FAYETTEVILLE – The Arkansas Razorbacks recovered from the first covid-19 rescheduling affliction that the SEC cast upon them.
Saturday morning vs. the LSU Tigers at Reynolds Razorback Stadium will determine if they recover from the second one.
Back in the summer covid-19 concerns caused the SEC cancelling everyone’s four nonconference games off their 12-game schedule.
The 14-team league split into SEC West and SEC East had six games within its division and two cross division games scheduled and then added two cross division games for a 10-game schedule.
Eyebrows raised as Arkansas, 0-8, 0-8 in the SEC in 2018 and 2019 under the since fired Chad Morris regime, was beset not with just one but the two beasts of the East: Georgia and Florida.
Paving a smoother road for one or even both of the East’s beasts to reach the lucrative 4-team postseason playoff for the national championship it seemed.
Arkansas in Sam Pittman’s head coaching debut took its lumps, 37-10 in the Sept. 26 season opener at Reynolds Razorback Stadium against Georgia.
But defensively the Razorbacks played extremely well, leading 10-5 with 8:25 left in the third quarter before vanquished mainly by Georgia’s nationally renowned defense and special teams.
Florida’s nationally sixth-ranked Gators, the strength opposite of Georgia leading strongly offensive with Heisman Trophy candidate quarterback Kyle Trask, chomped a 63-35 victory last Saturday night at their Swamp in Gainesville, Fla.
Underdog Arkansas used extending Georgia midway through the second half as confidence building fuel to stun then 16th-ranked Mississippi State, 21-14 the following Saturday in Starkville, Miss.
It broke a 20-game SEC skid since dating back to its final three league games of the 2017 Bret Bielema regime.
Since then the 3-4 Hogs have defeated Ole Miss, 33-21 and Tennessee, 24-13 and were deprived by an egregious officiating error of a 28-27 victory at currently No. 23 Auburn.
What should have been declared an Auburn lateral recovered by Arkansas was prematurely whistled an incomplete pass. It enabled Auburn maintaining possession and kick a 30-28 game-winning field goal with seven seconds left.
Arkansas’ other loss was 42-31 to the now nationally No. 5 Texas A&M Aggies in College Station, Texas.
From each loss, the always underdog Razorbacks recovered winning their next game.
While the Arkansas defense regroups from the stunning six touchdown passes thrown by Florida Heisman Trophy candidate quarterback Kyle Trask, well maybe not unfathomably stunning since Trask threw four touchdowns each of his previous four games, the Hogs’ offense has momentum much like their defense did post Georgia.
Arkansas matched Florida’s 208 rushing yards. Graduate transfer Feleipe Franks, the former Florida quarterback until his third game 2019 season-ending broken ankle opened the door for backup Trask’s opportunity to stardom, excelled for Arkansas.
Still beloved in Gainesville well-wished postgame by Gators including Trask and Coach Dan Mullen, put on a show of his own. He completed 15 of 19 for 250 yards and two touchdown bombs of 47 and 82 yards to receiver Mike Woods.
Barry Odom, Arkansas’ defensive coordinator and former Missouri head coach and associate head coach become temporary Saturday night head coach in Gainesville with Pittman back home in covid-19 quarantine, couldn’t have been prouder of his quarterback.
“You’re faced with everybody you grew up with, so to speak,” Odom said of the Floridian come home vs. his old Florida teammates and coaches. “That takes some tremendous mental toughness and I’m so proud of the way he handled it and the way he competed. I’m so happy he’s our quarterback.”
And while he couldn’t be happy with the defense’s struggle, Odom cited the resolve this team has shown.
“We’ll regroup,” Odom said. “I talked to our team inside about life is made of a series of moments not defined by one single moment. Just like we won’t be defined by this moment. We’ll be defined on how we respond to this. Our guys will be hungry to get back to work at home next Saturday against LSU.”
At the season’s outset, the reigning national champion LSU Tigers looked as overmatching or more so vs. Arkansas than Georgia, Florida, and currently No. 1 Alabama, still to come closing the season Dec. 5 in Fayetteville.
They don’t at present.
With quarterback injuries and immense losses in graduation and turned pro turnover from last year’s 15-0 national/SEC champions,
Coach Ed Orgeron’s Tigers are 2-3. Last week they were so stricken with covid-19 positive tests that last Saturday’s game with Alabama was postponed.
That’s their second covid postponement. Their first is set to be made up for Dec. 12 against Florida.
So while the Razorbacks seek to rebound, the Tigers quest just to play the game.