They are, in fact, Dennis, who we thought they were.
Just one short month ago, the stories flooded the Twittersphere, the World of Facebook, the ever-present water cooler: Arkansas football was back. Razorbacks head coach Sam Pittman had done the unimaginable. He had taken Arkansas from its lowest of lows to the highest it had been in more than decade and he did it in less than two full seasons.
We call those ‘the good old days.’
Sports have always been a what-have-you-done-for-me-lately venture, especially among we fans and talking heads. But with the proliferation of social media, instant-analysis and, frankly, misinformation, we – all of us – have a tendency to over-exaggerate, to get ahead of ourselves, to stretch the truth into what we want it to be.
We *wanted* so badly to beat Texas. We *wanted* to believe Texas A&M was an honest-to-goodness national title contender. We *wanted* to go into Athens and shock the world.
We simply *wanted.*
Now, the reality is we’re left wanting. The Razorbacks have lost three straight games after a 4-0 start, each a touch more painful than the last. Auburn was outplayed by Arkansas on Saturday and still the Tigers left a sold-out Donald W. Reynolds Razorback Stadium on homecoming with a 15-point, 38-23 win, leaving us with the sad words of former Cardinals coach Dennis Green echoing through heads.
Sam Pittman on Auburn Loss
To his credit, as always, Pittman took ownership of the loss. But even he is scratching his head on just how things have become what they have become.
“He (Auburn coach Bryan Harsin) out-coached me. He had his team ready and obviously I didn’t have ours,” Pittman said. “I’m looking back, I’m sitting in there trying to figure out what we could’ve, might’ve done differently during the week. We certainly have to figure it out.”
It was a game Arkansas should have won a week after another Game Arkansas Should Have Won against Ole Miss on the road. Instead, that one ended up 52-51 on the losing side. Before that it was Georgia in Game Arkansas Should Have W…OK, well, maybe not that one.
But that Georgia game’s 38-point shutout loss should have tipped off more than it did. Perhaps instead of proclaiming how good the Bulldogs were to have beaten the Hogs like that, we should have noticed something about ourselves and our team.
None of any of this is to say Arkansas is a bad football team. Nor is it to say Sam Pittman isn’t the right coach. Hell no. It isn’t either of those things. No, this is about us, about our perpetual anger/frustration/heartbreak and it’s about how we inflict it on ourselves.
We don’t hurt because Arkansas lost. We hurt because we thought Arkansas could or should win. We hurt because we put so much of ourselves into this team, this only team that matters in the Natural State.
Arkansas hasn’t changed, really. It feels like the Razorbacks have, but that’s largely because they underwent such a drastic makeover under Chad Morris (and, if you want, the last season of the Bret Bielema era), that anything felt like an improvement.
The optimist can say “If you’d have told me this team would be 4-3 after seven games, I’d have been over the moon.” Probably so. This isn’t about whether Arkansas is good or not, though. It’s the suffering and the way it’s happened over the course of the last three weeks.
Take Saturday, for example. Arkansas did almost everything right. Arkansas out-gained Auburn 460 yards to 427. Arkansas committed four penalties for 44 yards to Auburn’s six for 49. Arkansas converted 10 of 19 on third down to Auburn’s 4-of-10. Arkansas had 16 big plays to Auburn’s nine*. Arkansas punted three times to Auburn’s four.
But between the strip-sack touchdown, the missed fourth-down conversion from the Auburn 30 and the over-the-top touchdown pass in response, the Tigers needed, basically, just three plays in a game they were otherwise, largely, the inferior team.
And it was still a two-touchdown win.
Arkansas didn’t play badly, which makes it all the more difficult to swallow. As it goes, the Razorbacks simply didn’t catch any favors. A phantom pass-interference call on Hudson Clark. Nathan Parodi losing the punt in the sun. The flukey strip-sack score. A curious spot on Rocket Sanders’ fourth-down run.
To us, fans and media, those things linger in the air. They’re reasons the Hogs lost. To Pittman, they’re excuses. And in the scheme, he’s right. Things will go awry and Arkansas, to be the elite team it wants, the nearly-elite team we thought it was about to be, has to overcome them. Because they will happen again. And again after that. And again after that.
Razorbacks and the Top 25
The Razorbacks will likely find themselves out of the Top 25 when the polls are released on Sunday. If they’re not out, they’ll be on the verge. A win against Arkansas-Pine Bluff next week won’t do much to change the Razorbacks’ standing after that and a bye week follows. Arkansas will close the season with four straight SEC games from sadly familiar territory: last in the SEC.
In a down year for the best conference in college football, it stings, especially as Arkansas’ last two games could have – should have – been wins. Instead, the Razorbacks have to fight off Mississippi State at home, swing a road win in the The Swamp against LSU, try not to get smoked against Alabama in Bryant-Denny and, finally, snap a five-game losing streak in the Battle Line Rivalry against Missouri.
Arkansas tried to snap a five-game losing streak to Auburn on Saturday. It didn’t happen. Now they have to do what we fans and scribes often cannot: put it behind them.
“It’s bad because we had such a big start to the season now we’ve lost three in a row,” Pittman said. “That’s on the head football coach. I’ve got to figure out why. I think I’ve got reasons why. But, yeah, it gets frustrating. You’d like to catch a break here or there. I don’t know. It gets frustrating.”
*Big plays are defined as passes for more than 15 yards or runs of more than 10 yards.
In 2020, the Arkansas vs Auburn game came down to a single play concerning what Auburn quarterback Bo Nix released. In that case, it was a football hitting the turf after Nix slammed it down late in the fourth quarter. That illegal play, which should have been called a fumble, was instead called an incomplete pass and essentially gift-wrapped the game for the Tigers.
This year, as SEC analyst Clint Stoerner predicts, Arkansas vs Auburn will be decided by something Bo Nix never possessed in the first place: elite talent.
Stoerner, a former Razorbacks quarterback, is taking the Hogs to win on Saturday. He concedes that Auburn is good on defense and very good in the running game. They are also “disciplined and generally speaking don’t carelessly turn the ball over,” he added on a recent interview with the Buzz 103.7 FM.
“But Bo Nix to me is a guy who has a very low ceiling. I don’t mean it as negatively as it sounds.”
Stoerner continued: “He wasn’t athletic enough to really excel in Gus Malzahn’s offense, and now in Mike Bobo’s offense, the arm talent just isn’t special enough to really make you pay. Early in the Penn State game he’s got a go route down the sideline — I’m not gonna say I could have made the throw — but kids with big-time arms in college football today make that throw in their sleep, and he leaves it inside and underneath by about four or five yards.
Bo Nix Isn’t Chump Change
Stoerner does give Nix some credit for his gusty performance a couple weeks ago in a 21-19 win at LSU. He threw for 255 yards and rushed for 74 more. “The kid put the team on his back and won the game on sheer toughness and amazing plays, but that stuff’s not sustainable.”
Stoerner sees Arkansas being able to slow Auburn’s rushing attack while rushing only three down linemen, which will put the pressure on Nix to deliver into tight windows in the Razorback secondary.
