Florida victory makes Auburn contest even bigger for Hogs

The Razorbacks have to answer the question of whether they can play two winning games in a row.
Arkansas wide receiver Tyrone Broden, left, celebrates with teammates after he made a touchdown catch to defeat Florida in overtime in an NCAA college football game, Saturday, Nov. 4, 2023, in Gainesville, Fla. (AP Photo/John Raoux)

After enduring the season the Arkansas Razorbacks have had this fall, the Hogs and their fans both deserve to revel a bit in Arkansas’ 39-36 victory over the Florida Gators last Saturday in Gainesville.

Fourth-year Razorback head coach Sam Pittman called it the best win he can remember being involved with in his 39 seasons of coaching football from his years as a graduate assistant, a high-school coach, junior college coach, assistant coach, and now head coach.

No doubt Hog fans — particularly longtime ones — can point to bigger and better victories, but after suffering through six consecutive close losses by an average of a touchdown, why quibble?

It was a much needed victory, one that will hopefully turn the course of this season around. The entire Razorback coaching staff should be proud, and Arkansas’ success in the Swamp only makes this Saturday’s matchup with the Auburn Tigers that much more important.

Defensive coordinator Travis Williams’ stop troops have come to play every week this season, but thanks to a change at offensive coordinator, the offense finally fell in line this week.

Kenny Guiton’s in-season promotion to play-caller brought a better energy to the offense, and the players responded. It wasn’t perfect, but preseason All-SEC candidates quarterback K.J. Jefferson and running back Raheim “Rocket” Sanders finally played up to their press clippings.

Once the game went into overtime, neither would be denied, running the ball with power and authority. Jefferson then delivered a sharp, purposely low TD pass to Tyrone Broden, and the losing streak was thankfully over. The victory goes down as the Hogs’ first ever over the Gators in the Swamp, and it went a very long way in saving the current coaching staff’s jobs.

A loss last Saturday after giving such an inspired effort would have been a crushing blow to the team. The offense had practically given up under Dan Enos’ direction as we saw in the 7-3 loss to Mississippi State on Oct. 21. Pittman had to fire his colleague in hopes of sparking some life back into his team.

Thankfully the move worked.

Guiton now has the opportunity to further solidify his hold on the offensive coordinator role he currently has on an interim basis.

Arkansas players celebrate in front of their school band after defeating Florida in an NCAA college football game, Saturday, Nov. 4, 2023, in Gainesville, Fla. (AP Photo/John Raoux)

While the Razorbacks (3-6, 1-5 SEC) turned the page on the Florida victory Monday after the coaching staff made corrections from the game video, Hog supporters can afford to appreciate the victory for a few more days before turning their attention to Saturday’s 3 p.m. contest with the Auburn Tigers (5-4, 2-4) in Razorback Stadium.

Officially the Razorbacks’ loss to Mississippi State was homecoming, but Saturday’s game against Hugh Freeze’s Tigers is a spiritual homecoming of sorts for the Hogs after the huge win at Florida.

The Razorbacks will get a chance to feel Arkansas fans’ appreciation for what the Hogs accomplished in Gainesville last Saturday. Razorback Stadium may not be a total sellout, but the fans that do make it to the stadium should be revived by the Hogs’ success at Florida.

And while Arkansas defeated the Tigers on the Plains last year, the Razorbacks owe Freeze and the members of his coaching staff, who followed him from Liberty to Auburn last winter.

Last November, Freeze’s Liberty squad upset the Hogs, 21-19, in Razorback Stadium. It was a victory that no doubt lifted Freeze’s name up in the eyes of Auburn brass after Lane Kiffin spurned Auburn’s attention and opted to remain at Ole Miss. It was a loss that made some begin to question Pittman.

Liberty’s defensive front seven ran a twisting stunt that flummoxed Arkansas’ veteran offensive line. One would guess the Razorbacks will see a variation of that again Saturday since it worked so well at jamming up Arkansas’ option read.

Jefferson almost led the Razorbacks to a comeback win in the game, but was stopped short of the goal line, which was a theme all too often in a tough 7-6 season.

No doubt, Jefferson, offensive line coach Cody Kennedy, and the Hogs would like to earn a measure of payback this week against Freeze even if he is coaching a different team.

The Razorbacks are a three-point favorite as of Tuesday, but the Tigers have won two SEC games in a row — 27-13 over Mississippi State and 31-15 over Vanderbilt — and are looking to become bowl eligible against the Hogs with a third.

The Razorbacks have to win all three of their remaining games to reach a bowl for the third consecutive season under Pittman. This game is the next one in a series of must-wins for the Hogs.

Arkansas proved they were up to the challenge last week at Gainesville. Now they have to answer the question of whether they can play two winning games in a row.

Arkansas Razorbacks 2023 football schedule

Overall: 3-6   SEC: 1-5   Streak: W1

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 7, Arkansas 3
Nov. 4 – Arkansas 39, Florida 36 (OT)
Nov. 11 – Auburn (3 p.m. SEC Network)
Nov. 18 – Florida International (6:30 p.m. ESPNU)
Nov. 24 – Missouri (3 p.m. CBS)