Boxing has an old saying – of course it’s old because no one under the age of 30 actively watches boxing: styles make fights.
What people under 30 do watch, at least in the Bible Belt, is college football. The phrase can be applied just as equally in that sport.
Arkansas, very much in the heart of said belt, hasn’t had a lot of success in the sport over the last decade. Three of the worst seasons in school history have occurred in that span and barring significant on-field change, four of the worst will have happened in the last 11 years.
On-field change is important, though it remains to be seen whether Arkansas will make any. What the Razorbacks did do – rather, what head coach Sam Pittman did do – is make an off-field change. The head man, in the midst of a 2-6 season with six straight losses sending Arkansas to the cellar of the SEC, perhaps even below Vanderbilt, fired offensive coordinator Dan Enos on Sunday just a day after the OC’s offense managed just 200 yards in a 7-3 loss to Mississippi State, the same MSU that entered winless in the conference, as well.
Arkansas has averaged 306 yards over its first eight games. Only four power-conference teams have been worse in that regard. One of them, Brigham Young, kickstarted Arkansas’ losing streak, beating the Razorbacks in Fayetteville back in Week 3. Saturday’s game against Mississippi State was the first game at Donald W. Reynolds Razorback Stadium since then.
Kenny Guiton Takes Over for Dan Enos
In Enos’ stead steps Kenny Guiton. Guiton has been Arkansas’ wide receivers coach since 2021 and the unit has had mixed results. Treylon Burks earned All-American honors in Guiton’s first season, though Burks, an eventual first-round NFL Draft pick, would have had a grand season, regardless. Tyson Morris was a fair complement as the second receiver and Warren Thompson and De’Vion Warren chipped in. In Guiton’s second year, last year, Matt Landers and Jadon Haselwood entered from the transfer portal and kept the passing game on high ground.
Those seasons came with Kendal Briles running the offense. Briles left for Texas Christian in the offseason and Pittman hired his old friend Enos as Briles’ replacement. Guiton’s top two receivers were brand-new to FBS ball, too, further leading to damage in the passing game. It’s a safe bet, then, that Guiton, with two weeks to revamp Arkansas’ playbook thanks to the Razorbacks’ bye week upcoming, will make those significant on-field changes.
Two weeks is not enough time to completely overhaul the offensive gameplan. It is enough time to insert wrinkles akin to Briles’. Not only did Guiton and his wideouts have more success with Art’s kid calling plays, but quarterback KJ Jefferson did, too. Jefferson was so good in the previous two seasons, actually, he entered 2023 as a dark horse Heisman Trophy candidate. Enos’ offense did him no favors, swapping out RPO for a strange amalgamation of various styles. Guiton must know that his five weeks in charge are an audition, if not for the permanent gig at Arkansas (the next question is whether Pittman can save his job over the final four games), but perhaps elsewhere.
Little of it will matter if Arkansas can’t block. Keeping Jefferson upright and opening holes for the running backs have been the Razorbacks’ most glaring problem. Arkansas has given up 61 tackles for loss, the fourth-worst mark in FBS. Offensive line coach Cody Kennedy has taken almost as much heat at Enos, but his line was good under Briles, too, suggesting that maybe a return to something similar under Guiton could at least Band-Aid things.
What’s Ahead for Arkansas Football
Pittman bought himself a stay of job termination by firing Enos. As recently as two weeks ago, the head coach was not in danger of losing his job. Arkansas’ schedule was so daunting, no one was really surprised the Razorbacks lost their first four SEC games. But the Mississippi State game was a nadir. If Arkansas couldn’t handle a bad league team at home, is Pittman really the best man for the job?
Athletic director Hunter Yurachek will have to make that determination come November. Arkansas has to win all four of its remaining games to make it to .500 and become bowl-eligible. Normally a .500 record at Arkansas wouldn’t cause one to lose a job. The Razorbacks aren’t exactly the kings of the South and, in fact, they’re the worst team in the SEC West in the last decade by a large margin.
But embarrassment is something Arkansas’ brass, including those with the funds to make the program functional, don’t take well. Bobby Petrino. John L. Smith. The way Bret Bielema was fired and the chaotic search for a replacement. That replacement himself, Chad Morris. Yurachek wasn’t in Fayetteville for any of it, but you can be sure he’s aware of the tarnished legacy.
Arkansas isn’t going to have some miraculous turnaround even with Guiton running the offense. The Razorbacks’ poor offensive line play, sub-par running game and a seemingly shell-shocked Jefferson – never mind wideouts whose athleticism is limited in allowing them to get open in the first place – are all too large to turn Arkansas into an offense that will put up Top-30 numbers after producing this through 5 SEC games:
But the good news is they also don’t have to. Arkansas’ defense is maybe its best in a decade, with Saturday’s limiting of seven points to the Bulldogs a showcase. Guiton’s offense needs only to be of average quality and the Razorbacks have a shot.
Of course, they only needed to be of average quality in the last six games, too. Arkansas has lost five of its six games by one possession. It must be frustrating for Razorbacks fans, let alone coaches, to imagine what could have been had the Hogs been functional with the ball in their hands. Now they have to be. Or else the whole program will start from scratch for the fourth time in 11 years.
More coverage of Arkansas football from BoAS…