“I just don’t think Bo Nix is talented enough to make enough big plays down the stretch” to help overcome the Razorbacks’ defense, which should be raring to make a definitive statement at home after getting shredded by Georgia and Ole Miss on the road in consecutive weekends.
“They’re just going to be kind of a hard nose, tough team that plays with relentless effort, and they’ll just play extremely hard for one another,” Nix told SEC analyst Jake Crain.
“They’re just kind of everywhere and you just got to sight them up and make sure that you communicate.”
“In this kind of game, when the defense can do a little bit of everything, you got to make sure that you’re on point with your scheme and you’ve got to be down to the detail, very comfortable with what you’re doing,” Bo Nix added. And so, that’s just going to be a test for us this week through throughout practice and us doing what we’re supposed to do and being consistent and playing clean.”
“We just have to make that explosive play, and we know we can make it. We’ve learned a lot about ourselves in the first half of the season.”
“We’ve lost to two really good teams. One’s number one [Georgia,] one’s number seven [Penn State], so top 10 teams.”
Arkansas vs Auburn preview
by Nate Allen
FAYETTEVILLE – Last season’s biggest miscarriage of justice to Arkansas football didn’t deter the Razorbacks from winning their next game.
Sam Pittman took great pride in his 2020 Razorbacks for that victory over Ole Miss in Fayetteville after the justice miscarriage the previous week in Auburn, Ala. Pittman apparently intends on keeping it that way for 2021.
The miscarriage of course was the “bad call” as Pittman described it, depriving Arkansas recovering what should have been Auburn Tigers quarterback Bo Nix’s fumble on the Auburn’s second to last fourth-quarter play at the Arkansas 22 with the Hogs ahead, 28-27 in Auburn, Ala.
Instead, though Nix’s attempt for a clock-stopping spike bounced backwards and was recovered by Arkansas safety Joe Foucha, it was declared an incomplete pass. It allowed Auburn’s Anders Carlson on fourth down to kick a 30-28 game-winning field goal with seven seconds left and evoked national criticism of SEC officiating.
Auburn no longer has Gus Malzahn, the 2013-2020 Auburn head coach and 2006 Arkansas offensive coordinator now head coaching the University of Central Florida, or Chad Morris, Auburn’s 2020 offensive coordinator Arkansas’ head coach in 2018 and 2019 now head coaching Allen (Texas) High School.
But they still have Bo Nix and Carlson, and will be part of the Auburn team visiting Reynolds Razorback Stadium for Saturday’s 11 a.m. CBS televised SEC game. The NCAAF picks have Arkansas favored for Saturday’s game by 3.5 points.
Pittman was asked at the first of this week about motivating his 4-2 17th-ranked Razorbacks with last year’s grievance.
“I think our deal would be more right now is winning our home games,” Pittman said. “We’re undefeated (3-0 over Rice, Texas and Georgia Southern) in our stadium. It’s been several years since we’ve been undefeated in Razorback Stadium and I think that means something.”
More than revenge for last year in Auburn, Ala.?
“I think that might be a little bit more than the revenge factor,” Pittman said. “Because Auburn kids didn’t really have anything to do with that. It was just a bad call.”
Players publicly proffer Pittman’s perspective.
“You think about last year’s game but it’s all about this year,” Arkansas senior offensive lineman handyman Ty Clary said. “You’ve just got to win this year, you know.”
Arkansas junior nickel back Greg Brooks and sixth-year senior linebacker Grant Morgan, both on the field when officials ruled Foucha’s recovery as too long after the fact to be counted as a recovery, during Tuesday interviews parroted Pittman.
“I couldn’t control what they called,” Brooks said. “So really it’s over now. We’re just worried about getting this win the weekend and focusing on this game right here.”
Morgan also expressed it’s time to move on though his recollection of the play certainly shows it’s not forgotten.
“It went on our record as a loss,” Morgan said. “That’s what it was. We’re not an excuse team. We don’t make excuses saying it could have been. If the fans want to use it as motivation saying they stole a game from us then go for it. Use it as motivation. But we’re here trying to win every game that we can this year, and then we’re going to use whatever it takes to be able to get there. We’re going to use it as motivation that we lost that game, and we want to be able to win this game.”
Yes, but how it was lost does still stick in Hogs’ craws. For here is how Morgan recalls it.
“The way I had it in my head,” Morgan said. “The way it went was I saw the snap and I figured Malzahn or Morris wanted to go for a late shot and try to just throw us off guard. Because Morris, when he was here, he had plays where it was a fake spike and throw it up. So, I thought maybe that was what they were going to do. I saw them fumble the snap, so I didn’t stop and ran after it.”
“Then I saw him spike it backwards, and we all saw him spike it backwards, I was getting held by No. 71 (offensive lineman Brandon Council) as I was going to the ball. I figured that was going to be a flag at least.”
“Then I heard whistles blowing all over. So I started yelling at the refs saying ‘Hey, that’s a fumble.’ Joe was still going towards it. Joe never stopped going towards it. They had a receiver that never stopped towards it and thought it was a fumble. So, from my point of view, I thought it was a fumble.”
So did the TV crew covering the game and about everyone who saw the replays.
“I thought it could have been turned the other way, but it didn’t,” Morgan said. “We can’t go back and look at it. We can go back and say it, and that’s kind of my viewpoint, but it didn’t change anything. Wish it would’ve, but it doesn’t matter about this game.”
Razorback Defense vs Bo Nix
What the Hogs need most changing is how to nix Bo Nix, a run-pass mobile quarterback with skills much like Matt Corral, the Ole Miss quarterback that Arkansas corralled intercepting six of his passes in last year’s 33-21 victory in Fayetteville but obviously couldn’t corral in last Saturday’s 52-51 loss in Oxford, Miss.
Last Saturday Corral figured mightily in Ole Miss’ 611 yards total offense. Corral completed 14 of 21 passes for 287 yards and two touchdowns without a turnover, rushed 15 times for 94 net yards and two touchdowns without a turnover. Corral posed such a dual threat it helped Ole Miss running backs Henry Parrish (111 yards on 18 carries) and Snoop Conner (110 yards and two touchdowns on 12 carries) both exceed 100 yards rushing.
Morgan takes exception to defensive coordinator Barry Odom, nationally praised for Arkansas’ 4-0 start that included stifling then No. 15 Texas and then No. 7 Texas A&M, getting criticized off Arkansas struggling to stop the run on successive weeks. Now No. 1 Georgia ran 37-0 over the Razorbacks in Athens, Ga. the week prior Ole Miss running wild in Oxford.
“At the end of the day it isn’t based on Barry Odom stopping the run,” Morgan said. “It isn’t based on (linebackers coach) Michael Scherer stopping the run. It’s based on our players being able to do what we’ve been taught and doing exactly what we’ve been doing to be able to stop the run.”
“We had guys in certain spots, and I’ll look myself in the mirror, who could’ve made tackles and could’ve gotten off the field, but we didn’t. So, we have to be able to do that this week and step up and make plays when our name is called. We have to be able to do our jobs and stay in our gaps and be assignment sound and just go back to doing what’s worked for us.”
