Pittman Knows Type of Games Razorbacks Have to Win This Year

Hogs' coach says he likes team, but everybody in SEC feels that way
Arkansas Razorbacks coach Sam Pittman during a loss to the Missouri Tigers on Nov. 24, 2023, at Razorback Stadium in Fayetteville, Ark.
Arkansas Razorbacks coach Sam Pittman during a loss to the Missouri Tigers on Nov. 24, 2023, at Razorback Stadium in Fayetteville, Ark. / Craven Whitlow-allHOGS Images
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This is the third in a series of stories about Arkansas football and head coach Sam Pittman, who recently sat with writer Bob Stephens for a lengthy interview. Visit us daily this week to read a new article.

FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. – Nothing was more humiliating for Arkansas' football team last season than being outscored 96-24 in its last two SEC games. Both of those contests — here's where readers can shake their head if they've forgotten — were at Razorback Stadium.

That's the biggest reason many were upset with Razorbacks coach Sam Pittman. Losing close ones is one thing; getting blown out at home doesn't keep the fringe fans, or even the diehards, coming to the stadium.

Pittman is hopeful this year's bunch will exceed expectations — vegasinsider.com has them at 5.5 wins, tied for third worst in the SEC. If Pittman’s wish comes true, that’ll prompt fans to flock to Fayetteville on game day.

"I like this team," Pittman said. "I like it a lot. I like the togetherness of it. I like the leadership on it. I really do."

All good, but his team must be better when it matters most. The most agonizing part of the 2023 football season for the Hogs and their fans was losing five one-possession games. After starting with two nondescript wins, Arkansas lost six straight by a total of 36 points.

Here's a gut-wrenching recap of those losses:

• 38-31 at home to BYU after leading 31-21 early in the third quarter.
• 34-31 at No. 12 LSU on a last-second field goal; led 13-10 at half, tied it twice in fourth on Luke Hasz TDs.
• 34-22 to Texas A&M at Jerry's World in Dallas; trailed 20-16 midway in the third.
• 27-20 at No. 9 Ole Miss after leading 20-17 early in the fourth.
• 24-21 at No. 5 Alabama; led 6-0 and rallied after trailing 24-6 mid-third.
• 7-3 at home to Mississippi State; led 3-0 after the first quarter, trailed 7-3 at half.

"We have a talented team, but the thing about it is — everybody does," Pittman said. "So, we have to win close games."

Pittman isn't into moral victories, but he's also a realist, meaning he knows when his team put forth its greatest effort and maybe even executed as well as hoped for, and still couldn't win. He knows the Hogs should've won the first and last games of that six-game stretch and could've escaped with a couple more, but was proud of his team for taking a trio of Top 12 teams to the final gun.

"Close games are different in that if you're a 28-point underdog and lose by 3, you probably played a pretty good ballgame and you might've played as good as you could play, but it just didn't work out," he said. "There's a difference in that, other than you just lost a close game. You don't want to lose any of them, though."

After that deplorable offensive performance against Mississippi State — the Hogs had just 200 yards of offense and surrendered 205—they rallied to win 39-36 in overtime at Florida. The penultimate game was a 44-20 win over Florida International, sandwiched between home embarrassments by Auburn 48-10 (it was 48-3 after three quarters) and Missouri 48-14 (41-0 after three).

Hog fans might've felt differently had Arkansas held off BYU and topped Mississippi State, for a 6-6 record and a lower-level bowl appearance. Throw in an unlikely win away from home in that brutal six weeks and 7-5 would've been almost glorious.

But, as former Dalla Cowboys quarterback Dandy Don Meredith — look him up if you don't know him — used to say on Monday Night Football: "If ifs and buts were candy and nuts, we'd all have a merry Christmas." He also famously sang, “Turn out the lights, the party’s over” when a team’s chance to win had dwindled to zero.

He would’ve sung to the Hogs, theoretically, just three times last year: A&M, Auburn and Mizzou. When the season mercifully ended, Pittman looked in the mirror and hired Bobby Petrino as his offensive coordinator and quarterback guru to help fix what was a late-season offensive meltdown.

He also gladly brought in transfer quarterback Taylen Green from Boise State, a dual-threat dynamo. He's similar to departed three-year starter K.J. Jefferson except most believe Jefferson failed in the locker room and with his teammates.

"Every position is key to have leadership in, but you better have a quarterback who has leadership skills," Pittman said.

He never mentioned last year's starting quarterback, but whispers made it all the way to Colorado late last season and through the spring. The combination of Petrino's innovative passing game and play-calling and Green's sensational speed and increasing accuracy could make the Hogs a tough out even against the best competition.

Lest fans get carried away and think all this means a New Year's Day bowl game is in the offing, take a pause. Another tough schedule awaits.

Plus, more talent is arguably on nearly every SEC campus not located in Fayetteville. But hope springs eternal in the summer, especially if the Hogs can flip that 1-5 record in one-possession games.


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Bob Stephens