Next two games pivotal for Razorbacks

How the 2020 Arkansas Razorbacks will be remembered comes down to the next two weekends to be played out at Razorback Stadium against LSU on Saturday and then at Faurot Field the following Saturday in Columbia, Mo.

If the Razorbacks win their next two games, Arkansas’ season will be considered an unmitigated success no matter what happens with their regular-season ending game with Alabama (6-0) at Razorback Stadium on Dec. 5.

The Hogs (3-4) aren’t in the No. 1 Crimson Tides’ class, but if the Razorbacks can defeat LSU (2-3) this Saturday and knock off Missouri (2-3) in Columbia, the Hogs will finish 5-5 against one of the most challenging schedules any football team in the history of the college game has faced.

Next up for the Razorbacks

Opponent: vs. LSU
When: 11 a.m. Saturday, Nov. 21
Where: Fayetteville, Ark
TV: SEC Network
Current Record: 3-4

Remaining schedule

Nov. 28 – at Missouri
Dec. 5 – Alabama

If that happens, the Razorbacks, their first-year coach Sam Pittman, and his excellent staff will not only win the respect and admiration of the entire Razorback nation, but they also will garner more respect for the Hogs nationally than any Arkansas football team has done in nearly a decade.

It would be a wonderful start to what all Hog fans hope will be a long and prosperous head coaching career for Pittman.

However, accomplishing that task isn’t going to be easy. Neither sets of Tigers are going to lay down for the Hogs and let them roll over them. They will be playing to salvage their seasons, too. Any victory the Razorbacks get will have to be earned.

The Tigers, who haven’t played a game since an ugly 48-11 loss Halloween to Auburn, have not played well this season after sending 14 players off last year’s national title team to the NFL and struggling with Covid-19 and other injuries.

It’s been an uncharacteristic season for Ed Ogeron’s Tigers, but before Hog fans start planning on feasting on Tiger fricassee, one must remember that LSU is the more talented football team, boasting a roster of four-and five-star recruits that athletically were ranked among the best in the country when they decided to attend LSU.

The Tigers may be a point to a point and half underdogs to the Razorbacks going into the game, but it’s not because LSU is untalented. It’s because the Tigers have underperformed this season.

If LSU puts it together, the Tigers have the talent to challenge some of the better teams in the nation. If the Razorbacks do win Saturday, it won’t be because they are the more talented team, it will be because they are the team that plays better together.

The Razorbacks are together. That and the fact that Pittman and his staff has them playing so very hard are two of their best attributes.

It would be a mistake to say the Hogs have played over their heads this season, but Pittman, offensive coordinator Kendal Briles, defensive coordinator Barry Odom and the other Arkansas assistants have squeezed a lot out of a group of players that collectively only participated in one SEC victory the past three seasons.

Last Saturday’s 63-35 loss to Florida was a gut punch to the Razorbacks and their fans. It put in perspective where the Razorbacks stand now and how far they have to go to be a top-10 like team.

No doubt some Hogs are licking their wounds following the blowout loss. That’s OK, but the big question is how will the Razorbacks respond this week against LSU?

Will the Hogs push forward like they have all season and fight to improve, or will they wilt under the pressure of what is again is the most challenging schedule in Arkansas’ history.

Will the Razorbacks work to improve or will they lay down and roll over like they have the last three seasons when things have gotten difficult.

From what I’ve seen from the Hogs this year, I think they’re going to fight and scrap like fans expect the Razorbacks to do. That’s the new culture that Pittman, who is expected to return to work in person with the team Wednesday after overcoming a bout with Covid-19, has already instilled in his Hogs in less than a year on the job.

So far, these Hogs have shown they will fight to the end no matter the circumstances. That’s served them well so far this season, and hopefully it will do so again Saturday.

LSU boasts more pure talent, but heart and desire have a lot to say about the outcomes of football games, and this Razorbacks squad has shown more of that type of fight than any Razorback team in some time.

I think Pittman and his staff will have the Razorbacks primed to play well in front of their home crowd.

How well LSU will play is a question mark for a team that has struggled this season. After a 21-day break from playing, LSU ought to be fresh-legged, but they also might be a bit rusty.

Unfortunately, Arkansas has been a notoriously slow starting team this year, especially on offense. Getting that first punch in on a team like LSU that is talented but maybe doubting a little bit is very important. The more success the Tigers have early, the tougher they are likely to be.

I have confidence the Razorbacks can win this ballgame, but by no means will it be easy, and the Hogs can’t expect the Tigers to just roll over and allow them to scratch their tummy.

Respectability is on the line for LSU, and though they aren’t having the season they expected, it is a proud program that won’t go down easily.

The Hogs need to be ready to play their best game of the season on Saturday because it might take that and more to upend LSU.