If they don’t, he knows Bo Nix, and Auburn running back Tank Bigsby, 146 rushing yards vs. Arkansas last year, will work them over.
“Bo is a veteran quarterback,” Morgan said. “He extends plays with his legs very well. And when he does it, he doesn’t just put his eyes down. He looks up always. He always finds that next receiver that’s open when he goes into scramble.”
“The O-line, they’re returning four guys. They’re real big. They’re physical. They like to run downhill. Their receivers are good. They have athletes all around. Bigsby’s probably one of the best backs in our league.”
If Auburn runs well, then Bo Nix likely will pass well just like Corral last week.
“We’ve got to be able to stop the run,” Morgan said. “And it starts with Bo and it starts with Bigsby.”
And that, Morgan didn’t have to imply, doesn’t start with last year’s “bad call.”
In the span of just over 21 days, Arkansas football soared from college football’s periphery to penthouse. But the fall from No. 8 to No. 17, thankfully, isn’t as precipitous.
In the last game, which ESPN flaks ruthlessly hyped as the “Bounce-Back Bowl,” Arkansas shrugged off a bevy of defensive failings on the road against Ole Miss. K.J. Jefferson’s two-point try sailed over Treylon Burks’ outstretched hand to cement the Rebels’ 52-51 win.
Since that came on the heels of a humbling at Athens, these Hogs now have had a dose of heartbreak to address.
From Coach Sam Pittman’s standpoint, he’s still shepherding a Top 20 team that is one of the season’s best stories to date. A second 53-52 victory in Oxford in the last four trips there might’ve put his team on a New Year’s Six path, but Pittman isn’t griping.
Nor should he. With a now-wounded Alabama team still sitting at the back of the schedule, Arkansas nonetheless made it through a brutal six-game gauntlet with a winning record.
Momentum is fleeting, though, and the Hogs lost theirs for a moment. If they’re looking for an opportunity to reclaim it, the remaining schedule is ripe with opportunities.
First Order of Business: Payback for the Plains
Arkansas ended September by easily dispatching Texas A&M, then No. 7, to rid itself of a nine-game skid in that series. The Hogs haven’t beaten Auburn since 2015, and the current drought carries a hard asterisk.
Last year, Auburn carried a No. 13 ranking into an atypically early battle with the Razorbacks. The Hogs, fresh off chilling a lengthy losing streak with an upset win at Starkville, fell behind 17-0 and seemed too small for another big moment on the road.
The Pittman influence, already perceptible, really showed itself from there. Arkansas put two touchdowns on the board in the second quarter to draw within 20-12 by halftime, then Feleipe Franks’ 30-yard scoring strike to De’Vion Warren with five minutes left gave the Hogs their first lead.
The 28-27 margin ostensibly should’ve stayed in place. Auburn moved into position for a winning field goal, then Bo Nix unthinkably fired a backward spike in an effort to kill the clock.
Despite a clear recovery by the Hogs, and a lengthy review by officials, Auburn retained possession. Anders Carlson poked home a 39-yarder with seven seconds left to secure the Tigers’ 30-28, ill-gotten victory on the Plains. (Somehow, Nix thinks Auburn never gets the benefit of these kinds of calls.)
Pittman kept his postgame comments measured on something that sparked tons of controversy on the airwaves, but for a team trying so hard to overcome its own recent culture, the loss could have been crippling. Instead, Arkansas rallied, winning against both Ole Miss and Tennessee over the next three weeks.
Until that game, Arkansas’s recent history against Auburn had been nothing short of awful. Touched off by a 56-3 pasting in 2016, the Hogs lost four straight to the Tigers by an average margin of nearly 42 points.
Hogs’ November Nemeses Looming
The motivation to “red out” Reynolds Razorback Stadium this weekend for Auburn boasts built-in significance. It’s a conference game, and even if Gus Malzahn no longer roams the Tiger sideline, it’s a chance to reverse the Hogs’ brief slide in the rankings.
For all the nastiness that could be hurled at the SEC for the Hogs’ 2021 slate, it also offers some virtues. For one, the Hogs get to stay in Arkansas for the Oct. 23 tilt in War Memorial Stadium against Arkansas-Pine Bluff, and they’ll be a clear favorite.
The bigger bonus, however, is that the bye week follows. The COVID-altered 2020 schedule didn’t even afford the Hogs time off until the Missouri and Alabama games were rescheduled. And traditionally, the bye week fell at a curious or occasionally cruel time.
Thanks to its placement in 2021, the Hogs don’t leave the state again until they embark for Baton Rouge the week of the Nov. 13 game with LSU. They draw Mississippi State on Nov. 6, and while the Bulldogs are undeniably dangerous, Arkansas still holds favorite status.
Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: LSU owns a winning streak of equal length to Auburn’s. Thanks to Bret Bielema blowing the 2016-17 matchups handily, and Chad Morris doing what Chad Morris did best the next two years, the Hogs haven’t vanquished the “other Tigers” since 2015, either.
The skid against Alabama, which now looks mortal at least, is at a whopping 14 years. As for that finisher at home against Missouri, well, yet again, it was the 2015 team that last took the third SEC Tiger team down.
How’s that for a chance to announce a programmatic rebirth? One virtue of being down for a while is that redemption or vengeance is always within reach.
Arkansas Football Subplots Aplenty
Barry Odom’s return to Missouri as Arkansas’s defensive coordinator unfolded terribly last year. The Hogs yielded over 650 total yards, and couldn’t preserve a potential upset win.
His defense just took another unexpected licking at Oxford, similar to that endured at Faurot Field in Columbia, Mo. He won’t be lacking for desire to see his unit regain composure after it surrendered 600 rushing yards and eight scores on the ground to the Bulldogs and Rebels. Don’t forget that Hog defensive anchors Tre Williams and Markell Utsey also transferred in from Missouri.
Even factoring in the win at Starkville last year, Arkansas hasn’t exactly worn out the Bulldogs. Prior to that win, the Hogs actually took it on the chin from MSU plenty, too: Bielema beat them just once in five tries (2016), Morris went 0-2, and John L. Smith owned the 2012 loss for a total of seven losses in eight games.
Pittman’s deft, savvy media touch even reaches kickoff times. When asked this week about the possibility of four straight 11:00 a.m. kickoffs, even the sour experience of the last two weekends didn’t sap his enthusiasm.
“I’m grateful for 11 a.m. games,” he said. “They’re a lot better when you win because you can go home, look at everybody else, and say, ‘Why’d he make that call? Why’d he do that?’ and have a good time.”
“But when you lose,” he cautioned, “it’s not any fun.”
Pittman has implored the rejuvenated Razorback fan base to turn out, not just for Auburn really, but for the next three imminently winnable Fayetteville dates. If the team responds and advances the record and the cause accordingly, these last two slip-ups have served their purpose.
NOTE: The original publication of this story erroneously stated that Arkansas’s October 23 game against Arkansas-Pine Bluff would be in Fayetteville, but the game is in Little Rock.
