FAYETTEVILLE — University of Arkansas coach Sam Pittman would rather not be asked or hear anything more or read or hear any furtherabout the officiating decision that marred what could have been a spectacular upset of No. 13 Auburn on Saturday. A word of advice to Pittman: Skip this story and the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette’s report from talking to SEC supervisor of officials John McDaid and go check out the Razorback Report in today’s paper.
The final scoreboard read Auburn 30, Arkansas 28, but many Razorback fans will always think an asterisk with a win attached should have been credited to their team.
Had the Razorbacks held on, they would be 2-1 heading into Saturday’s SEC West showdown with Ole Miss. Instead, an officiating mistake in ruling Auburn quarterback Bo Nix’s backward spike as an incomplete forward pass with 30 seconds remaining in the game allowed Auburn to retain possession and kick a game-winning field goal with seven seconds remaining.
Pittman thinks his players will go through the necessary mental exercises to flush the foul memory of the botched call to prepare for the Rebels.
“I truly believe that our players will react like we do,” said Pittman, echoing his remarks from last week when he thought the players would quickly move on from their 21-14 win at No. 16 Mississippi State, which snapped the program’s 20-game SEC losing streak. “We’re going to show them the good, the bad and the ugly today, learn from our mistakes, get better from our mistakes. We’ve got a lot of work to do.
“We didn’t tackle well. We didn’t play special teams well. We didn’t start the game well on offense. We have to get those things fixed to win an SEC football game, and that’s what we’re going to go after today.”
A reporter asked Pittman on his Monday video conference how he could keep his players from feeling sorry for themselves if everyone is saying the Razorbacks were wronged.
“Well, I’d ask y’all to quit writing about it and talking about it,” Pittman said. “That would help. You know what, no matter what happened, the outcome was the outcome, and we can’t change it.
“Even if there was a mistake made, even if whatever, we can’t change it. I never spoke to our team one time in the locker room about officiating, not once, and will not today. It is what it is. We’re 1-2 instead of 2-1, and we have to go play a heck of an Ole Miss team.
“I’m not going to mention it to them because what good is it going to do? So we’re going to leave it at that.”
Pittman also brought up a facet of the young season that has amazed many observers: That the Razorbacks have already led No. 4 Georgia at halftime, have upset No. 16 Mississippi State on the road and nearly had a road win at well-regarded Auburn despite playing without a long list of injured players.
“We’re pretty beat up as a football team,” Pittman said. “I love the way they compete. You know they don’t say a word about who’s hurt, who’s out. Who’s not there. The next guy goes in there and he plays his heart out.”
Two good examples are tailback Trelon Smith and slot receiver De’Vion Warren. Playing in place of Rakeem Boyd and Treylon Burks, respectively, Smith and Warren combined for 255 yards and three touchdowns against Auburn.
Two more examples: walk-on cornerback Hudson Clark and true freshman Khari Johnson. Clark started in place of the injured Montaric Brown on Saturday, and Johnson came in after an injury to cornerback Jerry Jacobs. Both performed well.
“We’ve had a lot of people not play this year,” Pittman said. “And nobody says a word about it, including me. And I shouldn’t have said anything about it now. The bottom line is we have practiced four-deep and our players have been ready to play.
“I’ve just been really proud of them. I’m happy with the direction the program’s headed. Very disappointed we weren’t able go win, but happy with where the program’s headed.”
Some of the Razorbacks statistics aren’t pretty, particularly rushing offense, time of possession, allowing two blocked punts and penalties in the kicking game. However, they are competitive in spite of the flaws.
“I’m a believer, man,” Pittman said. “I believe in us Razorbacks, man. Am I nervous sometimes when they say, ‘So and so is not going, he’s not on the plane, he’s not on the plane.’ Yeah, it makes you a little nervous, but we prepare these guys.
“And more than anything, we let these kids know we believe in them and it gives them a confidence builder. And we do believe in them, but the key is, I think they’re just playing extremely hard. They know what they’re doing, they’re playing extremely hard, and we’re awful happy with their effort.“
Pittman said the Razorbacks will become bigger as the program advances under his watch.
“Right now, we’re getting hit and we’re getting hurt,” he said. “We have to obviously get in the weight room and get bigger, get stronger, because we’re breaking up a little bit. Teams are just much bigger than we are.
“I’m not saying they’re more physical, because half of our injuries is us injuring ourself by hitting somebody so hard. But obviously it’s a big man’s league, and we have to continue to get a little bit bigger in the weight room and also in recruiting.”