The Arkansas Razorbacks have been the open week that counts in the SEC West since 2017. Teams in the toughest division in college football have known they can count on a win against the Hogs when they forecast their schedule.
Though Arkansas is 1-2 on the season after their 30-28 loss to the Auburn Tigers Saturday, there has been a different feeling with the Hogs three games into the Sam Pittman era. Instead of getting pounded into submission in the first half, Arkansas fights their opponents deeper into the contest. While they lost 37-10 at home to Georgia, they led at halftime. Arkansas won on the road in Starkville, Miss., 21-14 for their first SEC win in three years. If the fumbled spike play at the end would have gone the Hogs’ way, perhaps the discussion is how Arkansas is 2-1.
Even though the Hogs took the L, even though they are 1-2, even though prima facie it looks like same old Razorbacks, it doesn’t play that way on the gridiron.
“I’m very proud of them,” Pittman said. “We were down 17-0 and we came fighting back and I’m proud of the way our offense started playing there after a slow start. Our defense did a good job all night. We’ve got to wrap up and tackle but to go in that locker room I’m so proud of our players.”
Part of what has helped the Hogs play with more confidence is redshirt senior Feleipe Franks from Florida. The 6-6 quarterback inspires confidence throughout the team, even among his defensive teammates.
“No matter what happens, I never see Feleipe get shook by anything,” defensive back Jalen Catalon said. “He always has his head high and he’s always motivating us to keep going no matter what the scenario is. It showed tonight. Down 17-0, it’s easy to get down with everything, but you saw that look in his eye that he was ready to go no matter what.”
Franks’ confidence even inspired the defense the back up their field general on the opposite side of the ball.
Said Catalon: “You saw him string together some drives, which gave us — the defense — confidence to say, ‘We’ve got a quarterback that’s going to do his thing. Let’s do our thing.’ Before you know it, we’re back in the game. They had that score toward the end.”
With Arkansas coming within arguably a botched call at the end of the game from starting 2-1 in SEC play, running back Trelon Smith believes they have the confidence and capability to play competitively against other SEC West juggernauts, such as Alabama and LSU.
“Me personally, I feel like we can compete with anybody,” said Smith. “Anybody on the schedule: Alabama, Auburn, that stuff. This team is a lot different from last year. We are way more improved across the whole board. Defense, offense and special teams. I really like what we’ve got going on, and we should have a lot more wins this year.”
If the Razorbacks can translate the confidence into wins, fans will start to believe the era of being the doormat on the hill are over.