FAYETTEVILLE — Arkansas is ranked in the Top 25 in November in Sam Pittman’s second year which probably exceeds the expectations of many when he was hired.
In the three previous seasons to Pittman arriving, Arkansas was 8-28 with one SEC win. After 20 games with Pittman, Arkansas is 10-10 with six of those wins coming against SEC teams. Honestly, Pittman’s record would almost certainly be better, but in 2020 they played a full SEC schedule with no non-conference games. Arkansas is 4-0 in non-conference games this season. The Razorbacks are 7-3 this season and ranked No. 21.
“I like where the program is headed,” Pittman said. “Obviously we wish we’d won those other three as well, you know. But I like where the program is headed. You know we play in the SEC West, which you’ve got to man up on this side. There’s not a game that’s easy over here. Most of the times it’s not somebody you’re playing that hasn’t beaten a top 25 team or two or three or in Miss. State’s case, four. So for us to go from no wins, yeah. I think we won one in three years, and to be competitive. It’s not necessarily about the number of wins over what the expectations were. To me it’s about how you’re playing you know. Like, are you as a team playing hard? Do you have a chance to win. Sometimes the ball doesn’t bounce your direction and you’ve played a pretty good football game and just lost at the end.”
Arkansas is coming off a 16-13 overtime win over LSU this past Saturday. The Razorbacks just narrowly missed being 8-2 at this point. They lost to Ole Miss 52-51 in Oxford earlier this season. Ole Miss was No. 17 at the time, but has since moved up to No. 10. Arkansas went for a two-point conversion in that game and came up short.
“The other night we talked about an ugly win, well, it was only ugly on offense,” Pittman said. “It wasn’t ugly on defense, and special teams played well. And the bottom line is: Would you rather be in the locker room at Ole Miss or at LSU if you’re an Arkansas fan. Well, the roles were reversed. One side played really well and one side didn’t play very well. It was reversed in both games. But the bottom line is instead of not finding a way to win at Ole Miss we found a way to win against LSU and we found a way to win against Mississippi State. Those things are helping our program obviously in number of wins, but it’s also building some confidence for us. Both teams were very, very physical over the last two weeks, I thought. Ours was too. But I think LSU and Mississippi State are very physical. And obviously so is Alabama. Long answer, I’m sorry.”
Arkansas hasn’t beaten Alabama since Sept. 23, 2006. Winning in Tuscaloosa is very difficult, but does Pittman feel the success Arkansas has had this season will help them on Saturday?
“Well we have a chance,” Pittman said. “I mean, the No. 1 thing – and I know it might be considered coach speak or whatever – the No. 1 thing you have to do to go beat a team is believe you can do it. If you’ve got a whole plane full of guys that are going, ‘Man, when’s this game over,’ you don’t have a chance. We all probably in high school or …we’ve all been on that team that goes, ‘Mmm, wish wouldn’t have drawn this team.’ That’s the No. 1 thing.
“I go back to look at my first year here in 2013 and we got beat [52-0] I think or something like that by Alabama. Then the next year we got beat by a point. Now, things happen and different things during the game like all that, but the No. 1 difference, to me, was we had a team full of guys that believed that they could win. I think success of our program that we’ve had – however you view it, whether it’s been a lot or a little bit or some or none – our kids, it’s helped them confidence wise going in there, ‘Hey, we’ve beaten some pretty good teams this year.’ We know how good Alabama is, but it gives us confidence that we can go in there and play well.”
One person who has to be wearing a big smile right now is Hunter Yurachek. Both Arkansas’ football and basketball team is ranked.
“Well, I think it’s pretty good for Arkansas,” Pittman said. “I don’t know. I think they were preseason 16 or whatever, and I don’t know how often the polls come out for basketball. But they seem to be doing really well. I’m so apologetic because I haven’t really followed the basketball team to this point. I will when we get done, but it’s a pretty good deal for both of us to be recognized nationally.”
Arkansas and Alabama will kickoff at 2:30 p.m. on Saturday with the game televised on CBS.