Bragging rights. That’s what rivalry games are all about, right?
That’s why it felt so good earlier this year when the Hogs knocked off Mississippi State and Ole Miss in a matter of three weekends. The Razorbacks can claim claim a mythical SEC Mississippi state title with that pair of victories back in October.
Arkansas coach Sam Pittman can also claim bragging rights over two coaches who were part of the coaching-search drama a year ago before he claimed his dream job last Dec. 8th. With a win at Missouri Saturday at 11 a.m., he would have those rights over a third coach, Eliah Drinkwitz, if rumors are correct.
Next up for the Razorbacks
Opponent: at Missouri
When: 11 a.m. Saturday, Dec. 5
Where: Columbia, Mo
TV: SEC Network
Current Record: 3-5
Dec. 12 – Alabama
About this time last year, word was that the Razorback job was Lane Kiffin’s for the taking, but he wanted to listen to Ole Miss’ pitch before signing on the dotted line.
That turned off Arkansas athletic director Hunter Yurachek and sent him looking elsewhere. Again rumors were that calls went out to Mike Leach before he got involved with Mississippi State and to Drinkwitz, who was in talks with Missouri, but neither of them were all that interested in the Razorbacks’ job.
Had Yurachek been willing to bend over backwards, he possibly could have lured one of the three to Fayetteville with the right financial package, but after making what appears to be a home-run hire of Eric Musselman for the Razorbacks’ head basketball coaching job, Yurachek was after a man who truly desired the Arkansas job for all its unique qualities and who had a vision for returning it to glory. Yurachek didn’t just want a coach looking for a raise; he wanted a coach excited about leading the Razorbacks.
Musselman made a pitch for the Razorback basketball job like he was going after a five-star recruit, and he wowed Yurachek.
Yurachek wanted a football coach with that had a similar passion not just for any head coaching job, but for THE Razorback job, and that’s what sold him on Pittman, even though he had never been a head coach on the Division I level.
Pittman wanted the Arkansas job, and former Razorbacks whom he’d coached in a three-year stint as the Hogs’ offensive line coach from 2013-2015 vouched for him a day after Yurachek fired Chad Morris with a letter to Yurachek and Hog fans.
Like Musselman, Pittman recruited Yurachek and Arkansas as much as the Razorbacks sought him.
Nationally Pittman’s hire didn’t seem like a hit. Pundits and reporters outside of Arkansas called it a desperation move for a program mired in the SEC mud. That was until the new head Hog began to hire well-regarded assistants one after the other including Kendal Briles as offensive coordinator and recently let go Missouri head coach Barry Odom as defensive coordinator.
While Pittman wasn’t a “big name” among the media, he is a well-respected and trusted man throughout coaching circles, and that allowed him to put together a high-caliber staff that has served the Razorback program well in less than one season on the job.
While Arkansas’ 3-5 record isn’t exactly what Hog fans yearn for out of their football program, the Razorbacks’ mark could very easily be reversed if not for some unfortunate calls at inopportune moments against Auburn and LSU.
Regardless, Pittman has won the majority of Arkansas fans over with the passion his Razorbacks have played with throughout this odd, coronavirus-infected season. His Hogs aren’t among the most talented squads in the SEC, but they play with heart and desire that Razorback fans of all ages have come to respect after watching the bedraggled Hogs of the previous two seasons.
The hard-nosed play of linebackers Grant Morgan, who leads the nation in tackles, and Bumper Poole, nose guard Jonathan Marshall, safety Jalen Catalon, and others has restored respectability to a Razorback defense that was torched more often than not the past two seasons.
Offensively, a youngish offensive line has struggled with inexperience, the virus, and injuries, but their effort can’t be questioned. Wide receivers Treylon Burkes and Michael Woods have developed into bonafide big-play threats, and Trelon Smith has been solid at running back.
Graduate-transfer Feleipe Franks has been as advertised and more, completing 68% of his passes (155 of 228) for 2,017 yards and 17 touchdowns with just 4 interceptions. Statistically, he’s quietly crafting thus far the most efficient passing season in the school’s history. He’s one of those players some fans won’t truly appreciate until he is gone.
Saturday’s game at Missouri is for the Battle Line Trophy, but there’s really not enough history between the two programs for the trophy to mean that much to either squad. However, a victory Saturday for the Razorbacks would cement a very solid season for a first-year coach who was handed the most difficult schedule in the nation this year and probably the most difficult in school history under Cover-19 conditions that have only compounded his job’s difficulty level.
A loss to the Tigers wouldn’t negate any of the good accomplished by the Razorbacks in Pittman’s first season, but it would put a damper on the fans’ and the team’s enthusiasm going into the regular-season finale against No. 1 Alabama.
Missouri looked good in routing Vanderbilt last Saturday, and the Tigers will be all the Razorbacks can handle. However, in a year in which the ball has bounced and the whistle has blown funny for the Razorbacks, the Hogs seem to be due for some good fortune.
Hopefully Pittman and his fine Razorback staff can coax another winning performance out of the Hogs, and he will be able to claim supremacy over all the other first-year coaches in the SEC.