Arkansas freshman kicker Cam Little was named SEC Special Teams Player of the Week / Photo: ArkansasRazorbacks.com
The No. 21 Arkansas Razorbacks survived the frying pan of facing a talented but underachieving and desperate LSU squad with a thrilling 16-13 overtime victory last Saturday in Death Valley, but now the Hogs have leaped into the fire of facing the No. 2 Alabama Crimson Tide at Tuscaloosa this Saturday at 2:30 p.m. on CBS.
Freshman kicker Cam Little picked up SEC Special Teams Player of the Week honors for sealing the deal with a 37-yard field goal after the Hogs held the Tigers in check in the opening possession of overtime.
The Razorbacks, who struggled with penalties and missed blocking assignments all night, made just enough plays to nudge the Tigers, thanks to the Hogs’ best defensive performance since opening the season strong with upsets of Texas and Texas A&M in September.
Next up for the Razorbacks
Opponent: at Alabama
When: 2:30 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 20
Where: Bryant-Denny Stadium, Tuscaloosa, Ala.
Nov. 26 — Missouri, 2:30 p.m. (CBS)
Bowl game — TBD
As ugly as the victory was offensively, it was a thing of beauty how the Hogs kept rising to the occasion to stave off LSU.
The Razorbacks forced three turnovers. All were pivotal, but Montaric “Busta” Brown’s interception in the end zone in the first overtime allowed the Razorbacks to put the Tigers away with Little’s field goal, his third of the day. The victory returns the Golden Boot Trophy to Arkansas for the first time since 2015.
The Razorbacks (7-3, 3-3) have already posted their most victories in a season since going 7-6 in 2016 in Bret Bielema’s fourth season as coach. Pittman’s Razorbacks have won three more games this season with many of the same players than the Hogs could muster in two seasons under Chad Morris’ regime.
With two regular-season games to play and a bowl game to boot, the Razorbacks have a shot — a slim as it may be — at winning 10 games (with the bowl game) for the first time since Bobby Petrino’s final team went 11-2 in 2011. That’s the good news.
However, it must be noted that LSU (4-6, 2-5) and Mississippi State (6-4, 4-3) both pushed the Hogs to the limit the past two weeks with Arkansas barely squeaking out victories.
The chore ahead of the Razorbacks Saturday is monumental. Arkansas has not beaten the Crimson Tide since a 24-23 double-overtime victory when Darren McFadden, Felix Jones, and Mitch Mustain were wearing Razorback red in 2006. That’s 14 consecutive losses to Alabama.
The Razorbacks have only played the Crimson Tide to less than a touchdown four times in that span, and the last time was 19-14 loss at Tuscaloosa under Bielema in 2015 when Pittman was the Hogs’ offensive line coach.
You have to go all the way back to the Miracle on Markham in 2002 since a Razorback team has beaten a squad coached by Nick Saban. That team was LSU, of course, not Alabama.
If you remember, Matt Jones orchestrated a late-game drive to overtake Saban’s LSU squad, 21-20, connecting on a 31-yard pass to DeCori Birmingham with 9 seconds to play for the victory at War Memorial Stadium in Little Rock. It was a stunning victory for the Hogs that still gives me chills when I think about it.
To be honest, Alabama’s reputation has whipped the Hogs before the Razorbacks ever took the field more times than not in this 14-game losing streak.
Pittman did not downplay the challenge that is in front of his Hogs this week, but he said a team has to believe it can win to even have a chance. As much as he and his assistants will train the Hogs’ bodies this week, he will have to coach his player’s minds to be prepared for this opportunity.
After rolling to a 4-0 start to the season, the Razorbacks were not prepared for the challenge of facing No. 1 Georgia at Athens on Oct. 2 in a 37-0 blowout loss that could have been worse.
The moment was too big and the challenge too tough for the Razorbacks to even compete. That could be the case again Saturday when the Hogs get to Tuscaloosa to face a Crimson Tide squad whose goals are much bigger than Saturday’s game.
After suffering a 41-38 loss to Texas A&M — yes the same Aggie squad the Hogs whipped in Razorback Stadium on the final weekend of September — Alabama can’t afford another misstep if it plans to once again play for the national title.
Saban and his staff won’t overlook the Razorbacks. In fact they probably spent as much or more time prepping for the Hogs last week before their 59-3 victory over New Mexico State as they did working on the Aggies.
The Crimson Tide are a 21-point favorite going into the game. I’m a bit surprised it isn’t more.
Make no mistake, all teams are judged by wins and losses, but this week I’m more interested in how the Hogs play and compete than what the score is.
I don’t want to say that winning is out of the question for the Razorbacks, but I have to admit, I want to see if Hogs will compete with the Tide this week or roll over like they did at Georgia.
Arkansas laid an egg and was totally dominated by Bulldogs. Will that happen again at Tuscaloosa, or can the Hogs put up more of a fight against the Crimson Tide?
If they can, that would be progress for Pittman’s second year as head coach.