No looking back for Hogs with Rebels on the horizon

I doubt Sam Pittman has much time or inclination to watch Disney movies, but as his Arkansas Razorbacks begin preparation for their 2:30 p.m. Saturday homecoming matchup with the Ole Miss Rebels, he needs for his Hogs to heed the advice from the movie “Frozen” and just “Let It Go.”

The Razorbacks’ theme song for at least the early part of the week needs to be that ubiquitous tune that every 4-year-old knows by heart.

The Hogs can’t waste time fretting over the awful call by the officials that returned the ball to Auburn after what amounted to a fumbled backward pass that Arkansas recovered in the waning seconds of the ball game. Auburn took the gift and kicked a game-winning field goal to escape with a narrow 30-28 victory.

Next up for the Razorbacks

Opponent: vs. Ole Miss
When: 2:30 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 17
Where: Fayetteville, AR
TV: SEC Network

Remaining schedule

Oct. 31 – at Texas A&M
Nov. 7 – Tennessee
Nov. 14 – at Florida
Nov. 21 – LSU
Nov. 28 – at Missouri
Dec. 5 – Alabama

Now, the Hogs are left licking their wounds, but as the song says, they have to “Let It Go,” and not let the disappointment of last Saturday contribute to another loss this week. The Razorbacks can’t allow past circumstances to dictate how they prepare for Lane Kiffin’s high-powered Rebels that gave No. 2 Alabama fits last week before falling, 63-48, to the Crimson Tide.

Pittman said in his Zoom press conference Monday that he won’t address the bad call this week with the team. His and their sights will be set only on the Rebels.

In the past, very good and even a few great Razorback teams have allowed disappointing outcomes to linger and affect their play in subsequent games.

For the longest time, Houston Nutt, Razorback head coach 1998-2007, and his teams had trouble rebounding from losses. One loss ultimately wound up being two, more often than not during his emotionally charged 10-year tenure as Arkansas’ head coach.

One of the best Razorback teams in history found it hard to shake off their 15-14 loss to No. 1 Texas in the Big Shoot Out of 1969, a game moved to the end of the year to celebrate the 100th season of college football with another classic meeting between Darrell Royal’s Longhorns and Frank Broyles’ Razorbacks.

The malaise from that loss carried over into the Sugar Bowl in which Archie Manning and the No. 13 Rebels upended the favored, No. 3 Razorbacks, 27-22.

Lou Holtz’ Razorbacks couldn’t shake off a terrible call in their 17-17 tie with SMU in 1982 to bounce back for a season-ending showdown with Texas. In a rare underdog situation, the No. 12 Longhorns wore out the No. 6 Hogs, 33-7, who were still pouting about an awful pass interference call from the week before against No. 2 SMU.

Razorback cornerback Nathan Jones was flagged for interference despite the fact SMU receiver Jackie Wilson ran into him going for a well overthrown pass by SMU quarterback Lance McIlhenny.

No. 8 Arkansas led 17-10, but with pass interference being a spot-of-the-foul penalty at that time, SMU picked up a 40-yard gain on the play, setting up a McIlhenny scramble for the tying touchdown. The game ended in a 17-17 tie, giving the Mustangs the SWC title and the trip to the Cotton Bowl.

Associated Press voters noted the pitiful call. Arkansas jumped up two spots to No. 6 after the tie, but the Hogs were so down in the dumps, they played perhaps their worst game of the season the next Saturday against the Longhorns.

After being bushwhacked by Texas, the Razorbacks settled for a trip to the Bluebonnet Bowl and a 28-24 victory over Florida.

Before the next season, the NCAA adjusted the rule for pass interference to a 15-yard penalty and a first down instead of the ball being placed at the spot of the foul and a first down because of the circumstances of that Arkansas-SMU game.

Here is a YouTube highlight reel of the 1982 Arkansas-SMU game. The controversial play is at the 9:52 mark of the video:

While it’s clear the officials blew the play dead too quickly last week at Auburn, and their error likely cost the Hogs a victory, Pittman and his staff have to direct the Razorbacks to move forward and not dwell over the past.

The Rebels (1-2) have one of the most potent offenses in the SEC, averaging 192 yards rushing, 381 yards passing and 41.6 points per game. In contrast, Arkansas is averaging 86 yards rushing, 244 yards passing, and 19.6 points per game.

The Razorbacks have been hampered by injuries with running back Rakeem Boyd and receiver Treylon Burks being sidelined since the first quarter of the victory over Mississippi State.

Pittman said he expects them to play this week as well as starting defensive back Montaric “Busta” Brown, but he made the statement prior to Arkansas’ first practice of the week, and thus far he has been less than forthcoming with injury information much like most other coaches in the SEC. Why give anything away if you don’t have to?

Though the Razorbacks’ 1-2 record does not necessarily reflect it, Pittman’s Razorbacks are better than the Hogs’ three previous squads just by virtue of playing harder and with more focus than Bret Bielema’s last team and both of Chad Morris’ squads.

However, the Razorbacks have started notoriously slow on offense each game this season, improving as the games wear on. Auburn led the Razorbacks, 17-0, before the Hogs stormed back to take a 28-27 lead with 5:29 left in the game on a 30-yard touchdown pass from Feleipe Franks to DeVion Warren.

When asked how the Hogs can get their offense revved up more quickly, Pittman said he will adjust the way the Razorbacks warm up for the game this Saturday.

“All of that, to me, directly relates to our pre-game,” Pittman said. “We don’t start fast because we don’t start pre-game fast. We’re out there going ‘Hey, look at me. Look how good I look in my uniform,’ and not getting ready for the game. That is getting ready to stop. That’s my fault. We’ve got to get our players going in pre-game warm ups. We gotta knock heads a little bit. We gotta run routes faster. We gotta catch balls. We didn’t hardly catch a ball in pre-game, therefore we started very slow. I believe everything matters. I believe everything correlates to winning if you do it the right way, and that starts in pre-game warmups.”

Saturday’s game ought to be emotional for Razorback fans, not just because it’s homecoming , but also because Kiffin was an early favorite for the Arkansas job last December.

At one point, reports were that Arkansas and Kiffin were nearing a deal for him to take over the program where his dad — legendary defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin — served as an assistant to Lou Holtz in the late 1970s, but Kiffin and his agent Jimmy Sexton changed courses when Ole Miss’ top choice Mike Norvell jumped from Memphis to Florida State.

That opened the door for Kiffin at Ole Miss. Word is when Kiffin wanted to look at the Ole Miss job after negotiating with Arkansas, Razorback athletic director Hunter Yurachek pulled the offer and moved on, eventually landing with Pittman, whom a group of recently graduated Razorback players backed for the position. Pittman served as Bielema’s first offensive line coach from 2013-15 before leaving for a similar position at Georgia.

Though both teams are 1-2 at the moment, both coaches appear to have their programs pointed in a better direction.

Saturday’s meeting will determine whether Pittman or Kiffin will hold bragging rights for at least the next year.