Start of Pittman era provides hope for Razorbacks
For at least a half, Arkansas put the college football world on upset alert.
The defense was stifling in the first half, holding Georgia without a touchdown to take a slim 7-5 lead into the locker room Saturday. Feleipe Franks looked crisp, connecting with Treylon Burks for a 49-yard touchdown on the Razorbacks’ second drive.
Sure, Georgia made a lot of mistakes. It finished the game with 12 penalties, with many coming in the first half. But the way the Razorbacks looked early provided hope that the Sam Pittman era wouldn’t be as woeful as the ones that preceded it.
Then, the third quarter arrived and reality was restored. Georgia pulled starting quarterback D’Wan Mathis for Stetson Bennett midway through the second quarter. It proved to be the right move.
After the Bulldogs fumbled on their first drive of the half, Bennett got another chance to put them ahead. He rolled to his left, eventually spotting George Pickens for the go-ahead 19-yard touchdown. He also finished the 2-point conversion, running to his right and stretching his arm out to hit the pylon with the football and give Georgia a 13-10 lead.
He tossed another touchdown on the Bulldogs’ next drive as the tension began to mount in Fayetteville.
Now was Franks’ turn to take over with all the pressure on him to make a play. He stepped back for his first pass of the drive and threw a pick-6.
Defeated and deflated, Arkansas never looked the same again as Georgia took control on its way to a 37-10 victory. The SEC losing streak continued to grow, hitting 20. All around Arkansas, cries of “Here we go again” could be heard.
But as much of an emotional roller-coaster as Saturday’s game was, it was a promising start to the Pittman era.
Pittman and offensive coordinator Kendal Briles showed that they weren’t afraid to take shots, even if they ended up backfiring. The Razorbacks ran a couple of trick plays, both of which resulted in turnovers. But that might be a testament to the Bulldogs’ defense more than anything.
Speaking of that defense, Rakeem Boyd was held to just 21 yards on 11 carries. One has to to think he will be more effective in the future. The fact that Arkansas was able to stay in this game for so long with him being essentially a non-factor is telling.
Franks kind of fell apart in the second half, but early on he was the quarterback that Razorbacks fans hoped he would be. He finished 19-of-36 for 200 yards, 1 touchdown and 2 interceptions. Staying consistent throughout the game will be key as the season moves on.
So, yes, it was a mixed bag. Pittman provided both hope and flashbacks to the meltdowns that have plagued the Razorbacks in each of their past two seasons.
Nobody expected Arkansas to come close to winning Saturday. Even the most diehard Hogs fans would have been crazy to predict such a thing. Yet for the first two quarters, Pittman and the Razorbacks had us believing that was a real possibility.
If you’ve got no shame in taking moral victories, Saturday’s game certainly qualifies.
As abysmal as Arkansas has been, people realize it’s going to take time to get back to the glory days. But Saturday proved to be a small step in the right direction.
There is still a lot of football left, but maybe an SEC victory isn’t so far out of reach after all.