By Otis Kirk
FAYETTEVILLE — Arkansas remained winless in Columbia on Friday with a 29-27 loss to Missouri.
The Razorbacks led 21-20 at halftime, but couldn’t put together much offense in the second half, settling for two field goals. Now, Arkansas will await a bowl bid which will come on Sunday.
Prior to that, Sam Pittman will do exit interviews with all his players. The transfer portal opens on Dec. 5 and all schools will be hit hard by players exiting for what they hope are greener pastures.
“Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday we have exit meetings with the kids,” Pittman said. “Without a doubt, there’ll be some portal action and all that kind of stuff — us and everybody else in the country. And then you just have to figure it out. It’s there for a reason and you just have to figure out, obviously, who wants to stay with the program and who wants to transfer out. They have their own reasons and things of that nature. We’ll visit with them and try to keep the ones that we need to keep and things of that nature.”
The Hogs have seen three players leave the program in recent days. Redshirt senior wide receiver Warren Thompson was the first. He opted to leave when he was moved down the depth chart after seeing extensive action in 2021. True freshman running back James Jointer announced on Monday he was going to enter the portal. Then nickel back Myles Slusher quit the team this past week and announced Sunday he was entering the transfer portal.
With a contributor like Thompson and starter Slusher leaving, are there any worries other key players could opt to depart?
“Oh, I’m sure there is,” Pittman said. “Heck, I don’t know. A lot goes on in the transfer portal, guys. It’s more than just playing time or not playing time. There’s a lot (that) goes on with it. You know, somebody gets ahold of them. A lot goes on about the transfer portal.”
It won’t just be disgruntled players entering the transfer portal who are in the news this week. Oklahoma transfer wide receiver Jadon Haselwood, a redshirt junior, topped Arkansas in receiving with 59 catches for 702 yards and three touchdowns. Pittman admits he wants Haselwood to return to the Hogs.
“He’s tough,” Pittman said. “I wish we could’ve held up a little bit more tonight so we could get some more balls to him. Haselwood’s a tough man, both mentally and physically. He’s much older than what his age (is), to be perfectly honest with you. The way he acts, the way he carries himself. He was a great addition and we’re certainly going to try to get him to come back. We’ll talk to him about his draft status, his draft grade. See if we can’t get him to come back.”
Like some other Razorbacks this season, Haselwood battled some injuries. Pittman went into more detail about the particular injury with Haselwood.
“Yeah, it’s been beat up for a while,” Pittman said. “Now it’s gotten a little bit better. There for a while, you saw, he was in green for quite a little bit. But it healed up a lot better the last four or five weeks.”
While Arkansas is 6-6 on the season it could have been much different with a break here or there. The Razorbacks lost four games, including the two-point loss to Missouri, by a field goal or less this season. Texas A&M beat them 23-21, LSU 13-10 and Liberty 21-19.
“Yeah, I hate it,” Pittman said. “Nobody likes to come in here and talk to y’all after you get beat. Nobody. I mean, so those close ones, they hurt. They actually hurt the worst because you’re sitting there and you’re thinking well maybe we could have done this, could have done this on one play to change the outcome of the game.
“I think Missouri has been in the same kind of boat this year to be perfectly honest with you. Their game at Auburn, their game with Georgia. Usually in a season they kind of even out but this season they haven’t. We lost every one of them that were a field goal or less.
“I don’t know. I’ll say this. I’m not disappointed in the effort these our guys gave or anything like that. We just physically got whipped tonight.”
Linebacker Drew Sanders, who is a finalist for the Butkus Award, finished with seven tackles, one for loss, a sack and two pass breakups against the Tigers. He agreed with Pittman about the tough losses.
“It’s frustrating when you lose these close games,” Sanders said. “We haven’t done a great job in them finishing as we should. We’ve just got to finish better.”
Sanders is a junior transfer from Alabama. He’s almost certain to leave Arkansas after one season and enter the 2023 NFL Draft where he could end going in the first round. After 12 games, Sanders has 103 tackles, 40 solo, 13.5 for loss, 9.5 sacks, one interception, five pass breakups, six quarterback hurries, a fumble recovery and three forced ones. He didn’t indicate he wouldn’t play in the bowl game following Friday’s loss.
“Especially with a game that was close like this, you look forward to the next game,” Sanders said. “We’re blessed to have another one, and we’ve got to get that bad taste out of our mouth for sure.”
Arkansas is likely to go to Memphis or Nashville, Tenn., Las Vegas or Houston for a bowl game.