ESPN Broadcaster Calls Out Pittman for “Bad, Bad Decision” in Loss with Plenty of Frustration to Go Around

KJ Jefferson

Sam Pittman spent most of the previous six days bouncing around questions about his offensive line and their less-than-stellar play. At one point after Arkansas’ Week 2 win against Kent State, the Arkansas football coach grew irritated about the line of questioning, though he later apologized. The questions came again Saturday after the Razorbacks’ loss to Brigham Young, 38-31. 

Similar questions. Same frustration.

Arkansas was flagged 14 times, its most since 2011, for 124 yards. Seven of those penalties were against the offensive side for either holding or false starts. Four of those seven came on the team’s final drive, a drive in which the Razorbacks were inside the 20 with about 1:20 left, but it never counted as such because the flags forced them back to midfield.

Midfield was not the place to be for the Hogs, though BYU liked it plenty. The Cougars started seven drives either with nine yards of the 50 on their own side or already in Arkansas territory. And while the issues on the final drive and poor field position were the most serious reasons Arkansas fell, one particular play at exactly midfield felt like the death knell.

The Razorbacks were ahead by 10 points, 31-21, midway through the third quarter. They had scored on each of their last three possessions dating back to the second quarter. Pittman wanted to put the Cougars away, so on 4th-and-1 with just over seven minutes left in the period, he went for it. But instead of lining up his quarterback KJ Jefferson, a 6-foot-3 and 247-pound second-team All-SEC selection who lifts weights, under center, Pittman and offensive coordinator Dan Enos put him in the shotgun and told him to hand the ball off to the third-string sophomore running back. Rashod Dubinion, who projects to be a potential 1,000-yard rusher in his future, was subsequently stuffed short of the first down.

BYU took over, kicked a field goal six plays later and cut Arkansas’ lead to a single touchdown. On the Cougars’ next series, Jefferson was intercepted and BYU needed just one play from the Arkansas 20 to tie the game. Four of BYU’s six scoring drives were 53 yards or fewer. Three of the six took either one or two plays before the visitors found the end zone.

Arkansas vs BYU Didn’t Follow Normal Boxscore Script

In other words, Arkansas’ defense was playing well, despite the number of points allowed. BYU had just 281 yards of total offense by the end of the game. 

In the past, Pittman has said several times he has not generally been keen about going for it on fourth down. But that’s what he inexplicably did against BYU and it not only backfired, but served as the harbinger of a downfall. On the ESPN2 broadcast, analyst Rod Gilmore was practically apoplectic about the call, saying it was a “bad, bad decision.” 

On air, after the failed attempt, he asked “Why are you doing that?” of apparently Pittman and Enos. “Why not just put your quarterback under center and let him pick up the half yard? You got him in the shotgun – let him go directly and get it.”

Arkansas’ offensive line was already mediocre, but the failure to convert seemed to completely deflate the unit. Jefferson was sacked three times, including twice as Arkansas attempted its comeback. Both sacks resulted in lost fumbles, the Hogs’ first two turnovers – other than on-downs – of the season.

The mediocrity is more outstanding because of Pittman’s background. He made his hay as one of the best offensive line coaches in college football over the last 20 or so years. No one expects Arkansas to have the absolute best line in the FBS, or even the SEC, but through three games, they have failed in both the run game and in pass protection. A bad look. 

“They pounded gaps when we were trying to run the football. They just whipped us. That’s what happened on the edge,” Pittman said.  “We started chipping them and all those things. Going into the game we didn’t really feel like we’d need to chip out there, but they proved that they were longer, stronger than what we anticipated on watching film-wise. They got after us.”

Pittman was asked a few times about that third quarter fourth down play-call in his post-game press conference. The first time he dodged the bit about why Arkansas was in shotgun, though he did own the decision to go for it. When clarity was sought about the formation on a follow-up, Pittman claimed he responded.

He didn’t.

“That’s the third question I’ve been asked on that. I think I’ve already answered the question,” he said.

He did, however, add some clarity when he explained they were wary of a QB sneak because BYU utilized a “bear” front with five defensive linemen in those situations.

“We were very, very concerned about running the sneak because they were jumping into Bear,” Pittman said. “They had the guards and the center. It’s easy to say that you’ve got a big quarterback and you can go get a first down, but they’re in Bear and plugging A gaps, so they basically have five guys in there to your three.”

