Arkansas football: Searching for answers after surprising loss to Liberty
Social media looked like a firestorm of epic proportions on Saturday following the Razorbacks’ loss to Liberty on Saturday.
“Fire Kendal Briles” filled up mentions amongst Arkansas fans.
Dreadful day in the trenches
The offensive line was graded as one of the top units in Power Five football this season going into a crucial non-conference game with a chance to be bowl-eligible following a win.
Highest-graded offensive lines in the Power Five:
? Arkansas – 88.3
? Minnesota – 84.9
? Baylor – 83.8
4⃣ Florida – 83.3
5⃣ USC – 83.1 pic.twitter.com/Rq3dbOqA3g
— PFF College (@PFF_College) November 4, 2022
Simply put, Arkansas did not win the game along the line of scrimmage, at least on the offensive side of it. The stonewall line allowed 4 sacks, 14 tackles for loss and numerous quarterback hurries. A lot of that had to do a lack of decision making by quarterback KJ Jefferson and receivers not finding ways to get open.
It needs to be a whole-unit effort, though, and Saturday’s game didn’t look like a typical Arkansas offensive day. This might have been the worst-looking Sam Pittman offensive line in quite some time. Even when Pittman was in Fayetteville as an offensive line coach his team always found ways to assert its will against an opponent. Especially against an opponent that figures to be inferior to a Southeastern Conference program.
Stunts, countless pressure and being active in the Arkansas backfield allowed Liberty to disrupt the pace of play the Hogs have been accustomed to having the past 2 weeks.
Tale of two halves?
Can this game be called that? Arkansas was hosting a ranked, non-conference opponent for homecoming the first time since 2008 when they played Tulsa. Heck, history was even on Arkansas’ side when they played such a team.
Arkansas is 5-2 versus ranked NON-CONFERENCE opponents since 2008.
Take the ML for Arkansas today. @BetSaracen
— Jacob Davis (@JacobScottDavis) November 5, 2022
The offense was whipped up front and when you brand your whole program on being a blue-collar, hardworking team, your team cannot be dominated by a program like Liberty. This loss suggests Pittman and his staff should look in the mirror and question whether things are still going in the right direction in Year 3.
Back to the initial question, was this really a tale of two halves when a team competes on offense for a total of 10 minutes in the fourth quarter? How can this even be a discussion in Year 3 of a culture change with Sam Pittman?
The Razorbacks offense stumbled out of the gate with 41 total yards, minus-16 rushing yards and 4 punts in the first quarter. Arkansas has struggled to start fast since Year 1 with Pittman. There are more questions than answers right now. By this point of a season, “you are what you are” and the offense can’t find a rhythm to start a game.
A bobbled reception by Trey Knox that turned into an interception by Liberty kept the momentum on the Flames’ side, keeping Arkansas without a touchdown in the first half.
Arkansas’ offense didn’t score a touchdown until 5:07 left in the fourth quarter. All the credit should go to Liberty executing its game plan and stealing a road victory against a Southeastern Conference opponent.
Dysfunction amongst the staff
There was chatter early Saturday morning that Jefferson would miss the game with an undisclosed injury. It eventually was confirmed by Pittman after the game that the Hogs’ backup quarterback, Malik Hornsby, took the majority of first-team reps in practice this week.
Interesting quote from Arkansas WR Jadon Haselwood on the Arkansas QB situation after today's 21-19 loss to Liberty:
"This week Malik (Hornsby) was getting most of the snaps and throwing to us…I didn't know who was starting coming into the game, just like you all."
— Mason Choate (@ChoateMason) November 6, 2022
Then, to make things even more weird, Pittman questioned whether or not to go with Hornsby while Jefferson was struggling early on.
“He told me what I need to hear, that KJ’s our guy and he’ll get going here eventually. … In my opinion, that was the right thing to do,” Pittman said.
Was keeping Jefferson in the game the right decision? The Hogs were able to “get it going eventually” but it was too late, down by 16 points with time winding down in the 4th quarter.