Hogs get set for finale, after heartbreaker
FAYETTEVILLE Arkansas’ SEC football season closing game against No. 1, already SEC West champion, Alabama Crimson Tide will kick off at 11 a.m. Saturday at Reynolds Razorback Stadium and will be televised by ESPN, the SEC Office announced Sunday in Birmingham, Ala.
Originally the SEC season was to conclude last Saturday but but because of postponements and shuffled schedules related to the COVID-19 coronavirus outbreaks and contact tracing, this Saturday and next Saturday, which will include the Alabama vs. Florida SEC Championship game in Atlanta, will be used to make up postponed games.
Arkansas and Alabama originally were to play last Saturday which instead was used for Alabama to play a previously postponed game at LSU while Arkansas played a previously postponed game against the Missouri Tigers in Columbia, Mo.
Coach Nick Saban’s 9-0 Crimson Tide come to Fayetteville after trouncing LSU Tigers, 55-17 last Saturday night in Baton Rouge, La.. The Tide has scored no fewer than 38 points, a 38-19 season-opening victory over Missouri, and twice scored 63.
Inheriting a program gone 0-8, 0-8 in the SEC under the Chad Morris regime in 2018 and 2019, first-year Arkansas Coach Sam Pittman has the Razorbacks improved 3-6 going into their finale off a heartbreaking, 50-48 loss last Saturday at Missouri.
The Razorbacks with backup quarterback KJ Jefferson’s 14-yard touchdown pass to Mike Woods and subsequent 2-point conversion pass deflected by a Mizzou defender and caught by Woods, overtook Mizzou, 48-47 with 43 seconds left.
In those 43 seconds Mizzou quarterback Connor Bazelak passed the Tigers from their 25 to the Arkansas 15 setting up Harrison Mevis’ game-winning 32-yard field goal on the game’s last play.
Asked on postgame radio Saturday what could be expected against the nation’s No. 1 team off such a gut-wrenching loss, Pittman replied, “The expectations are as high as anybody in America. We are disappointed that we lost today but the expectations are we win every game no matter who we play.”
Given the Razorbacks were without senior every game starting quarterback/offensive co-captain Feleipe Franks (injured ribs from the Nov. 21 27-24 loss to LSU) and Preseason senior All-SEC running back /offensive co-captain Rakeem Boyd (opting out last week to concentrate on preparing for the NFL draft) they derived remarkable performances from their replacements.
Redshirt freshman quarterback KJ Jefferson in his second career start completed 18 of 33 passes for 274 yards and three touchdowns and rushed 13 times for 32 yards and a touchdown.
Sophomore running back Trelon Smith netted 172 yards and three touchdowns on 26 carries.
Turned out the Hogs most missed senior middle linebacker and SEC leading tackler Grant Morgan. The Greenwood native injured his knee during the third quarter and could only watch Mizzou compile a 27-point fourth quarter.
“Obviously he’s one of our best football players,” Pittman said. “He’s our leader. He’s a captain. He gets everybody lined up. Obviously that hurt us. He’s a guy that we plan on being out there. He’s made a lot of tackles this year. I think about as many as anybody else has in the country. But more than that, you’re really missing his leadership, getting everybody lined up and getting to the ball.”
A big loss but one they should have recovered from, junior starting weakside linebacker, Bumper Pool said.
“Grant can get guys lined up if they're in the wrong gaps or things,” Pool said. “When you lose a guy like that in the stretch in a tight ballgame, it's tough. But we were more than capable of going out there and stopping them. We just didn't do it."
Pittman expressed disappointment not just in the defense’s lack of stopping Mizzou but inadvertently aiding and abetting the Tigers with crucial drive-extending penalties.
“That’s unacceptable,” Pittman said. “We’ve got to coach it better. I have to do a better job with it. The first two drives, I know, we gave them penalty yards and they kicked a field goal and they scored a touchdown off of it. We’re not good enough to help somebody down the field. I mean, we have to be penalty-free and disciplined and we weren’t and it’s very disappointing.”
All expressed elation with the offensive line’s best performance of the season and with Jefferson, Smith and sophomore receiver Treylon Burks’ career high 206 receiving yards on 10 catches with a touchdown plus 3 carries for 14 yards including stretching for a first down on the 48-47 lead-taking drive.
“For our offensive line, for our offense, that has to be a confidence builder,” Pittman said. “They have to do it the next time they go out there. But that has to give them some confidence.”