FAYETTEVILLE — No, the Arkansas football team didn’t spend halftime of its blowout loss to Auburn watching a movie.
Don’t let the viral 3-second clip distract you from what really mattered Saturday afternoon: the 48-10 final score of the ugliest game of the Sam Pittman era.
The fact that a few walk-ons and redshirts not even on the 74-man roster, per a UA spokesperson, had The Polar Express on a TV in their separate locker room had exactly zero bearing on that result.
Is it a bad look? Sure. But they were not in the same room as Kenny Guiton or Travis Williams trying to figure out how to get their units to function. The video shouldn’t overshadow the fact that neither man — nor Pittman — could find an answer.
“I thought we were coming off a good week, had a really good week of practice,” Pittman said afterward. “But we got dominated today, and we have to go back to work and figure out why.”
To say the Razorbacks “got dominated” might have been an understatement, though. The 38-point margin of defeat is the second-worst of Pittman’s tenure, behind only a 49-point beatdown at the hands of No. 1 Alabama in 2020.
That Crimson Tide team went on to win a national title. This Auburn team was simply fighting for bowl eligibility — something the Razorbacks now have no shot at, dropping to 3-7 with two games remaining.
Ugly From the Start for Arkansas
The way Arkansas came out Saturday afternoon, it would have been easy to think the Hogs already didn’t have anything left to play for. All three phases — offense, defense, special teams — were seemingly lifeless.
Auburn met very little resistance on a six-play, 75-yard opening drive capped by a 12-yard touchdown run by quarterback Payton Thorne.
In response, the Razorbacks threw well short of the sticks to go three-and-out and Max Fletcher’s ensuing punt was returned 74 yards for a touchdown by Keionte Scott, making it a two-score game in the blink of an eye.
Of course, the last team to take a 14-0 lead on a punt return early in the first quarter at Reynolds Razorback Stadium ultimately lost, as that’s what Arkansas did against BYU two months earlier. The Razorbacks also saw a quick 14-0 lead evaporate last week at Florida before pulling out the win in overtime.
“They jumped on us on the first drive, then they held us and came back with a punt (return),” Pittman said. “But we did the same thing to Florida last week. They came back and we never did.”
When Thorne hit Rivaldo Fairweather for an 11-yard touchdown to go up 21-0 midway through the first quarter, it was all but over.
An interception by Dwight McGlothern, his third of the season, gave Arkansas a brief glimmer of hope, but it was dashed as soon as he was tackled at the 22-yard line because it meant the offense had to come back out. Cam Little’s 39-yard field goal gave the Razorbacks their only points until a garbage time touchdown early in the fourth quarter.
“At some point you need somebody to make a play, and then Nudie made the play,” Pittman said. “We go out there and three downs and make two yards and kick a field goal. They just physically whipped us in all phases of the game.”
Struggles on Offense Again
Given two weeks to prepare and the advantage of mystery, interim offensive coordinator Kenny Guiton helped the Razorbacks put together their best offensive performance of the season against Florida, piling up 481 yards.
One week later, Arkansas looked much more like the offense that resulted in the firing of Dan Enos after only eight games.
The Razorbacks didn’t convert a first down on their four possessions. They would have had another three-and-out on their fifth drive had they not converted a fourth-and-1 at their own 24.
In addition to losing a pair of fumbles, Arkansas punted eight times — in large part because it was just 1 of 12 on third down.
“It always seemed like we couldn’t win first down at all,” Pittman said. “Third-and-long was a problem for us. We tried several different things — empty, six-man protection, rolling out, nakeds, things of that nature, running it. They were just more physical than us, and really dominated us.”
Even with the 75-yard touchdown drive that featured a 60-yard run by backup quarterback Jacolby Criswell, the Razorbacks finished with only 255 total yards. They were sacked five times and tackled behind the line of scrimmage on three other plays.
Arkansas’ running backs — Rocket Sanders, AJ Green and Rashod Dubinion — combined for a whopping six yards on 11 carries. That included eight attempts for zero yards by Sanders, a week after he ran for 103 yards against Florida.
Perhaps most damning is this: Before KJ Jefferson was pulled midway through the third quarter, Arkansas’ offense had run just nine plays in Auburn territory. It had a combined zero yards on the first eight of those plays before a two-yard run by Sanders that ended with a 74-yard fumble return by the Tigers.
Defense Falls Flat
On the other side of the ball, Arkansas had no answer for Auburn’s rushing attack.
Quarterback Payton Thorne ran free all game, finishing with 88 yards and a touchdown on 12 carries for a 7.3-yard average, while running back Jarquez Hunter added 109 yards on 16 carries.
As a team, the Tigers ran for 354 yards. That is easily the most the Razorbacks have allowed this season, topping the 204 rushing yards by Texas A&M. Arkansas came into the game ranked seventh in the SEC in rush defense, allowing only 129.4 yards per game on the ground.
“We couldn’t handle the edge on defense,” Pittman said. “We tried different things out there, but any time they wanted to get on the edge, we couldn’t handle the run. We didn’t tackle well.”
Thorne also threw for 163 yards and three touchdowns, but it was Arkansas’ inability to get any of the Tigers on the ground that led to Auburn racking up 517 yards of offense after Florida put up 394 a week earlier.
According to Pro Football Focus, the Razorbacks had 12 missed tackles against the Gators. If the eye test is accurate, that number will be higher when PFF grades the Auburn game.
“Tackling out in space is a whole different story than tackling in space,” Pittman said. “We’ve kind of gotten exposed the last couple of weeks in space. It wasn’t because we didn’t work on it because we spent most of indies tackling, but we knew we needed to emphasize what we didn’t do well last week against Florida. We need to continue to work on it more because we weren’t very good at tackling today.”
It’s been a disappointing two weeks for defensive coordinator Travis Williams’ much-improved unit and Saturday had to be even more so considering it was against his alma mater.
What’s Next for Arkansas Football
Now the Razorbacks must pick up the pieces and try to rebound — with no hope of postseason play — against a so-called rent-a-win in Florida International.
Whether or not he’ll be coaching for his job next week remains to be seen, but the 6:30 p.m. CT kickoff looms large for Sam Pittman.
The Panthers are generally considered one of the worst teams in the FBS. They came into the weekend ranked No. 132 out of 133 teams in ESPN’s Football Power Index, ahead of only Week 2 opponent Kent State. They likely won’t be moving up after losing 40-6 to Middle Tennessee.
“We’re going to play to win,” Pittman said. “We’ve got to beat Florida International next week, so we’re going to continue to do what we feel is the best to get us a win.”
Arkansas vs Auburn Stats
Stats don’t always paint a perfect picture of what happened on the field, but Saturday’s Arkansas vs Auburn box score pretty much sums up the Tigers’ domination at Reynolds Razorback Stadium.
|Stat||Arkansas Football||Auburn Football|
|Third Down %||1 of 12 (8.3%)||7 of 12 (58.3%)|
|Sacks By (Yards)||1 (5)||5 (28)|
A funny look at the “Polar Express” situation:
For more on Arkansas vs Auburn from Andrew Hutchinson, go here:
Watch Arkansas football coach Sam Pittman’s full postgame press conference following Arkansas vs Auburn here:
Yet even more coverage of Arkansas football and Arkansas vs Auburn from BoAS…