The 2022 season is certainly something a lot of fans, media and the coaching staff wants to forget. It wasn’t a complete failure. But, it was way below where anyone expected the Razorbacks to be at the end of the season. The Hogs started off with a bang after a 7-point victory over a ranked Cincinnati team fresh off a College Football Playoff appearance.
Arkansas was able to push around South Carolina for much of the game last season. Even if the score was just 44-30, it was still an impressive win early in the season. Things seemed to unravel during the Missouri State matchup. Former head coach Bobby Petrino came to town with his FCS squad ready to upset a top 15 Arkansas squad on Family Weekend. The Razorbacks had to overcome a double-digit deficit in the second half to win that one. It was thought that was a Petrino factor than it was the realization of what was to come. The confidence this team went into became fractured and worsened each week.
What broke the dam of emotions was not the missed field goal by Cam Little against Texas A&M the next week. It was the fumble returned for a touchdown before halftime that simply blew up the chemistry. A missed game-winning field goal escalated the emotions.
Swagger was never regained following that two game stretch. Despite showing grit, fight and determination throughout the season, the Razorbacks didn’t have the 2021 magic. That’s something Pittman wants to regain in 2023.
Going into year four how confident is Sam Pittman with his team? At SEC Media Days he was quoted saying he had a dang good football team. How did he reply on Wednesday during his opening presser of the 2022 season?
“ I like the hunger of the team, and we’ve got some work to do on ourselves. I really like this team,” Pittman said. “Obviously for me, I’m still learning...Lord knows we owe it to the state of Arkansas to field a really good football team but probably not a lot of difference for year four than before.”
To simply put it, Pittman believes that this team can be every bit as good as last year’s squad. That roster was built to compete for an SEC Western Division title before injuries decimated their entire secondary. Pulling freshmen out of the wide receiver room not just to have enough bodies at practice but for the games. It was not a good situation and something that the head hog learned from and knew he needed to bolster to remain competitive in the country’s strongest conference.
Pittman adapted to the current landscape of the transfer portal even more by bringing in nearly 20 new faces with college experience. The portal class ended up being ranked as the 11th best in the country. They added starting talent at key positions while shoring up depth at others.
There was a soundbite created for interactions and engagements on social media of this quote above which could be turned into a negative light. Pittman is simply saying he has confidence in his team and that they have certain characteristics for a magical season mirroring the 2021 team. Players are motivated to go out and not just compete, but win ball games that they weren’t predicted to win.
One way Arkansas will return to their winning ways from 2021 will be the physicality displayed not only in the trenches. Football is a physical sport and it must be played that way in the secondary as much as the running back room. It’s the most important piece to a team and last year’s team was fragile in a physical and emotional sense.
“We’ve always tried to be physical and things of that nature,” Pittman said. “I think there’s more emphasis on details, certainly. Formationally, we’ll be quite a bit different. When you’re a check offense, and we will do that at times, you’re checking because you’re saying, ‘This is the best look, and we’re better than you.’ Guys that are in check offenses like we were at Georgia my entire time there, sometimes we were and sometimes it weren’t, but we believed that we were, and there’s a lot of emphasis put on the mind’s strong.
Lifting more weights with the mindset of not being pushed around in the trenches as they were in the latter half of 2022 was a huge focus this offseason. Pittman stated they lifted five days a week with cardio being included in the summer conditioning program. Not falling off in the second half, keeping the same intensity throughout a game was harped on. Even if the offensive and defensive philosophies have changed during the offseason it’s important to Pittman that they be mentally and physically sharp.
“Obviously we knew Dan was different than what KB was, but we needed to be more physical in all honesty,” said Pittman. “The most disappointing thing last year was not between the 20s, it was inside both 20s on offense and situation football. As good as we were, we were not very good in either one of those cases.”
The Razorbacks will kickoff their summer practices beginning on Thursday, August 3.