Taking care of business essential for 2-0 Hogs – Hot Springs Sentinel

Booked as a breather, the Georgia Southern game today comes along just in time both for the Arkansas football team and its fans.
Razorback Nation, frankly, needs to catch its breath after two weeks. A cooling off seems in order after huffing and puffing past Rice and crushing Texas with relative ease.
With a chance to start 3-0 for the first time in five years, Arkansas suddenly finds itself ranked No. 20 (Associated Press) and No. 24 in the national polls. This from a squad that received only three votes in the AP preseason top 25 and whose most loyal supporters were loath to forecast seven wins. Channeling our inner Freddie Mercury, we wonder, “Is this the real life? Is this just fantasy?”
Consecutive dates with top-10 Southeastern Conference rivals the next two weeks should give us a clearer picture.
Three Arkansas coaches have lost eight straight games to Texas A&M since Bobby Petrino went 3-0 against the Aggies (2009-11). Sam Pittman gets his second crack at A&M, which must replace quarterback Kellin Mond (4-0 against the Hogs) but won on character with a second-team QB last week against Colorado. It’s the Southwest Classic at Jerry Jones’ Dallas Cowboys playpen in Arlington, Texas. CBS, impressed with the Arkansas-Texas outcome, snapped it up for its primed 2:30 p.m. slot next week.
Georgia shot to No. 2 in both polls behind Alabama after a showpiece opening victory at Clemson. Pittman knows Georgia well, having coached the Bulldogs’ offensive line before getting, at 58, his first head-coaching job. Arkansas led Georgia at halftime last year in Fayetteville before the Bulldogs, with superior troops, prevailed 37-10. They’ll play this one ‘tween the hedges at Sanford Stadium, where the Petrino-coached Hogs escaped in 2010 with a Ryan Mallett touchdown pass to Greg Childs.
Of course, if Arkansas stumbles or regresses notably against Georgia Southern, the gloss will be off those two games. Whatever they may say otherwise, Razorback fans just hope not to be disappointed on this third September Saturday.
After all, an SEC team should be deeper and stronger, more polished in every way, than one from the Sun Belt Conference. The same was said, though, when Chad Morris-coached teams lost to such as North Texas and San Jose State. Sun Belt membership didn’t hold back Louisiana-Monroe in 2012 in John L. Smith’s first Little Rock game. In a different light, Bret Bielema’s team lost Fayetteville rematches with former Southwest Conference teams after beating TCU and Texas Tech on the road. The Who’s “Won’t Get Fooled Again” is a long-playing record on Razorback Nation’s jukebox.
That said, a Little Rock friend cautions that Georgia Southern (1-1) “might hang around longer than anyone expects.” Though coming off a 38-6 loss to Florida Atlantic, the Eagles have been to bowl games in each of the last three seasons under coach Chad Lunsford. Georgia Southern relies on power running, like Arkansas in the 1980s under Ken Hatfield. That’s usually because a team can’t recruit enough skilled players to run a more sophisticated offense. (Closer to home, Lake Hamilton is gashing opponents from the Wing-T, another land-based attack, with which another Tommy Gilleran-coached squad, Fountain Lake in 2009, won a state championship.)
Georgia Southern’s best bet is to control the clock and not put the ball on the ground. Field position as usual will be key with Arkansas hoping to play on short fields. Arkansas got a huge break early against Texas when a Longhorn player stepped on the end line before recovering a punt deep in the Razorbacks’ end.
Arkansas is favored by 24 points with a projected point total of 52.5. Such a margin likely would mean more playing time for Malik Hornsby, quarterback KJ Jefferson’s backup. Leading 40-21, Pittman declined to run up the score further against Texas (40-21) after a Hornsby keeper put the Razorbacks on the lip of the goal.
A running quarterback gives his teams options. Jefferson has shown he can get the tough yardage himself yet still make a clutch pass. Treylon Burks is his go-to guy but Tyson Morris made the third-quarter catches that mounted the comeback against Rice and stood off Texas after its first touchdown. As for his footwork, Jefferson has drawn some Cam Newton comparisons and not just because he wears No. 1.
Arkansas shocked Texas running for almost seven yards a carry. A stable of running backs, all underclassmen, gained more than 300 yards on the ground, more than Texas totaled overall. No one had ever seen anything like it an Arkansas-Texas game. This speaks to an improved offensive line, Pittman’s forte, and beefed-up recruiting.
Linebackers Grant Morgan, Bumper Pool and Hayden Henry lead a defense that plays like the “fightin’ Razorbacks” of old, backed by a Steve Atwater clone in safety Jalen Catalon. Now, if they can only avoid those targeting penalties (tell me, is Arkansas the only such SEC offender?).
It remains to be seen whether Arkansas can survive the weekly grind of the SEC, where every game is played with bowl-like intensity. Run a check on that next week.
For the first time in years, fans truly trust the team’s head coach. Pittman’s team continue to impress with its attention to detail after a shocking lack of fundamentals under recent coaches. It’s being noticed nationally with Pittman’s name coming up in USC’s search to replace the fired Clay Helton. Pittman, however, is nearing retirement age and owns a lake home in Hot Springs, two factors in Arkansas’ favor.
Nolan Richardson, remember, had his name come up for every opening (Ohio State in particular) when building the Razorback basketball program. Arkansas people like nothing more than being appreciated. They hope now to extend their love affair with the football team another week.
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