In less than two years, Sam Pittman has emerged as the most beloved Razorback head football coach since Houston Nutt circa 1998, when the Hogs started 8-0. Bobby Petrino, who won at a higher clip than any other SEC-era Arkansas football coach, did not endear himself nearly as well to Razorback fans.
But if Pittman were only direct and fiery, as Petrino was, he wouldn’t be nearly as beloved.
Instead, Pittman shows a genuine affection for his players and enthusiasm for the game and what it means to represent Arkansas. That comes across in the those jukebox victories cries and locker room speeches that are by far the best from a Razorback football coach since heyday Houston Nutt.
Less appreciated, perhaps, is Pittman’s dry sense of humor. He has a way of delivering subtle jokes and jobs that gives him an edge that stands out from previous Arkansas coaches.
One of my favorite examples of this comes from his time as an Arkansas offensive line coach under Bret Bielema. After a documentary crew caught him on tape by a surprise, Pittman hilariously likened his walk to that of the 458-pound wrestler King Kong Bundy.
Sam Pittman Punches Back
Pittman also shows off that edginess in another way — striking back against social media naysayers with King Kong Bundyesque might.
Last year, a Razorback fan who had apparently gone to the dark side insulted Pittman’s integrity in the aftermath of an unfair ejection of Jalen Catalon.
Sam Pittman would have none of that, firing off this Tweet:
Fast forward nearly 11 months, and Pittman has again stood up for himself and his team.
This time, he defended against an attack not on his ethics but rather his coaching acumen.
It came from someone who trades in one of most miserable and masochistic activities imaginable to modern man: commenting on the commentary of cable news commentators.
It’s no surprise that the owner of the Twitter media “outlet” CableNewsWatch is not a very happy person. This week, in response to a Tweet by Pig Trail Nation’s Tera Talmadge, he ($100 says it’s a “he”) decided to indulge his misery by insulting Pittman:
“For starters, Pittman has been an idiot…the last 2 games,” wrote @CableNewsWatch, showing a deep confusion about the grammatical function of the ellipsis.
“WON THE TOSS in both of them… YOU DEFER!! Especially when you are the away team! That’s stupidity on his part.”
Well, that wasn’t too smart to do.
Because Sam Pittman, after letting most social media insults roll off his back since last November, decided enough was enough:
Now that, folks, is how you shut a fool up.
Not a peep on this matter from @CableNewsWatch since.
How someone whose hobby implies he had been sentenced to the sixth circle of Hell would presume to know more about football than an SEC head coach is beyond most Razorback fans.
Justin King said as much on the Razorback Nation Facebook page: “Well apparently that guy has never played football. My whole football career (ages 6-16), we always deferred.”
“It can play out two ways — you either get the chance to score twice once before the half and after or you draw a plan of attack at half and draw first blood after the half.”
Razorback fans kept bringing the hammer down on Pittman’s heckler:
New Era of Arkansas Football
By weighing in on social media insults like this, Sam Pittman theoretically walks a fine line.
What if the tables turn in the future, and he starts losing a lot of games and the negative posts (which are so few now) become much more numerous? Will he just be able to shake it off?
As much as Razorback fans love him now, things always change when teams start losing. We have seen that with Ed Orgeron at LSU. And Houston Nutt, so beloved in his first year, ended up as a polarizing figure by the end (though of course some of that was his own doing).
But this is also a new era of college football, transparency and openness may trump the old-school line coaches would trot out about not letting the outside world’s negative Nancies affect them during game week.
In this new era, it seems OK to lash back — as long as you do it in moderation. It’s also no surprise that Pittman shows some chippiness with naysayers, given Arkansas basketball coach Eric Musselman is essentially writing the textbook on how the modern college coach should do this well.
Finally, when it comes to recruiting, the whole “brand” of the Razorbacks is playing with an edge and testiness that presupposes, as a whole, Arkansas is underappreciated and undervalued by others. The Hogs never have as much talent, size and depth as the big boys in the SEC they want to knock off. If their coach can’t motivate them to play with extra effort, they have no hope.
Pittman will need to rein in his responses in the future if things go south for him in Fayetteville, but while the going’s good, he should let loose every once in a while. He’s not above mixing it up on the fray here and there.
Getting down in the dirt like that is yet another reason he has become so beloved.
If you like offensive football, you likely found this past weekend’s tilt with Ole Miss to be highly entertaining. If you are a fan of knocking-dudes-into-the-dirt defensive football, well, you probably threw up a little bit at what went on in Oxford.
While both defensive units played extremely soft and sometimes appeared lost, the offenses rolled up and down the field all afternoon. Ole Miss hit the big plays with well designed schemes and/or blown assignments by Arkansas. The Razorbacks mixed in methodical drives with an interjection of big runs and downfield passing to steamroll their way to the end zone. At least, until that failed two point conversion (which was unequivocally the correct call).
Next Up: Auburn Football
Now Sam Pittman’s Razorbacks (4-2, 1-2) finally come back home to Fayetteville to take on the Auburn Tigers (4-2, 1-1) in what has all the feels of a must-win game. Not a must win for the SEC West crown or slotting for a top tier bowl game but rather for these players. Many of them have done A LOT of losing during their time on the hill including some epic conference losing streaks.
But this is a different Razorback squad and staff than in those Bret Bielema and Chad Morris years. This group has the legit capability to get the train back on the track starting with this home tilt versus Auburn. Vegas oddsmakers agree as the Hogs are considered a 5-point favorite which marks the first time in the Pittman era the Razorbacks are favored over a SEC team.
You’d likely have to reach back into the Bret Bielema era for the last time that happened.
Auburn is coming off a thumping at home by the Georgia Bulldogs. Similar story to the Hogs’ loss in Athens a couple of weeks ago. Georgia dominated the line of scrimmage on both sides but did much more damage through the air than they did against the Hogs. Auburn scored a touchdown against the vaunted Dawgs’ defense — only the second one they’ve given up all season.
Georgia wasn’t really challenged in the game despite falling behind 3-0 after Auburn’s initial drive. Once the Bulldogs get up on the scoreboard, the physical run game and that incredibly good defense sucks the life right out of the opposition. Arkansas felt that cold, lethal grip and so did Auburn. Rest assured, they won’t be the last.
Nix felt so strongly about the perceived blown call that he used the post game presser to say, “I thought it should’ve definitely been a pass interference. It’s just stuff like that that we don’t ever get that changes the game.” Auburn? Never getting a game changing call?
To steal a line from tennis icon John McEnroe…”You cannot be serious!”
Razorback fans will be the first in line to debunk Nix’s ludicrous statement.
Fresh in every Hog fan’s memory is Nix’s attempt to “clock it” in last year’s game at Auburn. As Auburn drove the field trailing by one and in an attempt to stop the clock, Nix backpedaled from under center, dropped the ball, picked it up then turned and fired a pass into the ground behind him to stop the clock.
