Saturday’s disappointing 21-19 loss to Liberty is a black eye for Sam Pittman’s tenure at Arkansas. There’s no other way to spin it.
The Arkansas team we watched on Saturday was not prepared to play, and the only person who bears responsibility for that is the head coach. Everything we’ve learned about Arkansas football up to this point in the season was thrown out.
The high-powered offense never made it out of bed on Saturday morning. The defense actually played well enough to win but got zero help from the offense until it was too late. Special teams even showed up in a big way with a blocked punt safety but, again, the offense wasn’t able to do anything with that opportunity.
Watching the team come out with that type of effort was concerning because there was still a lot to play for this season.
It was homecoming, they hadn’t played in Razorback Stadium in five weeks, and they had a chance to become bowl eligible.
Instead of clinching bowl eligibility, Arkansas’ path to bowl season just got exponentially more difficult. One word sums up Saturday’s loss and this season as a whole, so far: disappointing.
What We Learned
● MISSING: Arkansas Offense
Arkansas entered Saturday ranked sixth in the country in rushing offense and 13th in total offense. That high-octane offensive attack led by KJ Jefferson that put up 52 and 41 points in back-to-back games was nowhere to be found for most of the game. Some of that is due to Jefferson being hurt, but that excuse can only go so far.
The entire offense looked emotionless and lethargic right out of the gates. The Liberty defense punched the Hogs in the mouth for the first few offensive possessions and instead of waking up, they continued to take it for three more quarters.
Saturday’s game reminded me of a scene in the 1999 film Varsity Blues about a fictional high school football team in Texas. In the movie, a bunch of the key players on the football team stay up the entire night before a big game partying. Needless to say, the team played their worst game of the season and lost 20-3.
That’s what it felt like watching the Arkansas offense for three quarters.
The Arkansas offensive line is one of the most experienced in the country and has been solid all season. However, they looked like a shell of themselves on Saturday.
Liberty had four sacks and 14 tackles for loss. FOURTEEN.
They were unable to create any sort of push up front and let a less-talented defense live in the backfield for three quarters. At one point, Rocket Sanders had nine carries for -16 yards.
All-around it was an abysmal effort offensively, but the offensive line play was probably the most disappointing.
● Quincey McAdoo Shines
My player of the game easily goes to freshman cornerback Quincey McAdoo.
He made two crucial plays that single-handedly put the Hogs in position for a chance to tie the game late in the fourth quarter.
The first play he made came in the third quarter with 5:37 left when Liberty was forced to punt at their own seven-yard line. McAdoo came flying off the edge unblocked and blocked the Liberty punt out of the back of the endzone for a safety. That cut Liberty’s lead down to 21-5, making it a two-possession game.
The next play McAdoo would make came a few possessions later when he was in at cornerback and jumped a route for an interception with 12:49 left in the game. Arkansas would score on the ensuing drive, thanks to McAdoo’s incredible defensive play to set that drive up.
Without the freshman receiver-turned-cornerback making both of those plays, Arkansas doesn’t even have a chance to tie the game at the end. I really hope we see more of McAdoo going forward.
● Special Teams Continue to be Special!
One area that hasn’t gotten a ton of attention this season is the special teams play for the Hogs this year.
Bryce Stephens’ punt return for a touchdown against Missouri State was in the spotlight earlier this season, but the special teams play has been really solid all year. Give special teams coach Scott Fountain credit again for bringing the house at the right time against Liberty, allowing for McAdoo to get the block for a safety.
Cam Little has been automatic since his rough outing against Texas A&M and there hasn’t been any mistakes from that group all season. Special teams are usually brought up when there is a negative light to shine, but I thought I would shine a positive light on that group this week.
They’ve been solid all season long, and I really hope we continue to see them continue to make plays in crucial moments.
The best way to get rid of the hurt from Saturday’s loss to Liberty would be upsetting the No. 7 ranked LSU Tigers and keeping “The Boot” in Fayetteville. LSU is fresh off a huge win over Alabama last Saturday, making them due for a letdown of sorts.
Kickoff is scheduled for another early 11:00 a.m. (CT) and will be broadcast on ESPN.