FAYETTEVILLE — The University of Arkansas put a 20-game losing streak in the SEC behind it on Saturday night with a 21-14 victory in Davis Wade Stadium in Starkville.
The last time Arkansas had won an SEC game prior to tonight was 38-37 over Ole Miss on Oct. 28, 2017. Sam Pittman however has Arkansas (1-1) even after two games of his time as head coach and he was elated to see the team get the victory.
“Mississippi State’s a good football team,” Pittman said. “We played hard. The number of the guys on the plane, that’s how many we need. We might have needed them all. We might have played them all. We had a few injuries. I’m really happy for the state of Arkansas, the kids and the coaching staff. We hired some really good coaches and we inherited some good kids and some good football players. I’m really proud for the state of Arkansas tonight.”
Pittman said the locker room celebration was a great one.
“The mood in the locker room was probably everything you might expect,” Pittman said. “The kids have gone for a long time without having an opportunity to win, and against a team – I mean, that’s a ranked football team. I think they were 15, 16, somewhere in there. For us to come in here in their place and win, it was a tremendous effort by the guys and they were ecstatic. Hunter Yurachek gave me the game ball, so that’ll be with me forever. But I don’t know if the guys feel like the pressure’s off their back. I think they just looked at it as a new season. They wanted to win a game and certainly they were tired of losing SEC games.”
Arkansas played short handed as both its starting defensive ends, Dorian Gerald and Julius Coates, were out of the game. Gerald was injured in the season opener and Coates was held out of this game by Pittman. During the game the Hogs lost wide receiver Treylon Burks, who had fought an injury in practice this week, running back Rakeem Boyd, cornerback Montaric Brown and linebacker Grant Morgan though he was able to return. Pittman obviously wasn’t clear on the extent of the injuries immediately after the game.
“I have no idea,” Pittman said. “I really don’t. I don’t have any idea when the guys are going to be able to come back or not. I don’t think, to be honest with you, I don’t think any of them were bad. I think they were injuries where they couldn’t play, but I’m talking about season-ending. I’m not. I’m so glad that Mo’ got up, Brown. He got dinged up a little bit. Other than that, I think we’re going to be okay. It might be a week, it might be two, but I don’t think any of them are season-ending at least from what I was told.”
Barry Odom is Arkansas’ defensive coordinator and he obviously had a great plan to cause issues for Mike Leach’s offense that saw quarterback K.J. Costello pass for 623 yards against LSU last Saturday.
“We had watched a couple of games from last year on Coach (Leach) and his offense,” Pittman said. “Some teams that had played them had some success doing what we tried to do, so it was easy to find. Barry said, ‘This is what I want to do, just keep reminding me to be patient,’ and I said, ‘Okay.’ All week, the kids believed we could rally around the ball and make tackles. For the most part tonight, that’s exactly what we did. It’s a copy-cat league and copy-cat world a little bit, but we copied some teams that had played them that had some success and we certainly had our own input as well.”
Senior wide receiver De’Vion Warren stepped in for the injured Burks and caught four passes for 100 yards and a touchdown. Pittman talked about Warren’s performance.
“He did a great job,” Pittman said. “We could have ran the clock off, but we got a personal foul. We’ll learn from that. But De’Vion, De’Vion’s had some good practices. It’s just like anything else, you’re pretty much going to play like you practice and the kids have bought into that. He’s had good practices, so it’s not shocking or surprising to see him do well. It’s just fun to watch him because he’s a hard-practicer and a really great kid.”
Senior quarterback Feleipe Franks came into the game with all the attention on the grad transfer Costello because of his performance against LSU. But Costello threw three interceptions against the Hogs. Franks was 20 of 28 for 212 yards and two touchdowns while also rushing for eight yards. Pittman praised Franks.
“He was tough,” Pittman said. “He made some key first downs running the football, as well. Our protection for the most part was pretty solid. Those kids, they had gotten seven sacks the week before. I don’t know what we did.
“I thought our kids held up pretty good for him. He’s tough, you know, and we had the one fumble down there. I believe it was just one. I don’t know. We lost it. We’ve got to do a better job there, but he’s a good leader. He’s a good quarterback. He’ll only get better in this system, I believe.”
Franks talked about what it felt like to get a win in just his second game with the Hogs.
“Yeah, I mean, Rakeem and Treylon and guys going out early on, it was just really good by those guys by just continuing to stay involved in the game,” Franks said. “Those guys are really important on our offense and our team. Those guys stayed in the game and were leaders like they are to help others. That’s difficult sometimes when you get hurt. You want to be out there helping the team. Sometimes you’ve just got to set that aside and be a leader at the moment to help your teammates go get a win.
“Yeah, I mean, it’s wonderful. It’s one of many. It’s just a start, man. It’s a great win. We’ll celebrate and then the same time next week we’ll be prepared to go out and get another one. That’s the best thing about SEC football man, is week in and week out it’s a one week season. That’s the wonderful part about it.”
Franks also praised Warren.
“Yeah, De’Vion he did a great job,” Franks said. “In practice, being able to communicate with those guys is important to be able to talk through some of the stuff. I think those receivers across the board do a great job communicating with me and telling me what they’re seeing and I communicate with them what I’m seeing. That collaborative effort is wonderful. At the same time, go out there and be productive together.
“De’Vion does a great job of communicating with me, just like the other receivers. I was able to get him the ball and he did a great job after the catch, getting the ball down the field. That was wonderful. I’m happy for him.”
Linebacker Bumper Pool finished with an incredible 20 tackles and also broke up a couple of passes. He was obviously pleased to get the victory.
“Yeah, we were so prepared,” Pool said. “Everybody going into it knew that we were going to do what we did tonight. People outside the facility didn’t. But we had such a great plan. Coach Odom did an unbelievable job. Coach (Sam) Carter, I mean those guys were preaching to us. It’s so big for us to get this win. We were here two years ago and we got beat really bad. And Mr. (Hunter) Yurachek said it would never happen again. And for it to happen here tonight it was just awesome.”
Pool talked about his 20 tackles.
“Yeah, that’s awesome,” Pool said. “We knew with the game plan we would have to make a lot of tackles. Because we were letting them have the underneath routes. So as a unit we did a phenomenal job of getting to the ball fast and making plays. The fact that we could get that first win is awesome.”
Arkansas will travel to Auburn for next Saturday’s game at 3 p.m. on the SEC Network. Auburn (1-1) beat Kentucky in its opener, but then fell to Georgia 27-6 tonight.