See it again here:
Given Chad Morris was Auburn’s offensive coordinator that day, maybe that is how he teaches the spike to stop the clock. Which would rival the genius idea to get undersized offensive lineman to play in the SEC so they can be quicker than D linemen, not tackling on a fake fair catch against North Texas and many other mind-numbing things that happened during his regime. (Sorry, couldn’t pass up the Morris dig.)
I’m pretty sure everyone who ever played peewee football learned a backward pass is considered a fumble. Well, unless you were part of the SEC officiating crew and the replay booth personnel that day. The officials ruled it was not a fumble but rather intentional grounding. For fans of early 80s TV, insert a “What you talking about Willis?” right here.
As we all know, Auburn went on to kick a game-winning field goal with 7 seconds left and the Hogs got nothing more than an undeserved loss and a too little, too late apology from the SEC office that the call was wrong. This past summer, SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey admitted the league messed up too.
But the missed fumble against the Hogs isn’t the only event that has occurred to debunk Bo Nix’s charge.
Bo Nix: You’re Really, Really Wrong on This One
Ole Miss in 2020 and Georgia State in 2021 would also serve as excellent witnesses to Nix’s fallacious claim.
Against Ole Miss, Auburn was the beneficiary of a no call on a kickoff that clearly touched the Tiger return man and was recovered in the end zone by a Rebel defender. Auburn won 35-28. Sure seems like this “no call” went Auburn’s way. Lane Kiffin, much like Sam Pittman, was frustrated with the results of the botched call but the SEC office didn’t feel the touchback/fumble was worthy of an official statement leaving Kiffin incensed with the lack of transparency from the SEC office regarding officials.
Earlier this season, the Georgia State Panthers were jobbed by a SEC officiating crew when a TJ Finley pass was incorrectly ruled a catch shortening the Tigers distance to score the game winning touchdown with about a minute to play.
Now, let’s be clear…EVERY team is the beneficiary of missed calls and mistakes by officials.
Some are subtle while some are like the three mentioned above that happened in crunch time. There seemed to be a bazillion missed holding calls in the Arkansas-Ole Miss game this past weekend. Hudson Clark was clearly held on the Snoop Conner 34 yard touchdown run to put the Rebs up 38-31. That’s clear as day in this clip:
The difference is none of those teams’ quarterbacks went bellyaching in the post game press conference about the blown calls. Surely, Auburn coach Bryan Harsin had a little conversation with Nix about what can and can’t be said in a setting like that. Nix has been around long enough to know better.
The coach is the one that gets the green light to complain and plead his case to the media if he feels he was truly wronged, not the quarterback.
Arkansas vs Auburn
For the first time in three weeks, the Razorbacks will face an unranked team although Auburn was No. 18 before losing to then No. 2 Georgia. The upside for the Hogs is they are at home after an elongated three-week road trip.
There is no better time to get back in the win column and get this surprise season going forward again. If asked back in August if 4-2 at the midway point would be acceptable, any Razorback fan in their right mind would have taken that in a heartbeat.
I know losing a game like Ole Miss where a win was a two-point conversion away stings but let’s get real: this Razorback team is performing well above realistic pre-season expectations.
Defensive adjustments will be a big key for Saturday’s 11 a.m. kickoff against the Tigers. The 3-2-6 scheme that Arkansas defensive coordinator Barry Odom has used effectively in certain matchups has been exposed the last two weekends. Georgia used a power run game to overwhelm the Hogs up front and Ole Miss used quarterback runs and misdirection running plays while taking advantage of assignment issues in the defensive backfield.
Odom and Pittman know a lot more football than me (and pretty much everyone reading this article) and I expect them to adapt and adjust. Let’s just hope safety Jalen Catalon, defensive end Tre Williams and others are healthy enough to execute the adjustments.
Auburn runs the ball decently so I would liken them more to Ole Miss in how they approach moving the ball on Arkansas minus the deep shots Corral was able to take. Bo Nix freelances a ton so containing him will be a big factor in shutting down the Auburn offense. Getting him on the ground for negative yards will go a long way to determining the winner.
Frustrating and confusing him into some turnovers is even better.
On offense, it’s all about continuing the progression of KJ Jefferson and giving him time to operate. He’s made huge strides since the first half against Rice with a lot of weapons at his disposal. One could argue Arkansas has more depth of talent at the wide receiver and running back spots than anyone in the SEC.
Trey Knox’s emergence as a pass catching threat at tight end only helps. The more Jefferson spread the ball around to all his guys against Ole Miss, the more open Treylon Burks got because the defense had to respect the other skill players. More of that please.
The home crowd with cool, fall football weather and homecoming festivities lines up for an epic Saturday in Fayetteville. This is a huge weekend for Razorback football. The coaches know it. The players know it. The fans know it.
If the defense can make adjustments and the offense can finish drives against what will be a stingier Auburn defense, one has to like the Razorbacks’ chances.
As long as the Razorbacks aren’t impacted by a game-changing call going Auburn’s way. Again.
The Arkansas Razorbacks have not been shy about identifying talented offensive line prospects and recruiting those prospects aggressively. Coach Sam Pittman and his recruiting staff are not afraid to recruit offensive line talent on the national stage. Andrew Chamblee and E’Marion Harris are two offensive linemen that the Hogs have committed as building blocks with four star ratings from 247 Sports.
Two years ago, the Razorbacks dipped into Tennessee to pull offensive linemen Marcus Henderson out of Memphis. Henderson was ranked by ESPN as the nation’s No. 164 recruit, so Arkansas has recently snagged a top-300 recruit from the Volunteer state. Now, the search for offensive linemen that fit the Hogs style of play has taken them to Chattanooga, TN, home of offensive lineman Brycen Sanders.
With the Arkansas offense leaning heavily on the ground attack, the increased emphasis the Razorbacks are placing on quality offensive linemen is not that surprising. Brycen Sanders is the latest offensive line recruit in the class of 2023 that has caught the eye of Sam Pittman and his staff. Sanders, who attends Baylor School in Chattanooga, Sanders recently spoke with the Best of Arkansas Sports about a number of topics in regards to how his recruiting and the football season are going.
Over the past two seasons, Sanders has put together some impressive game tape on his way to emerging as the 282nd-ranked prospect in his class, according to 247 Sports.
He is an extremely versatile offensive lineman that can play the guard position or kick outside and play the tackle. Sanders has very quick feet which he uses well to keep opposing defensive linemen off-balance. He has that rare mix of speed and power and the frame at 6-5 and 280-pounds to support more weight at the college level, as you can see below:
Brycen Sanders and Arkansas Recruiting
Sanders told me he was impressed with the Texas game: “Arkansas looked strong and the offensive line was dominating.” The talented offensive lineman received a scholarship offer from the University of Arkansas on September 1st. The Arkansas coaching staff offered the scholarship quickly to let Sanders know that they were serious about getting his commitment.
Sanders has team and individual goals that he would like to accomplish in junior and senior seasons of high school. The Baylor School is off to an impressive start this season, and they are off to a 5-2 start to the season and Sanders wants to take it step by step by winning a district championship, then advancing in the state playoffs and ultimately winning a state championship.
