Arkansas football may be the most cursed program in the country. At least the most cursed program in the SEC.
Saturday’s win over Florida was the exception that proves the rule.
Arkansas beat the Gators, 39-36, in overtime when KJ Jefferson found Tyrone Broden in the end zone on the Hogs’ first possession of the extra frame. It came after the Razorbacks’ defense limited Florida to a field goal. Afterward, mayhem. The win not only snapped a six-game losing streak, but also provided the program its first-ever win in Gainesville.
First. Ever. Win.
Florida has had a strong program for the better part of the last 30 years, the amount of time Arkansas has been in the Southeastern Conference, but zero wins anywhere with more than a couple games played there is actually a bit hard to believe. Granted, it had only been five games, but the lack of wins is emblematic of Arkansas’ overall struggles since joining the strongest conference in college football.
The Razorbacks have proven they belong in the league in every other sport. But football has been different. In the last decade, they are the worst program in the SEC – outside of Vanderbilt, an outlier because of the academic requirements to gain admission there. Even on the odd years Arkansas has had good programs, the structure of the conference has meant the Hogs and Gators simply don’t meet often. The one time Arkansas had a strong team and played in Gainesville, the Hogs still lost: 2009.
Arkansas vs Florida Flashback: Curles Curse Begins
Arkansas should have won. Florida was 13-1 that year and hunting for a national title, but the Razorbacks held a 20-13 lead on the nation’s No. 1 team in the fourth quarter when a phantom pass interference call against Ramon Broadway and an absurd personal foul penalty against Malcolm Sheppard allowed the Gators to tie things, ultimately leading to a 23-20 Florida win. The referee for that game, Marc Curles, ended up getting suspended for making such bad calls.
Terrible calls against Arkansas, though, remained a thorn in Arkansas’ side. Curles himself was back at at the end of 2020, helping turning the tide in favor of LSU in a three-point loss. That was just over 5 weeks after the SEC essentially made up new rules to strip Arkansas of a win at Auburn. That game ended 30-28.
The one-possession losses have been absolutely haunting Arkansas. Never has it hurt worse than in 2023. Five of Arkansas’ six losses this season came by one possession. It was so bad that heading into this weekend Arkansas graded out as the nation’s least clutch team:
So when the Razorbacks finally found themselves on the winning end of a white-knuckler, the celebration was more than justified, a 3-6 record or not.
Coach Sam Pittman is now 6-14 in such games in his three-plus seasons at Arkansas. Turn those 14 losses into wins and the six wins into losses and Pittman’s record with the Razorbacks would be as follows.
2020: 5-5 instead of 3-7
2021: 9-4 stays 9-4
2022: 8-5 instead of 7-6
2023: 8-1 instead of 3-6
See? Cursed. A bit weird for a state in the Bible Belt, wouldn’t you say?
Instead, Pittman is in a position where he will probably be coaching for his job in 2024. Hard to imagine he will lose it after this season, barring Arkansas losing every single remaining game on the schedule. Even then, Pittman is probably on for next season.
With his future seeming more precarious by the week, the program needed Saturday’s win to staunch the bleeding. Yes, Pittman kept proclaiming Arkansas isn’t as bad as its record, and few doubted him, but actual wins are needed at some point. Credit goes to Kenny Guiton, Arkansas’ interim offensive coordinator. Indeed, a case could be made that the Razorbacks excised the team’s biggest problem in 2023 when Pittman fired his friend Dan Enos as the team’s OC and handed the reins to Guiton.
Back on Track for Arkansas Football
Rocket Sanders appeared healthy for the first time since the team’s season-opener. Don’t underestimate the significance of that. Sanders was a preseason AP All-American for a good reason and his performance against the Gators – 103 yards on 19 carries – was a sign he has not, in fact, quit on his team, despite what the conspiracy-minded thought when Sanders was rehabbing his knee injury away from the team.
KJ Jefferson, too, looked like the Jefferson of old. His Heisman candidacy was always going to be a longshot, but it wasn’t crazy talk entering the season. Solid numbers in the past combined with strong Arkansas expectations and Jefferson’s penchant for highlight-reel plays provided justification.
The numbers were back against Florida, with 20 of 31 passing for 255 yards and two touchdowns with another 92 yards and a score on the ground. Collectively, for the team and fan base, it feels like a weight has been lifted.
“We needed that,” Jefferson said after the win. “The season we’ve been having has been pretty frustrating.”
For the most part, the frustrations of this season were self-inflicted. Until Florida, it didn’t seem like the refs had a big hand in them. If Arkansas can keep getting its own house in order, especially on the offensive line, it should be due more breaks just like the one it finally got in Gainesville.
Evin Demirel contributed to the above
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