By Jason Pattyson
FAYETTEVILLE — The anticipation of the Auburn matchup on Saturday was unusually high, considering the team was 3-6 on the season, the offensive coordinator was fired, and the team had played better on the road than at home.
Now, the offense had found its identity nine games into the season, and the defense had kept them in every game to date. That all changed in a 48-10 loss to Auburn on Saturday in Razorback Stadium. The team had not let go of the rope, and the fight had been there to this point after a string of close losses. After the first quarter and the smoke had cleared, Arkansas had been outgained 169-24 and found themselves down 21-3.
“Well, we didn’t play well obviously in any phase. Gave up a punt return for a touchdown and a couple of big kickoff returns, “Sam Pittman said after the game. “Offense struggled, didn’t have a first down, I believe, until somewhere in the second quarter. Defense couldn’t handle the edge. They ran for 300-something yards. So, there certainly won’t be any pointing fingers at one group or another group. We can point at everybody, including myself.”
Looking back at the last nine games and watching somewhat competitive football on TV has left a sour taste in many fans’ mouths. It’s hard to sell fans of an experience alone yet pay so much for a ticket to watch them underperform at home. There is just no incentive to this point. Pittman discussed a different routine in the 24 hours before Saturday’s game.
“Yeah, I don’t. We thought about our routine and what we do, things of that nature,” Pittman said. “We didn’t go to the movies or do anything like that. We never do that for a 3 o’clock game, but it was kind of ‘lock us in, get us focused’ type things. The week was identical to last week practice-wise. I’ll be honest with you, motivation-wise, it was a really good week. It really was. I don’t know why, unless Auburn was just that much better than us today, but I don’t think that’s the case. I think, for whatever reason, we didn’t play with a lot of energy; it looked to me like.”
Over the last seven quarters at home, dating back to the start of the fourth quarter of the BYU game, The Arkansas offense has gained 414 total yards, 244 passing and 178 rushing. That has netted three field goals and zero touchdowns. A total of nine points, all set up off of defensive turnovers, and you ask yourself how much longer this can continue before the wheels of power start to turn and become restless.
Hunter Yurachek has been vocal in his support of Pittman in recent weeks, and that has been warranted from the standpoint of defensive progress and competitiveness. Saturday was a different story on multiple fronts.
You had a defense that gave up the most points all season (48) and a breakdown on punt coverage that led to the second score of the game and was the second of the season. It was eight quarters of football in Razorback Stadium without a touchdown before Jacoby Crisswell put one on the board in the fourth quarter.
I understand this sounds like a lot of dog-piling on a guy, but the facts are facts, and to this point, the defense had bailed him and the team out all year. Now, this is a wait-and-see situation because it was the belief the defense would save Pittman’s job, and with that out the window, the state gives the administration and the donors no other excuse to not evaluate the staff. Pittman was asked post-game if he felt like his job was in jeopardy.
“I’m not, and let me say why. Because it’s never been about me being the head coach,” Pittman said. “It’s been about me and these kids. But, to answer your question, no, I’m not.”
The feeling around the stadium with fans was that the clock is ticking on Pittman, and one has to wonder if there has been a position coach to be elevated twice in a season. Unfortunately, this could happen if there is another performance like the one the state witnessed on Saturday.