FAYETTEVILLE — Winning in Tiger Stadium isn’t easy, but Sam Pittman has been a part of two teams that did just that.
Pittman was the offensive line coach for Bret Bielema when the Hogs defeated LSU 31-14 on Saturday night, Nov. 14, 2015. Then, as head coach, Pittman and the Hogs escaped with a 16-13 overtime win in Baton Rouge on Saturday, Nov. 13, 2021.
“There are some things you have to control, and one of them is the noise,” Pittman said. “We have to get ready for the noise. We have to play clean. We have to cut our penalties and our MAs back. But the noise is the biggest thing going out there. And then you have to celebrate the community, the people. You have to embrace them, which we did last time we were out there.
“Us and LSU, we’ve played them three times, and there’s three points between the last three games. We lost by three, won by three, lost by three. We’ll be ready to play. I know they will be too. Losing wasn’t a wake-up call for us. That’s not … We would have learned if we would have won from too many penalties and all that kind of stuff. But it is LSU and it’s SEC play. I’m sure they’ll be ready. We’ll have a good game plan. But it is a special place to go, especially at night. And it’s a hard place to win, at night especially.”
This is Pittman’s fourth year as head coach of the Razorbacks. In that time, he has one four-game losing streak (2020). That was against an All-SEC schedule. Outside of that, his teams have had two three-game skids. In 2021, the Hogs started 4-0, then lost three in a row before closing out the season 5-1. Last year Arkansas was 3-0, then lost three in a row and then finished 7-6.
Coming off a tough loss to BYU and now away games at LSU, Texas A&M in Arlington, Texas, at Ole Miss then to Alabama it’s important that Pittman tries to keep this latest loss from spiraling out of control.
“I think it’s a lot about how you approach today,” Pittman said. “I think that has a lot to do with it. You know the old saying, some teams can beat you two or three times if you let them. We just can’t do that. At some point today, we’ve got to let it go. I do know this: The busier you are preparing for the next game, the easier it is on you. In other words, to kind of block out all the noise that’s going on, because there’s going to be noise. I’m sitting in the season. There’s going to be noise around me forever as long as I’m fortunate enough to sit in the seat. It’s part of it. But I think the kids are the same way because there’s a lot of noise around, ‘We got beat by BYU’ and all that kind of stuff. You’ve got to cut that out of your life. Then you have to prepare.
“To me, it goes back into the preparation of it. I’m going to tell them what we have to do to beat LSU today and that’s what we have to go do at practice. As anything in life, as it fades a little bit, it’s not so hit-you-in-the-face. It fades a little bit and it kind of gets easier to turn the page and go to the next opponent. But if you waste a day… So we haven’t. In other words, last year, I think when we got beat by Liberty, I think the next game was LSU and we actually played really good. I mean, KJ (Jefferson) wasn’t able to play that game, Dalton Wagner wasn’t able to play that game, but we played a good game. You may say, ‘You didn’t play well offensively,’ but we were dealt a hand and we got beat 13-10. We played a physical, good game.
“So I think that we’ll do the same thing and I think after that we played Ole Miss and was able to get bowl eligible and all that stuff. We gotta put it one week at a time and we can’t mope around because I think this is as good a football team as we’ll play all year. They are very, very, very talented. But we have to… That’s why you have game plans and things of that nature. We’ve got a good football team. We lost a game and we’ve got to go get our pride back and get our respect back.”
Pittman talked about what he has learned dealing with adversity in his four years as head coach of the Hogs.
“You know, I’ll be honest with you, it’s hard to block out your 15-second decisions,” Pittman said. “There’s a lot of stuff that goes through your mind. What if it doesn’t work? Where does this put us at? Where is this? Because you know if it doesn’t work that you’re going to get a lot of questions about it. If it does work, you’re probably not going to get any. So I think that’s what I kind of went with with analytics a little bit and I’m going, ‘Okay, I’m going to do what the book says, unless this, that or the other.’
“I got beat up for not going for it on fourth-and-1, not taking a field goal. If it don’t work, you’re going to get smoked. I said it before, I’m just going to decide what I think at the game time and what I do. But I think that’s the one thing I’ve learned, is if you make a decision, it better work. Maybe the preparation of that particular moment…we’ve been pretty good on the goal line. We just haven’t been good on fourth-and-1. We’ve lost two of them. We’ve got to get better in case I feel the need to go for it that we’ve got to get it. I’ve learned just do what you think you’re prepared [to do] and get off the analytics just a little bit.”
Pittman was asked how hard it is to move on to the next game as well?
“Hard,” Pittman said. “It’s hard. I mean, it’s not a job, it’s my life. That’s what you do. Everybody don’t know you as a regular person. It’s the same way with the kids, it’s hard. Because of the addition of social media has — and the addition of, not opinions so much but negative. You know, used to it was ‘You gotta do better.’ or something, not ‘You suck. You’re fat. You’re this.’ You know what I mean? Now it’s, the comments have nothing to do with what happened in the game, it’s ‘You suck.’ And it’s not just me, it’s the kids.
“I think it’s a time when it’s harder to recover from losses if you’re a social media person. So, you know your best friends will say ‘Man, you guys are going to get them this week. And oh, stay off social media.’ you know what I mean? So you’re going, ‘I have been.’ So then you’re going, ‘What’s happening?’ The kids are the same way, so I think it’s hard. It is. Because you want to please the people that are employing you, the team, your wife, the state, the media and you can’t always do that. That’s the hard part about our job and I would imagine the hard part about being a student athlete. Because we all have feelings, we all have — you know what I mean. And when you let people down, you’re already beating yourself up on it, and then somebody starts beating the hell out of you with it. I think it’s a little bit harder to recover. But they’re going to recover it as I do. And when I get to that meeting today, it’s going to be all about LSU after we get the corrections that we need to do.”
Arkansas and LSU will kickoff at 6 p.m. Saturday night on ESPN.