Hogs go soul searching at LSU

One hopes the real Razorbacks will stand up this week and perform up to the preseason projections.
Arkansas running back Dominique Johnson (20) is knocked out of bounds by BYU defensive back Eddie Heckard (5) during an NCAA college football game Saturday, Sept. 16, 2023, in Fayetteville, Ark. (AP Photo/Michael Woods)

It’s been an interesting week in Razorback Land. It always is after the first loss of the season.

There is the crew that wants to wash out the offices of the Fred W. Smith Football Center like the Augean stables of myth, and there are those maybe too willing to pat the Hogs and their coaching staff on the back after a less than spectacular start to this season.

It’s been that way with the program since Frank Broyles’ final few years as coach. Probably longer, but my Razorback football memories don’t reach further back than 1974 when I was in the first grade.

Between those camps, rests the majority of Razorback fans. Oh, they want the Hogs to win. Some desperately. But they are realistic enough to know that the Razorbacks aren’t likely to win them all.

That’s only happened twice in the program’s history in 1909 and 1964, and the college game is very different today than in those bygone eras.

What Hog fans really want today is a program they can be proud of week in and week out whether the Razorbacks win or lose.

That’s not too much to ask of the program from a fanbase who is as dedicated as the Razorbacks are, and for the most part the Hogs have done that during Sam Pittman’s tenure as head coach.

Yes, there have been some blow-out losses, and some games that have slipped away during the past three years as head coach, but on balance his Razorbacks have always played hard.

I don’t fault the effort the Hogs brought to Razorback Stadium last Saturday in their loss to BYU, but their execution was lacking.

Arkansas wide receiver Isaiah Sategna (16) breaks away from the BYU defense as he returns a punt 88 yards for a touchdown during the first half of an NCAA college football game, Saturday, Sept. 16, 2023, in Fayetteville, Ark. (AP Photo/Michael Woods)

The Hogs beat themselves as much as BYU did. Turnovers, missed opportunities, busted plays, penalty after penalty, and a couple of unexplainable punts conspired to lift the Cougars over the Hogs. It was death by a thousand cuts.

Individually some Razorbacks performed well, but as a whole, the team let itself down, and BYU flew back home to Provo a winner despite being a less talented team.

The Cougars played smarter, more disciplined, and more consistent football, and it made all the difference.

Of course, that’s old news. Pittman and the Razorbacks have turned the page and put that sorry performance to bed before hitting the practice field on Monday, or that is at least what the Razorback coaching staff hopes.

But have they? Have the Hogs really put it to bed?

Missed opportunities like last week sometimes linger. Failures like last week can bring doubt. Have the Hogs really buried that loss?

I certainly can’t answer that question. No one can until the Razorbacks actually do on Saturday night.

How the Razorbacks play in Death Valley against No. 12 LSU Tigers will tell the tale.

The Razorbacks are 18-point underdogs going into the game, which kicks off at 6 p.m. Saturday on ESPN.

Frankly, that point spread is a slap to the Hogs’ snout considering the last three games between the Tigers and Hogs have all been three-point affairs.

However, considering how Arkansas has played so far this season and how the Tigers have performed the last two weeks with lopsided decisions over Mississippi State, 41-14, and Grambling State, 72-10, I certainly see the oddsmakers point.

One hopes the real Arkansas Razorbacks will stand up this week and perform up to the preseason projections of many Hog fans and few prognosticators that pegged this as nine or even 10-win team.

To keep fans interested after that BYU performance, the Razorbacks need to make a contest out of a game that most folks outside the Natural State believe will be a blowout in LSU’s favor.

Arkansas running back AJ Green (0) slips away from BYU defensive tackle Caden Haws (95) on his way to a 55-yard touchdown runs during the first half of an NCAA college football game, Saturday, Sept. 16, 2023, in Fayetteville, Ark. (AP Photo/Michael Woods)

A Razorback upset would be fantastic. The celebration down on Dickson Street would likely be great, but after watching the Hogs slop around last week and really the last two games, just seeing them perform well — win or lose — against a quality opponent would be heartening and something to build upon in the coming weeks.

I don’t know if the Razorbacks have what it takes in them to beat a very talented LSU squad that seems to have shaken off its opening-night jitters that led to their 45-24 blowout loss to Florida State.

Nothing the Hogs have shown us yet this season would suggest that they have the wherewithal to pull off an upset in one of the toughest environments in college football.

But this is a new week. Pittman spoke Wednesday of his Razorbacks finding that chip on their shoulder that his second squad in 2021 played with nearly every week.

That team made believers out of all doubters that season by playing tough, hard-nosed football week in and week out against the NCAA’s toughest schedule. The Hogs won nine games that season, sending fans hopes sky high going into last year.

The Razorbacks dealt with an enormous amount of injuries and faltered in close game after close game last season. What would it have taken to have defeated LSU, Liberty, Missouri, and Texas A&M in those close games?

That winning margin the Hogs had in 2021 but lost in 2022 needs to be re-discovered quickly by this team that has unrealized potential.

A victory might not be in the cards for the Razorbacks this week against LSU, which appears to be the most talented team in the West and perhaps the second best team in the SEC to Georgia.

But regardless of the outcome of the game, the Razorbacks must dig deep and find a way to improve this week, correct the mistakes that let them down against BYU, and gather some kind of momentum.

The Razorbacks can’t afford to make a habit out of playing as poorly as they did last week against BYU, or this is going to become a very long and uncomfortable season for the Hogs and their fans.

Arkansas Razorbacks 2023 football schedule

Overall: 2-1   SEC: 0-0   Streak: L1

Sept. 2 – Arkansas 56, Western Carolina 13
Sept. 9 – Arkansas 28, Kent State 6
Sept. 16 – BYU 38, Arkansas 31
Sept. 23 – at LSU (6 p.m. ESPN)
Sept. 30 – Texas AM at Arlington, Texas (11 a.m. ESPN/SEC)
Oct. 7 – at Ole Miss (TBA)
Oct. 14 – at Alabama (TBA)
Oct. 21 – Mississippi State (TBA)
Nov. 4 – at Florida (TBA)
Nov. 11 – Auburn (TBA)
Nov. 18 – Florida International (TBA)
Nov. 24 – Missouri – (3 p.m. CBS)