Razorbacks need to turn page for back half of season

Arkansas wide receivers Andrew Armstrong (2) and Isaiah Sategna (16) celebrate after Sategna’s touchdown catch against Alabama during the second half of an NCAA college football game, Saturday, Oct. 14, 2023, in Tuscaloosa, Ala. (AP Photo/Vasha Hunt)

If Arkansas head football coach Sam Pittman doesn’t already have Bob Seger & the Silver Bullet Band’s tune “Turn the Page” loaded in his jukebox, then this would be a good week to add it and play it on heavy rotation.

Turning the page is exactly what his Razorbacks (2-5, 0-4 SEC) need to do this week if they hope to salvage this season.

While it might be nearly impossible to do, Pittman and his Hogs need to put their five-game losing streak out of their mind, and approach their final five games as a season unto itself.

It’s a season in which they have to finish 4-1 to garner any measure of respect from the outside world. A 5-0 or a 4-1 mark would put them in a bowl game. It won’t be a high level bowl, but playing a game after Christmas — any game — would be an accomplishment for a squad that has struggled mightily this season on offense.

Arkansas has played well on defense, considering how little help the offense has given them, but no matter how hard they have played, Arkansas’ defense have been worn down by the end of games and unable to halt what proved to be game-winning drives, whether those drives ended with them giving up a score or a game-cinching first down.

The good news is that the Hogs’ “new” season boasts only one Top 25 team in No. 20 Missouri, whom the Razorbacks host at Razorback Stadium on Nov. 24, the afternoon after Thanksgiving. That game or perhaps the Hogs’ trip to Florida (5-2, 3-1) on Nov. 4 look like the toughest games on paper.

But Arkansas fans would be foolish to mark down Saturday’s 11 a.m. homecoming date with Mississippi State, Nov. 11’s visit by Auburn or even Nov. 18’s game against Florida International as victories before the final whistle.

Arguably the Hogs could have won four of their five losses based on the scoreboard. A play or two here or there could have made a big difference against BYU, LSU, Ole Miss and Alabama.

If we’re totally being honest, Texas A&M whipped Arkansas worse than the 34-22 final margin. However the Hogs were in the other four games. They just didn’t or couldn’t finish the job.

Alabama scores on quarterback Jalen Milroe’s (4) interior run during the first half of an NCAA college football game against Arkansas, Saturday, Oct. 14, 2023, in Tuscaloosa, Ala. (AP Photo/Vasha Hunt)

So now their backs are up against the wall for the rest of the season with must-win game after must-win game.

Pittman spoke at length about the situation his Razorbacks have worked themselves into at his Monday press conference. He rightly called Saturday’s game with Mississippi State a must-win situation.

“We gotta win,” Pittman said. “We have to win Saturday. When the season starts you have all these goals. There are still some that we have. There are still some attainable goals that we have, and our kids know. I’m going to talk to them today about it. But this game Saturday is a big, big game for us. They all are… but when you keep backing yourself up in a corner, at some point you have to go forward.

“We’ve proven that we got a pretty good football team. We haven’t proven that we can win. So we have to do that Saturday. I think our kids understand that.

“There are some things in that locker room — for the kids that have been here four years — that they started, and we don’t want to let loose of. There is a lot of motivational things. One of them is that we want to show the state of Arkansas that we’ve got a good football team, a good enough one to win. So there is a lot of motivation there.”

Right now, even the oddsmakers believe in the Razorbacks, installing them as a 7-point favorite. I’m not exactly sure if that speaks more to the Hogs’ or the Bulldogs’ plight?

The winner will get a leg up on the other in the final Western Division race for the foreseeable future. Next year the SEC will do away from divisional play when Texas and Oklahoma join the league.

This week the Hogs, Bulldogs, and Auburn Tigers are tied for last in the division without an SEC win. Auburn plays host to Ole Miss, who is a 6.5 point favorite. The game is interesting because Auburn coach Hugh Freeze made his name as Ole Miss’ head coach before he was dismissed after a lengthy NCAA investigation. Similar to Arkansas, Auburn struggles on offense and has a decent defense.

As for the Hogs, there looked to be some offensive improvement in the second half against Alabama with two touchdown drives.

A cynic might say that improvement could be attributed to K.J. Jefferson making a couple of super-hero plays, and Alabama committing a couple of uncharacteristic penalties. Either way, the Hogs gave their fans a glimmer of hope and put a pre-Halloween scare into the Crimson Tide if for a few minutes.

Maybe the Hogs can parlay that momentum into the start of a winning streak in the back half of the season?

It certainly would be nice to turn the page on the Razorbacks’ current five-game losing streak.

Arkansas Razorbacks 2023 football schedule

Overall: 2-5   SEC: 0-4   Streak: L5

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 – Alabama 24, Arkansas 21
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)