Arkansas football: Best of the rest in the West?
Now that No. 1 Alabama and No. 2 Georgia have all but cemented their positions for Atlanta, it will be most interesting to see how it all plays out for the title of best of the rest in the SEC and in particular, the SEC West. That’s not a status to be disregarded. It will be a spot that is mightily fought for and earned, and with it a major bowl bid attained – most likely the Sugar Bowl.
Where does Arkansas fit in? Well, squarely in the middle of the fracas.
Texas A&M has clearly spit the bit and LSU doesn’t look like it is returning to anywhere close to 2019 level anytime soon. That leaves Arkansas, Ole Miss and Auburn, with an outside chance from Mississippi State to duke it out over the course of the second half of the season to determine which team has the staying power to rise above the rest.
In that regard, the No. 13 Razorbacks’ game at No. 17 Ole Miss on Saturday is huge. Both teams are coming off lopsided road losses to the two aforementioned SEC juggernauts. Georgia’s 37-0 victory over Arkansas last Saturday between the hedges showed just how wide the gap is between the 2 top teams in the conference and the remaining pack.
“We weren’t ready for the grand stage, and that’s all of us,” Arkansas coach Sam Pittman said Monday.
On that same Saturday afternoon, Ole Miss did nothing to shorten that divide in its 42-21 loss to the Tide at Bryant-Denny Stadium.
Whichever team is able to bounce back after being slapped silly by the two top-ranked teams in the country will step forward as the team to beat in the race for best of the rest in the SEC West.
Pittman isn’t panicking after the debacle in Athens.
“You get up, you brush the dirt off, and you go back to work,” Pittman said after having some time to evaluate things. “We’re a good football team and we got our butt kicked by a really good football team. We don’t like it and we’re not accepting it. But I’ll be damned if Georgia is going to make us lose this Ole Miss game.”
Not allowing 1 loss to turn into 2 is what he was talking about, and under different conditions that could be a real possibility. But from where Arkansas is coming and has been the last several years, it wouldn’t seem like that should be a concern. The program’s trajectory is still palpable regardless of a loss like that to a team like that.
But Pittman is proving to be a solid coach and that’s what solid coaches do, they pay attention to all angles of the game both physically and mentally.
So, it’s a good bet that he’ll have the Hogs ready to play on Saturday.
Speaking of bet, the Razorbacks opened as a touchdown underdog on the road to the Rebels largely due, no doubt, to Ole Miss Heisman hopeful quarterback Matt Corral. Pittman said he hopes to put his defense in position to have its own corral around the Rebels’ QB.
“We’re going to have to push the pocket and set the edge where there’s really nowhere (for him) to go,” Pittman said. “If we can do that, we’ll have some success. If he stands in the pocket, he’ll pick us apart.”
Arkansas quarterback KJ Jefferson looks to rebound from a sub-par performance against Georgia, a game in which he didn’t look completely healthy after being sidelined the previous contest with a bruised knee. However, Pittman said his dual-threat signal-caller is fully healthy, and that his benching late in the Georgia game was simply to allow the backup to get some reps in a game-time situation.
“I think he’s absolutely 100%,” Pittman said. “I wanted him out of there in the fourth quarter because I felt like he was healthy and Malik (Hornsby) needed an opportunity to go in there in that type of environment and see what he could do as well.”
Jefferson will need to be at full strength if the Razorbacks are to continue their upwards trend in the SEC West Division.