The one thing that’s standing out above all else with the 2021 Arkansas Razorbacks is the togetherness of this team.
The Razorbacks (2-0) have been talking about it in interviews since spring, and that bond is showing up on the football field.
Part of it is having so many fourth-, fifth, and even some sixth-year players, but most of it is the culture of respect and hard work that Pittman and his staff brought to the program since they collectively set foot on campus.
Next up for the Razorbacks
Opponent: Georgia Southern
When: 3 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 18
Where: Fayetteville, AR
TV: SEC Network
Sept. 25 — Texas A&M in Arlington
Oct. 2 — at Georgia
Oct. 9 — at Ole Miss
Oct. 16 – Auburn
Oct. 23 — UAPB, in Little Rock
Nov. 6 — Mississippi State
Nov. 13 — at LSU
Nov. 20 — at Alabama
Nov. 26 — Missouri
The veteran Razorbacks have had a tough career at Arkansas. Bret Bielema’s final season in 2017 was turbulent to say the least. The nicest and kindest term I can think of for Chad Morris’ tenure on campus was nightmarish.
That’s from the standpoint of a columnist and fan. Just think what it was like for the players who attempted to compete in the SEC under that type of baloney. I honestly can’t imagine how tough it had to have been.
The arrival of Pittman and his no-nonsense staff had to be a breath of fresh air to the suffocating souls of the players on this Razorback football team.
Even without the benefit of spring practice or even a normal preseason, we could see the team transforming into a tougher, more consistent program early last year. I think we would have seen that growth throughout the entire year, but it is clear that Covid-19 and the rigors of perhaps the toughest schedule any college football team has ever played began to take its toll late last season. But still the Razorbacks fought in a way that would have made ol’ Hugo Bezdek proud.
Bezdek, of course, is the Arkansas coach who said his squad, then known as the Cardinals, played like a wild band of razorback hogs after a landmark victory over LSU in 1909, Arkansas’ first undefeated season.
No doubt, Bezdek and other Razorback legends would have been proud of the way Pittman’s Hogs handled Texas last Saturday in a 40-21 victory that was as sweet and sassy as the best barbecue sauce you’ve ever tasted.
I suspect there will be other victories to celebrate this season, but the Texas win was a special one. Hog fans will remember it the rest of their lives. It was just that kind of a night.
That said it is time to turn the page. The Hogs did that Sunday and Monday, and after a week of work for Saturday’s 3 p.m. game against Georgia Southern, the Texas victory — isn’t that fun to say —is miles away in the team’s mind. The Eagles (1-1) are the focus, and while it is so easy for Hog fans to let their minds drift forward to the Sept. 25 showdown with No. 7 Texas A&M in Arlington, Georgia Southern comes first.
As together as the Hogs are and as well as they played in dominating Texas, there are things to clean up this week against the Eagles before opening the door to SEC play against the Aggies.
Pittman, while proud of that his freshman kicker Cam Little delivered a 4-for-4 performance of field goals and extra points, said the Hogs worked on shoring up some blocking assignments that were the difference in scoring three instead of seven points in several red-zone trips last Saturday.
Likewise, the defense had corrections to make despite the fact they dominated much of the game. Texas quarterback Hudson Card’s lack of accuracy let the defense off the hook more than once when a Longhorn receiver was running open in the first half. Hit one or two of those long passes, and it changes the entire trajectory of the game with the Hogs playing from behind or even instead of boasting a halftime lead.
Pittman, defensive coordinator Barry Odom, offensive coordinator Kendal Briles, the other assistants and the players know the mistakes better than I do and are no doubt planning course corrections going forward.
It’s so much easier to make those corrections after a victory than a loss, though.
I look forward to seeing a clean performance from the Razorbacks on Saturday, and corrections of some of the mishaps from the previous two Saturdays.
It is going to be interesting to see how the Eagles line up to stop Arkansas’ running game that overpowered Texas. The Longhorns basically played the Hogs straight up and got blown off the ball as the Razorbacks rolled up 333 yards and 4 rushing touchdowns. Expect the Eagles and the upcoming onslaught of Top-25 rated SEC teams to move extra men in into the box to stop that up.
In turn, that should open up the passing game for quarterback K.J. Jefferson and his receiving corps, featuring Treylon Burkes if Arkansas’ offensive line can hold up against the blitzes that will be thrown against them not only by the Eagles this week but also by the Aggies the next, No. 2 Georgia on Oct. 2, No. 17 Ole Miss on Oct. 9, and No. 22 Auburn on Oct. 16. What a gauntlet for the Hogs to run.
So far, Burks has been relatively quiet for an All-SEC and perhaps All-American receiver with 10 catches for 79 yards, but his time is going to come. If not for an outstanding interception by Texas’ B.J. Foster, Burks would have likely had a long TD catch and run Saturday. He was wide open with nothing but green ahead of him.
I think Burks and the rest of the receivers are due for a good day Saturday. It’ll help with beating the Eagles and give the Hogs’ upcoming opponents something to think about besides the Razorbacks’ running game.
The Hogs are 23-point favorites against the Eagles that run a tricky triple-option attack. That’s a lot of points to cover, and as focused as Pittman’s teams have been, it might be hard to keep the Hogs from looking forward to A&M or back to Texas.
I think this is a mature Razorback team that will be focused on the moment, but it’s still early this season, and it’s hard to know exactly how the Hogs are going to play week to week.