Meanwhile, from an individual perspective, Sanders has plenty of goals he has set for himself. The first item on the list is that he does not want to allow a single sack all season. Sanders would also like to see his teammate running back Caleb Hampton win the Mr. Tennessee award for football.
Hampton is a dual-sport star and a South Carolina baseball commit. Sanders says him winning such an award “would reflect well on the offensive line as a whole.” The final items on the list as far as individual recognition goes is that he would like to earn all-district and all-state honors this season.
Recruiting Competitors for Brycen Sanders
The Arkansas football coaching staff is not the only school to take notice of Sanders. The Tennessee Volunteers have not been shy about recruiting the massive offensive lineman. Tennessee football coach Josh Heupel has made recruiting Sanders a high priority. Much like the Arkansas coaching staff, the Tennessee coaching staff knows that the home state talent needs to be kept in state.
The Volunteers are smart to be recruiting an offensive lineman that has the ability to potentially start for them. Sanders would bring to the Volunteers a lineman that could play any position along the offensive line. At the next level, he could potentially be a better fit at the offensive tackle position. Sanders recently had the opportunity to catch a Tennessee game and told 247 Sports: “It was great. The atmosphere was crazy. The fans were crazy.”
Sanders had 14 scholarship offers, including from Georgia, Auburn, Kentucky, Ole Miss and Vanderbilt. Georgia Tech, Louisville, TCU, and Stanford are some programs outside of the conference that could factor into Sanders’ recruitment as well.
Expect Virginia Tech to be a major player in the recruitment of Brycen Sanders over the next year.
Sanders told The Tech Lunch Pail that the Hokies are one of the schools recruiting him the hardest. The others are Georgia, Tennessee, Ohio State, Arkansas, Ole Miss, Auburn and Kentucky.
While Sanders hasn’t yet visited Arkansas, he has visited Vanderbilt, Tennessee, Georgia and Virginia Tech. Visits to Ohio State, Auburn and Ole Miss are upcoming.
Sanders told me his recruiting has gone to another level since September 1: “It has been crazy how much the schools started blowing up my phone and mailbox with mail.” Underclassmen can initiate contact with coaches but NCAA rules make it where the coaches and scouts cannot initiate the contact until September 1st. That’s when underclassmen can be contacted by college coaches and to those coaches it is a lot like waiting on midnight to strike on Christmas Day.
Where the Arkansas Razorbacks may have an edge in the recruitment of Sanders is Sam Pittman himself. Sanders enjoys talking Coach Pittman and loves how genuine he is. Sanders described Pittman as a ‘fantastic coach and just so knowledgeable when it comes to playing on the offensive.” “I love talking with Coach Pittman because of how genuine and honest he is.”
Sanders likes how Pittman wants to use the team’s physicality to defeat opponents and for the offensive line to impose their will. Pittman being genuine and having a good plan in place on how he wants to win games and showcasing the offensive line is paying off well in terms of the recruiting that has been done.
The bottom line when it comes to the recruitment of Sanders is that the Arkansas Razorbacks are putting in the work early with the talented Tennessee offensive lineman. Sam Pittman and his coaching staff have targeted Sanders early in his recruiting process but will face stiff competition from other programs closer to Sanders’ home in the next year.
The other thing that the Razorbacks must keep in mind about is the importance of racking up the wins. Sanders was impressed with the win over Texas and the Hogs getting off to such a hot start early in the season.
Winning goes a long way in the college football world. It affects everything from donations from boosters to recruiting. People can argue which is more important but if you do not have the players, it is awfully tough to build a program.
Pittman has laid the groundwork thus far. All signs point to him and his staff continuing to recruit at a high level and picking up more blue-chip offensive linemen like Brycen Sanders.
Watching Ole Miss score at will in the second half brought up bad memories of Columbia, Missouri, last year, when Arkansas’s 49 points after a converted two-point conversion in the final minute still wasn’t good enough to beat Missouri’s Tigers, who kicked the game-ending, game-winning field goal for 51. Saturday at Oxford, Mississippi,
Arkansas did exactly what it needed to do in a similar, wild affair — scoring with no time left on the clock before trying, like at Columbia, the two-point conversion that would give the Hogs an amazing win.
It failed, leaving Ole Miss in front 52-51. A heavy rush by two Ole Miss Rebels off the Hogs’ right side put the rolling quarterback, sophomore K.J. Jefferson, in retreat, and with an instant to make a decision with the ball, and no doubt resorting to what he’s done repeatedly in practice, he tried to give Treylon Burks a high ball to pull in amid four Rebels defenders, but it sailed.
It would have not counted if completed; the officials noted what fans can easily see if they watch the replay: left guard Brady Latham was 2 yards in the end zone as the pass was delivered, an illegal lineman downfield. Arkansas would have been penalized, would have kicked the PAT to tie, and who knows what happens in overtime?
Nobody, especially Hogs head coach Sam Pittman and the rest of the Razorbacks’ sideline, expected that to work out well, an overtime against mostly unstoppable Matt Corral and the Rebels’ offense. Even if Arkansas could exchange touchdowns with Ole Miss in the first two overtimes, it was going to come down to two-point attempts from the third overtime on, a new NCAA overtime rule in place. Might as well do it now with the momentum.
Razorbacks’ Defense vs Ole Miss
Arkansas’s defense required Ole Miss to pretty much stop itself, and only the Rebs own illegal-man-downfield penalty late in the fourth quarter allowed the Hogs to regain possession for a drive to tie the score at 45 with 1:22 left.
Two plays later, Corral had Braylon Sanders, again, running free behind the Arkansas secondary for another go-ahead score. Amazingly, given enough time, 67 seconds, Jefferson and the Hogs responded with a nine-play, 75-yard drive, setting up the dramatic do-or-die play.
The difference in last year’s game at Columbia was, the Tigers rallied from three scores down thanks to the suddenly porous Razorback defense in the second half. Missouri could run, easily, through enormous holes. For pass attempts, if the Hogs dropped back to defend, the Tigers QB, Connor Bazelak threw underneath for chunk yardage amid poor tackling Razorbacks. If the Hogs came up to defend the short stuff, Missouri threw over them.
Remember, this was Barry Odom’s Razorbacks defense that surprised everyone in the first four weeks of Covid-racked 2020, first by upsetting Mississippi State and Mike Leach’s air raid (which had itself shocked everyone the week before by blasting LSU in Baton Rouge) with the rush-three, drop-eight approach in Starkville.
They rallied to almost take down Bo Nix and Auburn on the road, then returned home from that heart-breaker to put Corral in a stupor in Fayetteville, forcing six interceptions and a fumble. Later, the defense held its own against talented but underachieving Tennessee in Fayetteville, too, picking up the third and last win of the 2020 season. By the end of the year, though, the beaten-up Razorback defenders couldn’t stop Missouri and laid down for eventual national champion Alabama.
