn’t the only former great Arkansas quarterback who got rubbed wrong by the lack of competitiveness and fire shown during and after the game. “It was gross. It was embarrassing,” Matt Jones said on “Halftime” on ESPN Arkansas. “There’s really no excuse for what’s happened this year. Y’all don’t even look like you play in the same conference, much less the same sport. I don’t even know if the effort was there.”
Former Hogs great DJ Williams, winner of the Mackey Award for the college football’s best tight end in 2010, had a more accurate view of the situation since he attended the game and came down the field afterward. What he saw made the competitor inside recoil.
On his 4th & 5 podcast, Williams recalled seeing a couple Razorback offensive linemen, “guys who’d just been getting their butt kicked so many times and having their quarterback get hit,” rush over to talk to Auburn players.
“They’re kind of laughing, they’re smiling, they’re looking at the fans and they’re just like, ‘Hey.’ I’m just like, ‘In what world are you not just pissed off right now?’ It just makes no sense to me of just the lack of just being that competitor that you need at least 10 minutes to process what happened for you to cool down from just getting your butt kicked.”
“They just don’t care. And so it’s just a very, very bad position that this program is in right now.”
Such an apparently bad place, indeed, that earlier in the week many including Stoerner felt like Pittman would not last much longer as Arkansas football coach.
Big Criticism of Sam Pittman
“I think Sam Pittman’s lost the locker room,” he told Justin Acri and Wess Moore on “The Zone.” “I think Sam Pittman is out of answers. I think at the end of the day, you’ve got your leaders in the locker room that either can’t wait to get out the door or have just completely thrown in the towel.” All that yukking it up at the end of the Auburn game would simply be the most recent evidence of a lack of intangibles that this team needs to get over the hump.
Stoerner’s perspective here does come across as somewhat severe. While the effort against Auburn was awful, it’s not yet clear that all the leaders have thrown in the towel and called it a season. That unquestionably happened in the last year of Chad Morris era because it was evidenced in game after game even before the Western Kentucky loss that prompted the actual firing.
Before Auburn, Arkansas’ defense had definitely played hard in most all games while the offense was on and off.
Senior defensive end Zach Williams, for one, went onto “The Zone” on Tuesday and said a group of the older defensive linemen and KJ Jefferson had tried to fire up their teammates in the locker room to finish strong.
Yes, KJ Jefferson did hug an Auburn player or two, but he’s also shown fight that didn’t necessarily get broadcast to the world on TV cameras. “He’s gotten hit, he’s played through the hits,” Pittman said on Wednesday. “The other day, he was bleeding on his left hand and did not want to come out, did not ask to come out. So I think that tells you a little bit about what he feels about the program and where he wants to finish strong.”
With the firings at Texas A&M and Mississippi State, Stoerner said on Monday he felt Pittman wouldn’t last the week: “I think the way this thing’s rolling, Justin, you’re crazy if you wait until the end of the year.” With the opening of the transfer portal on December 5, “the sooner you get a jump on making a move, the better.”
Don’t expect that move to be made this week, barring a catastrophic upset to the hands of FIU.
Assuming Pittman sticks around for another season, it’s going to be critical to counter the growing perception that not all of this players – especially on offense – are bought in.
An Idea for Arkansas Football
Finding the right full-time offensive coordinator would certainly move things in the right direction there, but so would finding more players in the mold of Grant Morgan and Hayden Henry who play with chips on their shoulders. Morgan and Henry were, of course, both Arkansas natives. “In-state guys don’t quit” on the team,” Matt Jones said on Halftime. “We understand what it means to have that Arkansas across the chest.”
It’s possible to get out-of-staters to understand the same thing. Certainly, that was the case with Texas native Clint Stoerner. Pittman isn’t going to like hearing the withering criticisms of Stoerner, and of Jones and Williams to lesser extents. But he should admire their passion and desire to improve the program.
This is a case where Pittman, if he hasn’t already, would be well served by allowing the likes of Stoerner, Jones and Williams speak directly to his players about what wearing “Arkansas” across the chest meant for them. A locker room fire and brimstone type speech can’t hurt. These Razorbacks need an injection of passion and burning competitiveness.
All three Arkansas football greats became greats because they have plenty in the department where this team is now deficient.
More from DJ Williams on the state of Arkansas football starting at 1:50 below:
Comedian Matt Besser Likens Situation to Showbiz
Actor Matt Besser, the nation’s top Razorback comedian fan, likened the Razorbacks’ performance against Auburn to bombing onstage as a professional performer.
“I slink out the back door when I bomb, in shame, and get to my car and get my sorry ass home,” the Little Rock native says in the bit below. “I don’t go out the front door and high five people and have a drink at the bar and celebrate and laugh. I bombed. I should be ashamed, or at least not proud, at least not laughing like nothing happened.”
“If I walked the room [all spectators leave], oh my gosh, and that does happen, that’s drinks not being sold for the place, the events happening. That’s the other comedians not being seen. That is shameful.”
Besser can’t fathom how so many of Arkansas football players apparently felt little to no shame.
“I know they’re just kids, but they became young men when they start getting paid NILs, and that’s when I get frustrated,” he said, before gesturing to the Hogs bric-a-brac behind him. “I’m like, ‘I bought that lamp. That dumb squishy Razorback.’ All those hats. Hats you don’t even see. Multiple Sidney Moncrief posters.”
See his entire bit here:
Finally, go get a drink and then listen to the entire interview with Clint Stoerner:
More on Arkansas football from BoAS: