Changing the culture at Arkansas was part of the plan when Sam Pittman took over in Fayetteville. He’s doing a great job of creating a culture of winning with blue collar players.
It’s hard to know what to expect when a new head coach takes over at a downtrodden program like Arkansas. The fanbase can be down; so can the players. It’s hard to turn around a program in the SEC West with Alabama, LSU, Auburn and Texas A&M all on the slate each season. Still, that’s the job in Arkansas, and fans probably did not know what was next.
When former Georgia offensive line coach turned Arkansas head coach Sam Pittman accepted the head coaching vacancy, nobody truly knew how dedicated he was to resurrecting the Razorbacks. Afterall, it’s a tough place to win and many coaches would look to leave for greener pastures.
As evidence, Arkansas only garnered 10 seasons of above .500 football since 2000. From those twenty seasons, only three seasons produced double digit victories. Conversely, Arkansas suffered through seven seasons of four wins or fewer during that same time frame.
So why in the world should anyone believe coach Pittman is the right man for the job or he’s staying long term? For starters, he’s familiar with the program. Pittman is home. He coached at Arkansas from 2013 through 2015. He was the offensive line coach, assistant head coach and recruiting coordinator.
Now that he’s back in Fayetteville, Arkansas fans probably felt a little better when Pittman stated earlier this year, “I’m not interested in any other program, we’re home and this is where we want to be.”
Based on the success of a team that quite frankly is no place near as talented as many of its other SEC brethren, there should be strong sentiment amongst the Arkansas faithful that Pittman means what he says.
Arkansas may only be 3-4, but with many prognosticators predicting zero or one victory, Pittman already exceeded expectations. He’s also doing it with less than a stellar roster.
Arkansas is not going to wow anyone with it’s overall team speed, depth, or future NFL picks. What the Razorbacks will do is get eleven hats to the football, play hard for sixty minutes and not beat themselves.
He’s assembled a coaching staff that’s helped to quickly build a tough, blue collar approach to football. Pittman’s first team took on his own personality. That appears to be his recipe for success, and the Razorbacks believe they can compete with any team lined up across from them.
So what specifically have the Razorbacks done better this year as opposed to the last three seasons, which equated to a miserable combined win total of eight? There are several, but one truly sticks out, and it goes back to that blue collar mentality.
Defense Sets the Tone
Everyone has heard the statement “Be who you are” at one time or another. If you act fake, people will probably know sooner or later. In this day in age, it’s really hard to fool people to begin with. Even harder yet to win over a group of players that had not won an SEC game since 2017 (that’s not a typo).
While the Razorbacks were overwhelmed by Florida quarterback Kyle Trask and the Gators’ offense last weekend, that’s been the anomaly. Pittman put together a really good defensive staff. This is where Pittman might have surprised some people, but it ended up being a really good move. Hiring the best fit at defensive coordinator means a lot.
Pittman hired veteran defensive mind Barry Odom to be his defensive coordinator. The former Missouri head coach was helped to bring a fresh perspective into the program, and he’s much like Pittman. He had many of the same types of players at Missouri during his tenure in Columbia. Now the two coaches have the defense rolling in the right direction, albeit in their blue collar way.
That’s not sexy. That’s not SportsCenter lead in material. It goes back to personnel. This is a tough and hard nosed group. It’s also the same group that played really unsound football the past couple of seasons.
In 2018, Arkansas allowed Vanderbilt to drop 45 points on them and convert 50% of its third downs. That’s right. Vanderbilt. The Hogs also allowed North Texas to absolutely whoop’em 44-17 despite holding North Texas to 18.8% on third downs. How’s that even possible?
You do not even want to know the travesty that was the 2019 Arkansas defense. Let’s save the minds of the children that might witness this article and jump into 2020’s statistics, beginning with interceptions.
The Razorbacks have garnered just twelve sacks so far this season, but Arkansas also intercepted 13 passes despite the lack of quarterback pressure. Arkansas plays smart defense.
They force teams to work the football down the field. That’s where the turnovers come into focus. The Hogs also broke up 26 passes through their first seven games, another good statistical point to bring up.
While the Razorbacks are far from a finished product, Pittman has the team sitting at 3-4 with a hard nosed team. The defense is the mainstay of the team, and it’s probably a matter of time before the offense trends in that direction as well. The blue collar mentality is working in Fayetteville.