Arkansas Football Coach Should Get Benefit of Doubt…For Now

Pittman has been gregarious and, actually, gracious with the media and fans over the course of his three-plus seasons running the program. The blowback he received from some portions of the fan base after the game, calling for his job, is absurd for a guy who has earned three straight bowl invitations and whose team was basically ranked No. 27 in the AP Poll entering the game. 

The question – er, questions – were fair, however, and deserve to be answered. Jefferson couldn’t answer them because the football and/or communications staff didn’t make the quarterback available. Quarterbacks are always made available unless they’re injured. It wouldn’t have been on Jefferson to speculate on why Pittman and Enos chose a shotgun formation. It would be on Pittman.

But if he can’t, or won’t, answer such a question after BYU, then just wait for what could be coming down the pipeline in the coming weeks, what with Arkansas playing its next month of games away from Fayetteville and against four teams all expected to finish ahead of the Razorbacks in the SEC standings. The gauntlet starts Saturday night at LSU, a matchup for which the line is currently 17.5 in favor of the Tigers according to FanDuel college football odds.

At this rate, with the offensive line playing like it has recently, they will lose three or four of those games. Then, Saturday night will prove to be just the tip of the frustrating questions iceberg. Handle that poorly, and maybe those aforementioned fans won’t be quite as wrong.

Trey Biddy on Arkansas vs BYU

As diehard Arkansas football fans know, the man behind the “Locked on Razorbacks” YouTube channel and podcast is sports radio host John Nabors. However, HawgSports publisher Trey Biddy may want to consider renaming his channel “Locked IN Razorbacks” after finding out he was locked in Reynolds Razorback Stadium a few hours after the Arkansas vs BYU game ended.

Learning he was temporarily trapped was a semi-light moment in otherwise dark night for the Razorback faithful.

“When the defense plays like that, you got to win the game. When your special teams play like that, you got to win the game,” Biddy says in the “Walk & Talk” recap below.

He adds: “I appreciate a lot of what Sam Pittman has done, but man, this is year four, it’s time to take that next step, there’s opportunities to do that. I feel like they made the right moves in the off season. Maybe they didn’t get it right on the offensive line.”

Here are a couple good points he makes:

On Isaiah Sategna:

What they need is people blocking for Sategna. What they need is to get guys with electricity running through their veins. That guy, we saw it all spring, we saw it in fall, get him out on the field. And you’ve got guys out there. I know Jaedon Wilson has made some plays for you, but he also drops passes. To me, he’s dropped enough passes to where you say, “Okay, we’re going to give somebody else a shot and you need to pick it up. You’ll get your opportunity at some point. But for now, we’ve got to go another direction.”

On tackle Devon Manuel:

Speaker 1:

…Brady Latham probably played his worst game. He’s done so much for this university over the years and just did not play very well. And Pittman has pointed to some injuries, issues they have. Devon Manuel just keeps getting injuries. He had an injury, they didn’t really disclose in fall camp. He had an ankle injury. Now he’s got a stinger and It’s just stuff that keeps him out. He’s talked about some hand injuries.

Hopefully those are things that get fixed and get healed up and can make Arkansas more competitive up front on the offensive line. But they’re going to face better defensive lines than they face tonight

Make sure to watch Biddy’s entire Arkansas vs BYU breakdown here:

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Yurachek on Arkansas Football Issues

As the athletic director of Arkansas sees it, the Razorbacks’ “normal football issues” issues can be solved by getting into a better groove.

“We absolutely have some inexperience on our offensive line. Everybody says, ‘Well, Sam Pittman is an offensive line coach.’ Well, he knows how to coach an offensive line, but he can’t coach experience” Yurachek said at the Little Rock Touchdown Club on Monday.

“We lost three key members off of our offensive line last year. Ricky Stromberg, who is playing for the Commanders; Dalton Wagner, our left tackle, who is in a pro camp, and then Luke Jones. Those three guys took up a lot of stats.”

“We have returners, but we have three guys we’ve been interchanging. We had one that was hurt the first game. Not making excuses, but you can’t coach experience, and so they are learning.”

“People also say, ‘What’s the matter with KJ [Jefferson]?’ Nothing’s the matter with KJ. KJ had one offensive coordinator his first three years at the University of Arkansas. He’s learning about Dan Enos. Dan Enos is learning about KJ. I think you’ll see that start to come together.”

Hear more from Yurachek at the 32:00 minute mark below:

YouTube video

YouTube video

More on Arkansas vs BYU from BoAS here:

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