Something is rotten in the state of Arkansas.
Like Hamlet’s father, Florida turned out to be a mirage. Arkansas followed its best game of the season against the Gators last week with a pathetic showing on Veterans Day against Auburn, falling 48-10. Frankly, the game was not even that close.
Rarely did the Razorbacks look like an actual high major football team. One of those times came on a six-play, 60-yard drive in the third quarter that had the makings of an offense that may have found competence, albeit 31 points too late. Even that was squashed when Rocket Sanders was stripped at the Auburn 15. The Tigers took it back, nearly to the house, and ultimately scored on their first offensive play that followed to take a 41-3 lead.
If that weren’t enough, Arkansas gained one yard on three plays immediately thereafter and Auburn subsequently marched 65 yards for another touchdown.
No one cared.
Arkansas vs Auburn Boos
Boos had rained down in the first half as the Razorbacks struggled, but by halftime of Arkansas vs Auburn, half of Donald W. Reynolds Razorback Stadium was empty. No boos were heard high up in the press box for those of us brave (er, paid) few who remained. Arkansas looked like a team defeated, a team not to be.
Sam Pittman’s firing of offensive coordinator Dan Enos three weeks ago injected some life into the program, but it was temporary, like a villain rising from the seeming dead only to be put out of its misery seconds later in some horror picture. Make no mistake, Arkansas is a horror picture.
KJ Jefferson, he who was sacked five times, and still willed his team as forward the best he could, was pulled in the fourth quarter for Jacolby Criswell. Jefferson will leave Arkansas as the school’s most prolific quarterback in history and with two bowl wins to show for it. Not a third, granted, but he deserved better than what Arkansas has provided in 2023.
Hopefully, the Auburn game isn’t how Jefferson goes out and Criswell may or may not get more snaps in the final two weeks.The fact that future is at hand with just two games remaining is a grand disappointment considering Arkansas football’s even modest expectations entering the year.
Whatever is going with the Razorbacks is more than Enos. The 10 weeks some of us – OK, I – have spent defending Pittman appear to have been ill-justified. Three wins through 10 games is, by any account, unacceptable. Arkansas should never have been this bad. Maybe it’s residual poisoning from a locker room too downtrodden by the Enos debacle. Maybe everything that could have gone wrong has gone wrong. Maybe it’s dumb luck.
Or maybe it’s time for a regime change.
What Sam Pittman Deserves
Pittman doesn’t deserve it, really. He doesn’t deserve this season, nor does he deserve it to be his last. His three years prior were all solid. Not the stuff dreams are made of, but considering Arkansas’ painful past (look, they’re the worst team in the SEC West for most of the last 15 years, be honest), the 2020-22 seasons were more than acceptable.
Things fall apart quickly, though. Ask Bret Bielema. He had two-and-a-half really good years as Arkansas coach before the Hogs went south in late 2016. The 2017 season that followed was downright miserable, resulting in his being fired while walking off the field in a last-game loss to Missouri. The Arkansas football program botched the next several months, seemingly caught unawares by a situation it had created itself. It had no clear direction after Jeff Long was relieved of his duties as athletic director weeks earlier.
Going forward, Pittman could help prevent such a chaotic turnover from happening again. Discussions have almost certainly occurred between him and current AD Hunter Yurachek about the future of the team and most signs point to him going through business as usual heading into FlU football week. Still, at age 61 and having been coaching since 1984, Pittman could retire in comfort and with a legacy not wholly intact, but a legacy that should, at least, be recalled as one that saved Arkansas from the mire of Chad Morris and provided the Razorbacks direction.
He was, of course, asked about job status after the Auburn game.
“I’m not (concerned),” Pittman said. “Let me say why: because it’s never been about me being the head coach. It’s been about me and these kids.”
What Pig Trail Nation’s Mike Irwin, the longtime Arkansas broadcaster, suggests below is one way to ensure Pittman’s legacy is mostly preserved in a good light instead of taking a potentially even uglier turn in 2024 should the current trend continue unabated:
The Arkansas coach has never said or even suggested this might be his last season, but he also never thought things would go sideways the way they have, either. Pittman is too wise, been around the game too long and watched too many of his elders leave the profession for the thought not to have crossed his mind. And his answer was phrased in such a way Saturday that suggested stepping aside is a possibility.
And maybe it’s time.
As Bill Shakespeare would say: Now cracks a noble heart. Good night, sweet prince.
Matt Jones on Arkansas Football
As the former Razorback football star sees it, one of Sam Pittman’s downfalls this season has been not recruiting enough speed onto the team.
“We have no speed. Nobody scares you,” Jones said on Hit That Line on Monday. “If you can’t run a 4.4 then you gotta go play somebody else. It’s like being a basketball player that can’t shoot. This is not the Big 10. You have to have real speed to compete with Georgia, to compete with Florida, Alabama and we don’t have it.”
In another part, he added: “If you’re a safety you can run a 4.6, but if you’re a cornerback you can’t run a 4.6. You have to be a 4.5, 4.4, 4.3 guy. If you’re a receiver on the outside you can’t run a 4.73. That’s not going to work here.”
“I don’t know what these coaches are thinking. I don’t know what type of evaluation methods they have, but they need to change them. You don’t have to have 30 guys who can run a 4.3, but you have to have about five of them.”
For more on the Hindenberg of an outing that was Arkansas vs Auburn:
Trey Biddy on Sam Pittman
The publisher of HawgSports looked at Arkansas’ record in “meaningful” home games (i.e. against either Power 5 or ranked Group of Five opponents) since 2012 and came away with a truly depressing result: a winning percentage of 28.6% via 16 wins and 40 losses.
You might as well throw Auburn ’23 in with Auburn ’19 and Mississippi State ’19 when it comes to the absolute worst of them.
Biddy has attended each of these games and feels for the fans who have had to suffer alongside him. “Hunter Yurachek says, ‘This team deserves a packed stadium, an electric crowd.'”
Well, “what about these fans? What do they deserve?,” Biddy wonders in the “Walk and Talk” video below. “There’s people who came up here hours away, people from Dallas or Little Rock or whatever. And, you come up here, you pay two nights for an overpriced hotel room, you buy a bunch of tickets, and you’ve been doing it for as I count 56 games.”
Biddy adds “I’m going invent a pillow for everybody and you can have a pillow that you can take to Razorbacks games and you can just scream into it, because that’s what I want to do right now. It’s like a place to bite, [just] scream into your pillow.”
The frustrations come in all sizes. If the team isn’t getting blown out it’s finding a way to lose nearly back-to-back-to-back-to-back-to-back-to-back close games. They lost six games by a total of 36 points, 6.0 points per loss. For a while, that was a nice excuse “They’ve just been unlucky. They hadn’t been able to get things going on offense.”
“To this point, the saving grace for Sam Pittman had been, well, nobody’s just whipped him.”
Kiss that saving grace goodbye.
Watch the rest of Biddy’s take on the burning, crashing airship that was Arkansas vs Auburn here:
For more on Arkansas football from BoAS: