Arkansas football: My 10 favorite moments from the 2020 season
2020 was a terrible year in many aspects, but it wasn’t so bad to Arkansas football.
Fans in Fayetteville were treated to a 3-7 season in Sam Pittman’s inaugural year. That may not sound like much, but perspective is everything. It was triple the number of conference victories the Hogs had managed in the past 3 seasons combined, after all.
We all know they could have added at least 1 more, too (*cough* Auburn *cough*).
It still may be one of the most memorable losing seasons I’ve witnessed.
Of course, winning more games would be preferred, but Pittman restored the fight in this team. When they weren’t playing a highly-ranked opponent, the Hogs kept it close every time. It was good to see after the past 2 years.
Arkansas is a program with a proud history. It doesn’t belong at the bottom of the SEC. This year showed that the Razorbacks aren’t there anymore.
It will take time, but winning seasons are on the way. For now, let’s take a look back at this losing one and relish the surprisingly good memories. Here are my 10 favorite memories from the 2020 season:
1. Breaking the streak
It didn’t take long for Pittman to win fans over.
The Hogs lost to a talented Georgia team in Week 1, but they entered their next game against Mississippi State with a unique game plan. Defensive coordinator Barry Odom went with a 3-man front in order to have 8 defenders available to stop the pass.
It worked to perfection as K.J. Costello threw 3 interceptions just a week after surpassing 600 yards against LSU. More importantly, Arkansas’ 21-14 win ended the worst conference losing streak in school history.
Prior to beating the Bulldogs, Arkansas had lost 20 straight SEC contests. To finally get that monkey off their back opened the door for this season to become what it did.
2. The Hudson Clark game
2020 was Hudson Clark’s last season as a walk-on.
In their 2nd win of the season, 33-21 over Ole Miss, Arkansas forced Matt Corrall to throw 6 interceptions. Three of those went to Clark, a freshman cornerback.
His performance was so impressive that Pittman announced a couple of days later that Clark would be on scholarship by January, so as of now he’s no longer paying for school. He continued to play a large role as a starting cornerback and finished with 47 tackles. He didn’t come away with another interception, but he still finished tied with Jalen Catalon for the team lead.
It looks like the Razorbacks found a gem in Clark, who should stay a key part of the defense next season.
3. The Treylon Burks catch
No matter how many times I watch this catch, I can’t believe it.
Also from the Ole Miss game, this highlight showed why Burks was among the SEC’s best receivers this past season. In the very corner of the end zone, he leaps and effortlessly corrals a 1-handed grab while staying inbounds.
Not many players in the country can make a catch like that. Burks was the most consistent piece in Arkansas’ offense, racking up 820 yards receiving and 7 touchdowns in 9 games. He has potential to blossom into an even bigger star next year.
The fact that he grew up in Arkansas only makes this story better.
4. The Tennessee comeback
Arkansas went into halftime of their game against Tennessee down 13-0. They came back to win 24-13.
The Hogs scored touchdowns on their 1st 3 drives of the 3rd quarter to secure the victory. That included a 59-yard connection between Burks and Feleipe Franks. The defense was also phenomenal in pitching a 2nd-half shutout.
People raved about the comeback after the game, praising Arkansas for not getting discouraged by the halftime deficit. I thought Pittman had the perfect response postgame:
“13 points? It’s not like we were down 50,” he said.
5. Franks’ return to The Swamp
Franks did a great deal for Arkansas football this season.
The graduate transfer from Florida came to help a program that needed him. He needed it as well.
With Franks, Arkansas finally got consistency at quarterback. In return, the Razorbacks helped him to improve his NFL Draft stock. He is projected as a Day 3 pick by ESPN’s Mel Kiper Jr.
Franks only came to Arkansas because of an ankle injury he suffered playing for the Gators in 2019. That allowed Kyle Trask to supplant him as the starter, and Franks opted to play elsewhere.
When he did chose Arkansas, Florida wasn’t on the calendar. But because of the SEC’s switch to a conference-only schedule, the Gators were added.
The game didn’t turn out pretty for Arkansas, who lost, 63-35. But Franks had some nice moments. Both of his touchdown passes were deep balls to Mike Woods, as he finished with 250 yards passing. He also met briefly with former teammates and coaches after the game.
For Gators and Hogs fans, it was good to see Franks make the comeback he did following his injury.
6. KJ Jefferson’s game against Missouri
The Dec. 5 game against Missouri not only introduced us to Jefferson, it also had one of the wildest finishes I’ve seen.
Jefferson started in place of Franks, who was dealing with a rib injury. The freshman threw for 274 yards and 3 touchdowns in a game that went down to the wire.
The teams went back and forth all game before Arkansas scored with 43 seconds left and had a chance to tie it at 47. However, Pittman opted to go for the 2-point conversion instead of an extra point. Missouri nearly had the interception, but it slipped out of their hands and into Woods’, who had also scored the touchdown.
It appeared Arkansas would escape with a win thanks to the gutsy decision. All they had to do was get a stop from their defense. But Connor Bazelak tore through them in just 43 seconds, completing 4 of 5 passes to set up the game-winning 32-yard field goal.
Heartbreak for the Hogs, but it was entertaining nonetheless.
7. Making a bowl game
Arkansas making the Texas Bowl was a huge accomplishment.
The Razorbacks hadn’t been invited to a bowl game since 2016, so it was the cherry on top of this season. They were slated to play TCU, but the game was unfortunately canceled.
I still think earning the bid after such a long drought is something that should be remembered from this unique season. Hopefully, next year they can actually play in a bowl.
8. Big defensive performances
It was good to see Odom get plenty of praise in the early part of the season.
In large part because of the games against Mississippi State and Ole Miss, there was talk about how improved the defense was. It couldn’t keep up with those astronomical turnover numbers, but it still turned out to be pretty solid.
The good thing is that most of the key contributors are back. Bumper Pool and Grant Morgan, who both finished among the top 5 in the SEC in tackles, return. So does safety Catalon, who was only a freshman.
The defense doesn’t look to be getting any worse, and I’d bank on it coming back better.
9. The 1st half against Georgia
For a while, it appeared Pittman might start his head coaching career 1-0.
Arkansas first demanded notice from the college football world when they took a 7-5 lead into halftime against the No. 4 Bulldogs, for whom Pittman was an offensive line coach the season prior.
That lead was short-lived, as Georgia found an offensive rhythm in the 2nd half after making a quarterback change. The Bulldogs went on to win 37-10, but that 1st half, when the country was talking about Arkansas, was the first indicator we got that this team was different.
10. 6 All-SEC/All-Freshman selections
The year culminated with 6 Razorbacks being named to either the All-SEC or All-Freshman team.
Morgan was the lone 1st-team selection, becoming the first Razorback named All-SEC 1st team since 2016. Burks, Pool and Catalon all made the 2nd team. Offensive lineman Brady Latham and tight end Hudson Henry made the conference All-Freshman team.
It was great to see so many names on this list at the end of the season, and it’s even better that all of them are coming back for next season. Here’s to hoping 2021 will provide just as many good memories for Razorbacks football.