FAYETTEVILLE — As a super senior, Zach Williams is old enough to not only remember, but have first-hand experience when it comes to the dark days of Arkansas football.
He is one of 11 Razorbacks still around from the 2019 team that went 2-10 and lost to the likes of San Jose State and Western Kentucky, which on paper were underdogs going into the game. The WKU loss proved to be the final nail in the coffin of the Chad Morris era.
In his weekly appearance on 103.7 The Buzz, Williams said the emphasis this week has been to avoid such a loss in the Arkansas vs FIU game, which kicks off at 6:30 p.m. CT Saturday at Reynolds Razorback Stadium and on ESPNU.
“With these smaller teams, it’s easy to just try to look over their heads, but the coaches have stressed to us just because they’re not an SEC team, don’t take them for granted,” Williams said. “They could come up here and whup us and that’d be even more embarrassing than Auburn.”
As bad as this season has been, with ugly losses to BYU, Mississippi State and Auburn part of its 3-7 record, Arkansas hasn’t experienced anything quite like it did during Williams’ true freshman season.
Last week was close, as Arkansas found itself in a 21-0 hole before some fans even made it through the concession stand lines. Still, a loss on Saturday would definitely qualify as Chad Morris-esque.
FIU is ranked No. 132 out of 133 FBS teams by ESPN’s Football Power Index and the Razorbacks are favored by 29.5 points on BetSaracen.
Barring that line falling two points by kickoff, it appears Arkansas vs FIU will be the 32nd time the Razorbacks are at least a four-touchdown favorite since 1997, according to Best of Arkansas Sports’ database. They are 30-1 in those games.
The only time Arkansas failed to win as a four-touchdown favorite was its infamous loss to ULM at War Memorial Stadium in 2012. Despite being favored by 29.5, the Razorbacks lost 34-31 in overtime.
Of course, that was before John L. Smith implored fans to smile and what started as a top-10 team spiraled to a 4-8 record. It was also before anyone knew the Warhawks were actually a solid Sun Belt team that would go on to win eight games and suffer an overtime loss at Auburn and five-point loss to Baylor.
FIU is different. It’s clearly a bad CUSA team. It’s even worse than its 4-6 record indicates, losing its last two games – at home against Jacksonville State and on the road against Middle Tennessee – by a combined score of 81-22.
Simply put, Pittman can’t afford a loss that’d turn the Razorbacks from a team with bad luck (five one-score losses) into the laughingstock of the SEC.
As always, Best of Arkansas Sports is in the building and will provide live updates from Arkansas vs FIU below…
LIVE UPDATES — Arkansas vs FIU
The three Arkansas football players to keep an eye on during pregame warmups, from an injury perspective, are right tackle Patrick Kutas (ankle) and cornerbacks Jaylon Braxton (shoulder) and Jaheim Singletary (ankle).
UPDATE: Kutas and Braxton are not dressed out. On the bright side, Singletary is dressed out and went through pregame warmups.
If you’re still looking for tickets to the Arkansas vs FIU game, there are plenty available on the secondary market for dirt cheap. On Stubhub, there are numerous listings under $5.
A couple of scholarship players not spotted during pregame warmups and not known to be dealing with injuries: defensive back Jaylen Lewis and tight end Shamar Easter.
Arkansas won the coin toss and deferred.
12:22, 1Q – Arkansas 7, FIU 0
After FIU failed to convert a fourth down deep in its own territory, Arkansas turned it into points. On third down, KJ Jefferson hit Jaedon Wilson for a 10-yard score. That was his school-record 65th career touchdown pass.
10:42, 1Q – Arkansas 7, FIU 7
It didn’t take long for the Panthers to respond. An 80-yard catch and run by Kris Mitchell set up a 1-yard quarterback keeper by Keyon Jenkins to tie it up.
1:21, 1Q – FIU 13, Arkansas 7
A couple of long passes (19 and 15 yards) to Rocky Beers, plus a roughing the passer penalty on Trajan Jeffcoat, quickly got FIU into Arkansas territory. Then a 15-yard run on third-and-3 set up a 12-yard touchdown pass from Jenkins to Dean Patterson. The Panthers missed the PAT, though.
Even with the missed PAT, the group of FIU fans who made the trip to Fayetteville were pretty fired up:
END of 1Q – FIU 13, Arkansas 7
11:58, 2Q – Arkansas 14, FIU 13
The Hogs showed some signs of life on a 12-play, 75-yard drive capped by a 4-yard touchdown pass from Jefferson to Tyrone Broden.
10:53, 2Q – Arkansas 21, FIU 13
Arkansas’ fifth defensive touchdown of the season comes on a tremendous play by Alfahiym Walcott, who ripped the ball away from an FIU receiver and took it 33 yards to the house.
4:46, 2Q – Arkansas 24, FIU 13
Arkansas adds to its lead with a 31-yard field goal by Cam Little.
1:08, 2Q – Arkansas 31, FIU 13
On fourth-and-2, the Razorbacks went for it and a huge hole opened up that Dominique Johnson ran through for a 31-yard touchdown.
HALF – Arkansas 31, FIU 13
FIU had a chance to get some more points just before halftime, but missed the field goal.
10:11, 3Q – Arkansas 31, FIU 20
After a rare Cam Little missed field goal, FIU went right down the field for a touchdown. Kris Mitchell capped the drive with an impressive 12-yard catch in the end zone. He’s got 152 yards on five catches.
3:12, 3Q – Arkansas 38, FIU 20
KJ Jefferson threw an absolute dime to Isaiah Sategna for a 32-yard touchdown. Jefferson has thrown three touchdown passes today.
END of 3Q – Arkansas 38, FIU 20
14:55, 4Q – Arkansas 41, FIU 20
After missing a couple in the third quarter, Cam Little booted a 39-yard field goal to start the fourth quarter.
9:59, 4Q – Arkansas 44, FIU 20
Another drive stalled, resulting in another field goal attempt for Little. He made the 41-yarder.
FINAL – Arkansas 44, FIU 20
How to Watch Arkansas vs FIU
Date: Saturday, Nov. 18
Location: Donald W. Reynolds Razorback Stadium (Fayetteville, Ark.)
Kickoff Time and TV Schedule: 6:30 p.m. CT (ESPNU)
Announcers: Brian Custer (play-by-play), Rod Gilmore (color analyst), Lauren Sisler (sideline reporter)
Arkansas’ Rankings: NR (AP) | NR (Coaches) | No. 58 (SP+) | No. 46 (FPI)
ESPN FPI: Arkansas has an 97.3% chance to win
SP+ Projection: Arkansas has a 91% chance to win, favored by 23.4 (proj. score: 38-15)
Odds/Betting Line: Arkansas, -28.5 | O/U 50.5 (BetSaracen)
Listen to Zach Williams’ full interview on 103.7 The Buzz here:
Here’s a piece with insight from Zach Williams’ father:
More coverage of Arkansas football and Arkansas vs FIU from BoAS…