Hogs’ struggles mount as Crimson Tide awaits

Arkansas tight end Ty Washington (8) carries the ball into the end zone for a 3-yard touchdown reception during the first half of an NCAA college football game against Mississippi in Oxford, Miss., Saturday, Oct. 7, 2023. (AP Photo/Thomas Graning)

From the outside looking in, things are pretty bleak for the Arkansas Razorbacks with the midpoint of the season approaching.

A Razorback team that fans and media were bullish on in the spring and summer has faced a nightmare of a season so far. The Hogs (2-4, 0-3 SEC) are on a grim four-game losing streak with a trip to Tuscaloosa to face the No. 11 Alabama Crimson Tide set for this weekend.

Kickoff is set for 11 a.m. Saturday on ESPN.

The Crimson Tide, whom the Hogs have not beaten since Nick Saban took over the coaching reins in 2007, look to be rounding into shape as one of the best teams in the SEC after grinding Texas A&M, 26-20, last week in a game that wasn’t as close as the final score.

Yes, that’s the same Aggie squad that ransacked the Razorbacks, 34-22, on the neutral ground of AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas, on Sept. 30 in yet another game that was not as close as the final score.

Other than that thumping by the Aggies, the Razorbacks have been competitive this season despite their offensive struggles. The BYU and Ole Miss losses were by a touchdown, and the shootout with LSU was decided by a field goal.

Taken individually, none of those losses seem that bad. If you were an impartial observer, three of the Razorbacks’ games would be considered a great watch.

However the cumulative effect of four losses in a row with a trip to T-Town on the horizon, makes it feel like the Razorbacks are trapped in the midst of an avalanche with the boulders still raining down.

Certainly Razorback head coach Sam Pittman is feeling the pressure, as any coach would, but for those who believe the answer to every problem is to fire the head coach, just cool your jets.

Certainly this season hasn’t been what Razorbackers expected or wanted, but then again the losses haven’t been to the likes of North Texas and Western Kentucky, either. Those programs blew the Hogs out in 2019.

It’s a testament to Pittman and the way he and his staff have turned around the fiasco they inherited from the Chad Morris era that fans are so irate at the moment.

As greatly as Arkansas’ offense has devolved this season, the Hogs have still been competitive in a series of ballgames that would have pushed any program this side of two-time national champion Georgia.

Remember, coaches like Lane Kiffin and Eliah Drinkwitz ran away from the Razorback job when it was open in 2019, but Pittman embraced the challenge and in short order brought pride back to the program.

Had Arkansas played a bit cleaner, and not hurt themselves so much with penalties, a victory over Kiffin’s Rebels was ripe for the taking in Oxford last Saturday night. The Hogs will get their shot at Drinkwitz’s Tigers in the final game of the season at Razorback Stadium.

There are those that will say that I’m looking at the situation through Razorback-red colored glasses, and I admit that I probably am. I’d prefer to dig for a kernel of positivity in this situation than wallow in the mud and paint everything as bleak as some enjoy doing.

Don’t get me wrong. The Razorbacks have issues, and unfortunately what’s going on with the offensive line isn’t going to fix itself overnight.

The Hogs have a deficiency there that can only be overcome with experience. The Razorbacks must concentrate on making incremental improvement game by game the rest of the season, and frankly the coaching staff may need to help them by altering some of its preferences to fit this team.

There are obviously issues with pre-snap penalties this season that the Razorbacks have not struggled with before during Pittman’s tenure as head coach.

Does this stem from the way the players communicate in Dan Enos’ offense? The issue seems to be with the tackles and tight ends who are furtherest from the quarterback. Can it be altered to make things better?

Enos is asking the Hogs’ offensive linemen to stay in their stance for a relatively long time before snapping the ball. Is that wise, and is it necessary for group of players that are having difficulty holding their stances?

Conversely, mental toughness is a huge part of football. Disciplined play is a part of being mentally tough. Players have to be mentally disciplined to excel in major college football, and right now, the Hogs are lacking in that department. Mental toughness comes from the inside. That is on the players.

The decision was made in the winter and spring for the Razorbacks to adjust to Enos’ offense rather than the other way around. It’s clear that transition has been a struggle for the Razorbacks even for a talent like quarterback K.J. Jefferson.

I’d say the root of the issue is inexperience with three new starters on the offensive line and one veteran Beaux Limmer shifting to center, as well as new starters at all three wide receiver spots and tight end. That’s a lot of inexperience to deal with. The good thing, the more the Hogs play, the more improvement they should make.

Sometimes improvement is difficult to discern against an overwhelming opponent. I think that may very well be the case when the Hogs face the Crimson Tide this Saturday.

It’s probably going be another tough Saturday for the Hogs and their fans.

The good thing is the Razorbacks’ final five opponents, on paper, aren’t as strong as the previous four.

With incremental improvement, maybe the Hogs can put together a back half of the season that will be more pleasing to their fans.

Arkansas Razorbacks 2023 football schedule

Overall: 2-4   SEC: 0-3   Streak: L4

Sept. 2 – Arkansas 56, Western Carolina 13
Sept. 9 – Arkansas 28, Kent State 6
Sept. 16 – BYU 38, Arkansas 31
Sept. 23 – LSU 34, Arkansas 31
Sept. 30 – Texas A&M 34, Arkansas 22
Oct. 7 – Ole Miss 27, Arkansas 20
Oct. 14 – at Alabama (11 a.m. ESPN)
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)