FAYETTEVILLE – At Thursday evening’s writing, Arkansas’ Sam Pittman era would open with a first as the second-year head coach’s 4-2, overall/1-2 in the SEC Razorbacks clash with the Auburn Tigers, 4-2, 1-1, Saturday at Reynolds Razorback Stadium.
Kickoff is 11 a.m. accommodating CBS television for Saturday’s SEC West game and University of Arkansas homecoming.
The Pittman first? After inheriting in 2020 a program under the previous Chad Morris regime gone 0-8, 0-8 in the SEC, Pittman after last year’s surprising 3-7 in the SEC season and upsetting then No. 15 Texas and then No. 7 Texas A&M this season, finds Arkansas favored in an SEC game for the first time since 2017.
Las Vegas outlets Thursday generally favored the Hogs by four over first-year Coach Bryan Harsin’s Tigers.
“I’d rather be favored than 22-point underdogs,” Pittman said when asked about the Hogs finally favored. “I don’t know what it means to be honest with you, but we are favored against Auburn. So we’ve come a little ways, you know. We’ll find out.”
Still as the home team the Hogs aren’t favored by much. That’s to be expected.
While Arkansas is ranked No. 17 and Auburn unranked, the Tigers have lodged in the Top 25 throughout the season until thumped, 34-10 by No. 1 Georgia last Saturday in Auburn, Ala.
Georgia waxed then No. 8 Arkansas, 37-0 two Saturdays ago. Arkansas only dropped to No. 13 on the strength of its victories over Texas and Texas A&M and just swapped places with then No. 17 Ole Miss off losing a down to a foiled 2-point conversion, 52-51 shootout to the Rebels last Saturday in Oxford, Miss.
Auburn’s only other loss besides to Georgia is 28-20 at nationally No. 7 Big Ten power Penn State.
“Auburn’s only two losses have been to two Top 7 teams in the country,” Pittman said. “They have a really, really good football team.”
A team posing many of the same offensive problems that Ole Miss vexed Arkansas with last week. Mobile Rebels quarterback Matt Corral wore the Hogs out passing for 287 yards without an interception and rushing 94 yards complementing the combined 221 rushing yards of running backs Henry Parrish and Snoop Conner.
Auburn sports experienced Houdini-like with scrambling escape-artist run-pass quarterback Bo Nix and explosive running backs Tank Bigsby, 146 rushing yards vs. Arkansas last year, and Jarquez Hunter behind an offensive line returning four starters, plus veteran receivers complemented by All-American place-kicker Anders Carlson.
The Tigers play traditionally solid “Auburn defense,” Pittman said, paced by All-SEC safety Smoke Monday.
Arkansas’ defense started hotter than Auburn’s but, hurt by poor field offense that its offense couldn’t achieve, got run over by Georgia.
Last week Ole Miss abused the Hogs defense scoring 52 points and amassing 611 yards total offense, with 324 running and 287 yards passing without a turnover.
Defensive coordinator Barry Odom has spent the week analyzing everything that started so well operating out of a 3-man front to the recent deterioration abetted by the injuries of playing six games in six weeks which also has been Auburn’s schedule.
“There will be some corrections and changes and different things of that nature,” Pittman vowed.
Offensively the Razorbacks rebounded from the shutout administered by Georgia and the Bulldogs’ nationally No. 1 defense to amass 676 yards total offense in Oxford.
Third-year sophomore Arkansas KJ Jefferson, 25 of 35 passing for 326 yards and three touchdowns and three touchdowns among 20 carries for 85 yards rushing, played every bit as well in Oxford as Ole Miss’ Corral, regarded as a strong Heisman Trophy candidate.
“Wasn’t he competitive?” Pittman marveled.
For the Razorbacks, fueled by a Reynolds Razorback Stadium sellout crowd the Sept. 9 night they beat Texas, and obviously, starting with successive illegal procedure penalties, by the 93,000 sellout crowd at Georgia, Saturday marks the first Fayetteville game after three weeks playing Texas A&M at the neutral site Dallas Cowboys AT&T Stadium then at Georgia and at Ole Miss.
The Hogs have sold enough tickets potentially to rival the volume numbers attracted against Texas but it’s the volume they produce that’s Pittman’s premium for an 11 a.m. kickoff.
“Anybody that went to Georgia that was 11 o’clock (CDT but noon at Georgia’s EDT),” Pittman said. “They had 110 decibels. I don’t think our fanbase is into excuses, I think they’ll be there. I believe they can make a difference in the football game.”
So far the difference makes Arkansas a first-time slight favorite.