2021 has begun the same way for Odom’s defense with two stunning upsets (at least stunning to the national observers) in crushing Texas in Fayetteville and halting Texas A&M in the annual Arlington, Texas, neutral-site showdown, Arkansas’s first win over the Aggies in 10 years and made even more sweet this weekend with A&M’s shocking 41-38 upset of No. 1 Alabama in College Station, Texas.
But Georgia, which had a capable quarterback in Stetson Bennett, playing in place of starter J.D. Daniels, a pass-first signal caller, pulverized the Hogs’ three-man defensive front last week in a 37-0, run-heavy romp, one in which the Bulldogs saved most of their passes for their 34-10 win at Auburn on Saturday.
Ole Miss saved nothing on Saturday. They dumped it all out there for the world to see, and the Razorbacks’ defense came off looking like a farce. Only the fact that Ole Miss’ identical approach, a 3-2-6 set, gave up 676 yards, a UA-record 39 first downs and 51 points made it a little more palatable for the fan base, we suppose. Arkansas couldn’t defend the pass and couldn’t tackle well. Somehow, the offense rose to the occasion and made it a game.
Lane Kiffin said Saturday’s game plan was 12 months in the making. They studied everything about the 3-2-6, including some different run calls used against Iowa State, which also has successfully employed a three-lineman, two-linebacker set in becoming a contender in the wild, offensive-happy Big 12. Corral had said in many interviews that his Arkansas disaster last year was the biggest motivator leading into this year. Safe to say, the game was always circled on the Rebels’ schedule by Kiffin and Corral.
That said, the Arkansas defensive backs still had three balls on their hands yesterday for possible interceptions and failed to hold on. They forced no fumbles. The Hogs have just one forced turnover — Montaric Brown’s interception that sealed the A&M win — in the past month.
Some coaches believe turnovers are mostly luck, but Ole Miss was tackling and trying to strip the ball from the Hogs’ young backs, getting a turnover from freshman Raheim Sanders, who otherwise had a phenomenal game, averaging 8.2 yards a carry and gaining 139 yards.
Arkansas Defense Had a Fraudulent September?
One hates to label the Arkansas defense “a fraud,” knowing how much effort these players are expending.
Still, the pummeling by Georgia and the inability to even slow the Bulldogs’ running game, coupled with Saturday’s fiasco, is cause for more than a little worry at the halfway point of the season. Odom took the best pieces he had last year and cobbled together a defense that gave Hogs a fighting chance.
It was exceptional against shaky offenses in the first four weeks. (The Hogs ran a four-front against run-heavy Rice and Georgia Southern, but stuck with the three-front against Georgia, which took the invitation and buried them).
It seems now that Odom has been doing it all with mirrors, hiding serious weaknesses that brilliant SEC coordinators (of which Arkansas’s Kendal Briles is one, rest assured) eventually see and attack relentlessly. Last year against Ole Miss, walk-on cornerback Hudson Clark had three interceptions, earned a scholarship the following week, and was Southeastern Conference Defensive Player of the Week for his amazing day.
He certainly plays as hard as any Hog has, but no one is expecting him to land on an All-SEC team. When a starting defensive back went off hobbled late Saturday, Clark was inserted and Corral immediately went right at him for a big gain, only to see that play wiped out by the Rebels’ critical illegal-man-downfield call.
But one Razorback who did have eyes for all-conference honors, Brown, was badly burned twice Saturday, including the Rebs’ final touchdown pass to Sanders for 68 yards.
Also, the defense’s best player, sophomore safety Jalen Catalon, must be hobbled. There’s no other explanation for his fall-off from what was expected to be an all-league year and an early jump to the NFL.
When Catalon isn’t at 100%, the entire defense will suffer. He missed the first half at Missouri in 2020 because of a controversial ejection against LSU two weeks before, and even with his return for the second half at Columbia last year, the defense wasn’t the same.
Grant Morgan, who had a brilliant senior year, had a knee injury and was done by that point (he’s come back as a “super” senior this year, but it must be hard to duplicate everything he managed in 2020).
Yes, Pittman assured, they practice tackling; but how does one simulate a 6-1, 225-pound human with 4.5 or better speed in preparation for Saturday in the SEC? You don’t. Tackling dummies and sleds can only provide so much. The inherent ability surfaces on game day, and the better man usually wins the matchup more often than not.
Then, there were times the Hogs were in no position to tackle. Those special runs Kiffin and offensive coordinator Jeff Lebby designed for the Hogs’ three-man front often left, for example, a monster left guard knocking a smallish linebacker out of the hole, and the safeties — still cautious of the Rebs’ passing game and not reading their keys properly — didn’t fill their run gaps quickly enough. Snoop Conner, running third on the Rebels’ depth chart, had carries untouched of 51 and 34 yards for easy scores in the second half.
Arkansas worked way harder for its offense and points than did Ole Miss. It seems to boil down to this: Ole Miss is better manned athletically on its defensive side, particularly in the defensive front, though to be fair the Rebels were missing their “Catalon” on Saturday in Jake Springer.
When Hog defensive end Tre Williams went out with an arm injury, not to return, Arkansas had lost by far its best pass rusher and edge defender. Massive nose tackle John Ridgeway, like Williams an off-season senior grad transfer who has also bolstered the Hogs’ defensive line significantly, regularly takes on double-teams, and the ability of the centers and guards the past two weeks have been notably better than what he saw in the season’s first month.
The linebackers are the same hard-playing, give-everything guys they’ve had for years, it seems. There’s not a Dre Greenlaw or Scoota Harris available either. In fact, it doesn’t appear anyone else is there, which, if it doesn’t concern folks now, surely doesn’t bode well for next season when they’re gone.
Razorbacks’ Offense Nearly Saved the Day
The offense, embarrassed as much as the defense was at Athens, bounced back for a phenomenal game against its defensive-alignment counterpart and put up unbelievable numbers, including Jefferson at times looking Cam Newton-like with a 6-yard dive over the goal line in the first half or ball wizardry and moves to run it in from 9 yards out to tie the game at 45.
His passing is a work in progress, but it’s getting closer, as you can see in the full breakdown here:
Jefferson, who ran for 85 yards and threw for 326, will learn from Saturday, too. He sailed a sure touchdown pass over Razorback receiver Warren Thompson in the end zone in the third quarter when momentum seemed to be shifting after Kiffin had foolishly tried a fourth-and-1 run from his 34 that the Hog defense stopped, its biggest play of the game.
Arkansas stalled and settled for a field goal to tie the game at 24. It was all touchdowns for either side after that. Arkansas scored on 8 of 8 trips in the red zone, converted 7 of 13 third-downs, and both fourth-down tries. Ole Miss, with 52 points, only had three drives reach the red zone, where they converted. Those big plays by Ole Miss were killer for Arkansas.
Pittman noted the fight of his team, in every facet. There will be no finger pointing at the defense by the offense, or vice versa, ever. That’s how a program maintains its internal integrity. Anyway, these players know as well as anyone what they really have. They’re not going to say that Odom may have run out of cards to play, but it’s obvious he’s without many aces hiding in his sleeve. Arkansas has to figure out the best way to stop SOMETHING by a well-balanced foe, and it probably would center first on running.
