What a difference a week can make.
Following last week’s drubbing at the hands of Mississippi State, the Hogs responded with one of their best performances of the season, a 52-35 road win over BYU.
There are plenty of issues that still need to be addressed,especially defensively, but this win ends a three-game losing skid while providing a morale boost to a roster, and fanbase, that were in desperate need of one.
Arkansas isn’t competing for an SEC championship anymore, so the goal shifts to becoming bowl eligible and playing in the best possible bowl game. Each win from here on out brings the team more confidence and increases the odds of a prestigious bowl game invite down the road.
The Hogs were able to pick themselves up off the mat on Saturday, which is the first step in turning this season around.
The upcoming BYE week comes right before the stretch run of the season. Over these final five games, Arkansas will have plenty of opportunities to salvage what was looking to be a very disappointing season to many.
What We Learned
• Team Responds in Must-Win Game
How will this Arkansas team respond? That was the biggest question surrounding the Hogs entering Saturday’s game.
To the credit of Sam Pittman and his players, they responded the same way they did to a three-game losing streak last season. This year, though, instead of beating an overmatched Arkansas-Pine Bluff at home, they were able to go on the road and beat a borderline Top 25 BYU team.
As I mentioned earlier, this should be a huge confidence boost for the players, staff and fans heading into an off week. I think this also proves that you can never count out a Sam Pittman-coached team, but especially when they’re backed into a corner.
In 2020, Pittman’s first season, Arkansas responded to each of their losses with a better performance than the week before,aside from the final week against Alabama.
Last season, Arkansas responded to a three-game losing streak by winning four out of their last five games to finish with an 8-4 record.
I’m not saying that this team is going to go on a run like they did last season, but Pittman has shown his teams are capable of bouncing back under tough circumstances. Saturday could be the catalyst to spark a similar turnaround, and at this point in the season, nothing would surprise me.
• KJ Jefferson Leads Offensive Explosion
I don’t think I’ve seen a more complete game from the Arkansas offense in the three seasons that Sam Pittman and Kendal Brileshave been in Fayetteville.
After missing last week’s game, KJ Jefferson returned and torched the BYU defense through the air. He finished 29/40 passing for 367 yards and FIVE touchdowns.
Three of Jefferson’s passing touchdowns were to receiver Matt Landers, who finished with eight catches total for 99 yards to go along with his hat trick. Easily his best game as a Hog.
Rocket Sanders continued to build on his stellar season finishing with 175 yards rushing and two touchdowns on only 15 carries. He averaged an incredible 11.7 yards per carry.
None of that happens without the offensive line dominating like they did on Saturday. The offensive line has been overlooked a lot, but have been consistently good this season, all things considered.
This is the type of game that we’ve been waiting to see from the Arkansas offense all season.
Jefferson was in-sync with his receivers and trusted them to make plays, which we haven’t really seen from him yet this year. He looked more comfortable and patient in the pocket, allowing time for plays to develop.
Oh, and then there was this play:
Arkansas had the ball 11 times on Saturday and scored all but three times. They didn’t have a single three-and-out and only punted one time.
After all of the criticism Kendal Briles has taken this season, this performance felt like a big “shut up” to his doubters. He called a perfect game from the sidelines and deserves his flowers for Saturday’s result too.
For Arkansas to have a strong finish to the season, we’ll need to see a lot more of this high-octane offensive attack over the final five games.
• Defense Played Well Enough
The Arkansas defense has been abysmal this season. Most of that is due to the secondary being ravaged by injuries, but they’ve really struggled in other areas too. Missed tackles, missed assignments and costly penalties have all been consistent themes in recent weeks.
Unlike last week, Arkansas actually switched up their looks throughout the game instead of staying in a rush-three/drop-eight zone coverage for four quarters. However, they still weren’t able to create much pressure on BYU’s Jaren Hall.
Hall, who was playing through a shoulder injury, was able to carve up the Arkansas defense for 356 yards and three touchdowns despite the injury.
Any time Arkansas switched from a four-man front to the drop-eight zone coverage, BYU was able to counter and run the ball at-will.
To the defense’s credit, they were able to get stops and capitalize on BYU’s two fumbles and one interception, which was the difference in the game. Outside of the three turnovers, the Arkansas defense really didn’t have an answer.
So, while the Arkansas defense still didn’t play very well, they did what they needed to do to win. Until they can get some key guys healthy, that’s really all you can ask of them right now.
Arkansas will have this weekend off, and it couldn’t have come at a better time. They’ll have two full weeks to rest up and get some players healthy before heading to Auburn on October 29th.
That game will kickoff at 11 a.m. and SEC Network will have the coverage.