Arkansas football: As season nears close, Hogs have plenty of reason to be excited for future
One would expect nothing less than for an Arkansas game to come down to the final seconds in 2020.
As they have so many times this season, the Hogs treated fans to an entertaining afternoon in the Battle Line Rivalry against Missouri on Saturday.
They were playing without starting quarterback Feleipe Franks and running back Rakeem Boyd. Grant Morgan, one of the SEC’s leading tacklers, went down with an injury in the game. Yet they still found a way to stay competitive.
Defense went out the window in this one, and Arkansas trailed 47-40 with a little less than 5 minutes remaining.
Starting in place of Franks, redshirt freshman KJ Jefferson led the Hogs down the field. He threw a 14-yard touchdown pass to Mike Woods, only Woods’ 2nd catch all afternoon. Arkansas appeared to be prepared to tie the score, but Sam Pittman didn’t want to settle.
The Razorbacks opted to attempt a 2-point conversion and go for the win, perhaps the gutsiest call of the day.
It didn’t look like it was going to pay off. Jefferson looked around but didn’t find any open receivers. He finally let the ball fly in desperation, and it appeared to be an easy interception. But the defender bobbled it, and Woods stepped in from behind to catch it and, for a moment, save the day.
It was one of the craziest plays we’ve seen all year from the Razorbacks, which is saying a lot.
There was still time for Missouri, though. The Tigers got the ball back with 43 seconds remaining.
Connor Bazelak sliced the defense methodically, completing 4 of 5 passes for 54 yards on the drive to get Missouri to the Razorbacks 15 and set up the game-winning field goal.
Pittman called back-to-back timeouts in an attempt to ice the kicker, but to no avail. Harrison Mevis nailed the 32-yard field goal for the 50-48 win, squashing the Razorbacks’ hopes of ending their losing streak in the rivalry. They haven’t beaten the Tigers since 2015.
The loss likely means the Razorbacks will finish the season at 3-7, barring a major upset of undefeated Alabama. Not bad considering where they started the year.
As tough of a loss as this was, it doesn’t come without its positive takeaways.
The Razorbacks’ future looks to be in good hands with Jefferson at quarterback. He didn’t play like a freshman, finishing with 274 yards (206 of which went to Treylon Burks) and 3 touchdowns. He also rushed for a score. Franks technically has another year of eligibility, but there is uncertainty about how that will work next season.
If Franks’ stay in Fayetteville lasts only 1 year, Jefferson doesn’t look like a bad successor at all.
Junior running back Trelon Smith also had a good game, minus 2 fumbles. He rushed 172 yards and 3 touchdowns of his own. He looks in line to be the Hogs’ lead back for the foreseeable future.
The only gripe would be the defense, but that has been one of Arkansas’ strong points this year. You can forgive a bad game, especially after losing a leader like Morgan.
As the season nears its end, it’s a good time to reflect on how this year played out.
If you told anyone at the beginning of the season that the Hogs would finish with 3 wins, they would have considered that a great year. Pittman likely isn’t as strong of a Coach of the Year candidate as he was to start the season, but he is still in the running. It’s clear Arkansas has found its man for the long haul.
After years of suffering, the outlook is bright. It’s uncertain whether the Razorbacks will make a bowl game, but one has to think they have a solid shot, even being 3-7. All teams are bowl-eligible this year, and someone may want to take a chance on them for entertainment value alone.
Whether they make a bowl or not, Arkansas has plenty to be proud of. They shouldn’t let Saturday’s loss put a damper on all they have accomplished. The future is bright, and they’re likely to see more than 3 wins in the coming seasons.