As a former Hog, Rick David, said to me after the game, the keys are: Stop the run, tackle well, and run the ball. Arkansas did just one of those well Saturday. The Auburn game this Saturday (11 a.m., CBS) looms larger than ever for these Razorbacks.
Pittman said one of the team’s goals is still prominently in view: Win their home games. Hold serve against Auburn, Mississippi State and Missouri, and include the expected win they should manage against UAPB in Little Rock on Oct. 23, and Arkansas equals its most wins in the past nine years. It becomes bowl eligible before Halloween. Steal won next month at LSU, which is watching the Ed Ogeron era crumble, and this wild regular season could finish with nine wins, which was unthinkable by most observers and experts in August.
Jim Harris has covered the Arkansas Razorbacks since 1976 for such publications as the Arkansas Gazette and websites like ArkansasSports360.com. He appears every Saturday night on KTHV, Channel 11’s “The HogZone.”
This season, the Razorbacks have been involved in some pretty crazy-sounding theories coming from the fevered minds of other teams’ fans.
First, there was a Texas fan who came up with an elaborate theory that Texas head coach Steve Sarkisian purposely had his team get destroyed by Arkansas in Week 2 in order to teach a lesson that would prepare them for the team they really cared about — Oklahoma.
As ridiculous as this sounds, for a while it didn’t seem incredibly off as Texas ran roughshod over its next three opponents in Rice, Texas Tech and TCU.
But then, in the big OU game on Saturday, the Longhorns do what they do so well: lost the big one.
Another theory involving the Razorbacks that sounded preposterous at first glance came from a Texas A&M fan who theorized that Aggies head coach Jimbo Fisher allowed his team to lose its Week 4 and Week 5 games against Arkansas and Mississippi State to catch Alabama unaware on Saturday night.
Arkansas media and fans had a field day with this:
The above Tweet is only the first part of conspiracy theorist Duke Silver’s notion. It continues:
“He [Jimbo Fisher] then unleashes his offense with the best game plan he’s ever drawn up… in the works since his $1.5 million raise.”
“[Aggies] beat Bama, rest of SEC eats its own, Auburn beats Bama and [Aggies] beat UGA in the SEC Championship for our first CFP birth of many to come.”
Most Arkansas football fans filleted this on social media:
“Proof of how bad the education and healthcare systems in this country,” Arkansas football fan Chris McWilliams wrote on the Hogville Facebook page. “Poor Aggie is lacking in critical thinking skills and desperately in need of mental healthcare professionals.”
“And they say Hog fans are delusional,” Aaron Ahrens said.
“That dream I have involving Scarlett Johanson, Mila Kunis, and a flamethrowing ninja is more likely to come true than this,” James Parks added.
Scott Telford then came off the top rope with this: “Haven’t read a good Aggie joke in a while. Gracias.”
Finally, Terri Parks Campbell dropped an astounding 17-piece of the cry-laughing emoji:
On Saturday night, as Texas A&M built a 14-point lead on Alabama in the first half, one fan asked Pig Trail Nation’s Mike Irwin if Duke Silver’s hypothesis might have legs after all.
Irwin wasn’t having any of it:
For a good part of the second half, it looked like Alabama would storm back and take the game as it so often does.
Texas A&M had only run 10 plays with 8:48 left in the game as the Crimson Tide defense bowed up. But in the last few minutes of the game, it was Texas A&M, not Alabama, who came up with the clutch plays on the way to a stunning 41-38 win.
It was Alabama’s first loss to an unranked opponent since 2007 and the first time that Nick Saban had ever lost to a former assistant in 25 career games.
Not just the defense, as is expected in such a shootout, but the offense too. Talty wrote that new Alabama offensive coordinator Bill O’Brien, who replaced Steve Sarkisian in the offseason, has underwhelmed despite coming in with impressive NFL bonafides.
“Two of Alabama’s Heisman winners, Smith and Mark Ingram, voiced their displeasure when Alabama had the ball on Texas A&M’s 3-yard line and threw the ball three consecutive times before settling for a field goal.”
“Running back Brian Robinson had been running hard all night, one of the few bright spots on a sloppy offensive night, and yet O’Brien wouldn’t trust him even once to get three yards for a touchdown? Shaky coaching decisions like that weren’t the sole reason Alabama lost, but they certainly played a role.”
Razorbacks vs Aggies
The Aggies team that the Razorbacks owned just two weeks ago in a 20-10 win was not the same one that stepped onto the field with Alabama on Saturday night.
Against the Razorbacks’ defense, Aggies sophomore quarterback Zach Calzada, still fresh off taking the starting job from the injured Haynes King, was stymied and flummoxed game. He threw for only 156 yards and made a critical fourth-quarter interception.
Meanwhile, the Aggies’ offensive line (which includes two true freshmen) couldn’t handle the Razorbacks’ three-man front.
Against Alabama, aside from a bone-headed interception, Calzada looked like the SEC’s third-best quarterback after only Matt Corral and KJ Jefferson. He completed Calzada completed 21 of 31 passes (and 14 of his first 15 attempts) for 285 yards with three touchdowns.
In the same way that KJ Jefferson came back from an injury to help Arkansas finish off Texas A&M, so did Calzada come back from a knee injury to lead the game-winning drive for the Aggies.
The Aggies’ offensive line looked three times better against Alabama. They consistently protected well against four and five-man fronts.
This win makes the theory of Duke Silver, the Texas A&M fan, sound a bit less crazy.
Few folks, after all, felt like this Aggies team was the one to break Alabama’s 100-game winning streak vs unranked opponents:
The Aggies going undefeated from here on out, and Alabama losing to anybody else the rest of the regular season, are both tall tasks. But stranger things have happened.
As for the Razorbacks, the fact they beat a team that knocked off a juggernaut is going to help them in the polls down the road despite a nail-biter of a loss on Saturday to Ole Miss.
If the Razorbacks can return to their winning ways next week at home vs Auburn, and win four or five more games this season (for a total of eight or nine wins), then the boost they would get from beating a surging Texas A&M team could make the difference in the quality of bowl invite they get.
For Arkansas, it may even make the difference in getting an invite to a New Year’s Six bowl or not. While it’s possible that Alabama’s loss may open the door to Cincinnati getting into the College Football Playoffs and could cost Arkansas a New Year’s Six bowl, (currently CBS predicts Alabama to play in the Sugar Bowl), Arkansas is still in the running for a bowl played on New Year’s Day.
On Sunday, the Razorbacks came in at No. 17 in the AP poll and No. 19 in the USA Today Coaches Poll.
Ole Miss, meanwhile, jumped up to No. 13 and No. 14, from No. 17 in both polls last week. The Rebels are one of seven ranked SEC teams this week, joining Georgia (No. 1/No. 1), Alabama (No. 5/No. 5), Kentucky (No. 11/No. 11), Florida (No. 20/No. 17), Arkansas (No. 17/No. 19) and Texas A&M (No. 21/No. 18), HawgBeat’s Andrew Hutchinson notes.