Arkansas football: 5 reasons the No. 10 Hogs are where they are today
Don’t look now, but the Arkansas Razorbacks have taken their rightful place among the nation’s elite college football teams. In the latest AP Poll, the 2-0 Hogs are ranked No. 10, with a bullet.
It’s just the start head coach Sam Pittman was hoping for as Arkansas gets set to welcome in former Hogs head coach Bobby Petrino (2008-11) and Missouri State this Saturday for a 6 pm game at Razorback Stadium.
Five big reasons for Arkansas’ early success in 2022 are as follows.
1. Sam Pittman
The head Hog brought a culture change to Arkansas and has turned the program around in a hurry. On Saturday, the Hogs will take the field as a top-10 team for the first time since 2012 at Razorback Stadium. In his 3rd season at the helm, Pittman is 6-0 against nonconference opponents. A win on Saturday would make him the first Arkansas head coach since Lou Holtz (1977-78) to win his first 7 games against nonconference foes.
Yes, Arkansas is on a roll with the jukebox blaring after a 9-4 season in 2021 that included 4 trophy wins (Southwest Classic over Texas A&M, the Battle of the Golden Boot over LSU, the Battle Line Rivalry over Missouri and the Outback Bowl over Penn State). The bowl victory was Arkansas’ first since the 2016 Liberty Bowl and first January bowl victory since 2012.
2. KJ Jefferson
The do-it-all quarterback has transformed his team into a winner. In 2022 he has completed 76.6 percent of his passes (36-for-47), ranking 3rd in the SEC and 9th nationally, for 385 yards and 4 touchdowns in addition to 129 rushing yards and 2 scores.
The Jefferson-led Razorbacks have scored 30-plus points in 11 of his 17 career starts, including both games this season.
3. Running game
It’s behind one of the best offensive lines anywhere that running backs like Rocket Sanders has excelled. Four stellar veterans dominate in the trenches for Arkansas. Seniors Dalton Wagner and Ricky Stromberg, along with juniors Brady Latham and Beaux Limmer have a combined 132 career games (107 starts) and paved the way for a rushing attack second-to-none in the SEC.
Arkansas led the conference in rushing last season and hasn’t missed a beat in the first 2 games of 2022, once again leading the SEC (8th nationally) with an average of 259.3 yards per game.
Sanders is the main beneficiary, leading the Razorbacks, and the SEC (6th nationally) with 273 yards rushing. He’s averaging 6.2 yards per carry and ranks 4th in the nation with a 136.5 yards-per-game average.
And that’s in addition to the aforementioned running abilities of Jefferson.
Pittman continues to bring in transfers who make significant contributions. This year is no different.
Wide receiver Jason Haselwood, a transfer from Oklahoma, leads the Hogs in receiving this season with 8 catches for 72 yards and a touchdown. Both Haselwood and Toledo transfer Matt Landers turned in key performances in the season-opening victory over nationally-ranked Cincinnati. The two combined for 6 catches for 85 yards and a touchdown.
Alabama transfer Drew Sanders has been lights out at linebacker. The former 5-star recruit from Denton, Texas, leads the Razorbacks with 4 tackles for loss, 3 sacks, and 2 forced fumbles. He’s second on the team with 16 tackles, including 11 last week against South Carolina.
5. Bumper Pool
Last, but certainly not least, linebacker Bumper Pool has been a staple in the Arkansas defense. The leader in tackles last season, Pool is pacing the team again in 2022.
Through 2 games he already has 20 stops, including his 18th career double-digit tackle effort in the 2022 opener against Cincinnati. Pool is now 6th on Arkansas’ all-time tackles list with 369. He is 39 tackles from the Arkansas all-time record of 408 set by Tony Bua (2000-03).