FAYETTEVILLE – In their bye week some veterans of struggling Arkansas Razorbacks teams past were asked after Tuesday’s practice to reflect on the difference in their present and future.
The Hogs wallowed 2-10, 2-10 overall/ 0-8, 0-8 in the SEC during the Chad Morris regime of 2018 and 2019.
Through an entirely SEC schedule with three of the four teams ranked No. 4, No. 16 and No. 13 when they played them and the Ole Miss team they defeated last Saturday amassing 647 yards on Alabama the week before, the Sam Pittman coached Hogs stand 2-2.
They should be 3-1, the college football world acknowledges of the egregious officiating error in Auburn, Ala. voiding an Arkansas fumble recovery and enabling then 13th-ranked Auburn kicking a 30-28 game-winning field goal.
Last year’s Hogs likely would have stayed season burned by such an unjustly devastating close but no cigar.
This year’s Hogs followed by intercepting six passes and beating Ole Miss at Reynolds Razorback Stadium. Earlier they upset then No. 16 Mississippi State in Starkville and opened leading No. 4 Georgia midway through the third quarter.
Could anybody on the previous two Arkansas teams expect that?
“This is what we expected,” Arkansas junior receiver Mike Woods said. “We should have never been 2-10.
We never expect to be the laughingstock. We’re supposed to beat these teams. This is what we expect. That’s our mindset going into this year.”
A mindset they cherish.
“It’s just fun to win, Woods said. “Nobody’s feeling bad. Nobody’s arguing. When you lose all season, that’s when stuff like that gets magnified. But when you’re winning, it’s good.”
Growing up in Fayetteville, senior left offensive guard Ty Clary remembers some banner Razorbacks teams under Houston Nutt and Bobby Petrino then lettering for three totaled 1-23 in the SEC.
“Going through the struggles the team went through, it (this season) is so exciting,” Clary said. “Especially for my class, some of the guys I came in with. Everybody’s so happy with the wins we’ve already gotten. But now it’s like, ‘We have to get more.’ You want more. No one’s satisfied.”
Senior linebacker Hayden Henry of Little Rock and Pulaski Academy knew Razorbacks tradition from his family, father Mark Henry, played for Ken Hatfield’s Razorbacks 1989 Southwest Conference champions, and older brother and current NFL star Hunter Henry won the 2016 Mackey Award as a tight end for Bret Bielema’s 8-5 Razorbacks.
Knowing all that made it harder to swallow the past three years.
“I just think everyone’s so fed up you know of being Arkansas: The bottom feeder,” Henry said. “I think it’s been great getting to win some games to realize that ‘Wow, we have talent on this team. We have guys that can play at a really high level.”
Odom as coordinator gets deserved acclaim but the cornerbacks also praise cornerbacks coach Sam Carter and the defensive linemen praise D-line coach Derrick Leblanc, and Henry praised linebackers coach Rion Rhoades.
“Coach Rhoades, he’s a great teacher,” Henry said. That’s what you are when you’re a coach. You’re a professor, and we’re his students. He’s tough on us and I love that. I don’t want a coach that’s going to go out to practice and baby me every day. He pushes us like no other.”
So far as the team’s linebacker supersub, Henry has seen Arkansas linebacker Bumper Pool pushed to be SEC Defensive Player of the Week and Bronko Nagurski Award Player of the Week for his 20 tackles against Mississippi State.
Then, with Henry subbing for injured weakside linebacker Pool and excelling in his own right compiling eight tackles and a pass breakup against Ole Miss, Henry marveled watching postgame TV. Only then did he realize senior middle linebacker that aside from the game-sealing 23-yard interception touchdown return, middle linebacker Grant Morgan made 19 tackles.
Greenwood’s Morgan is this week’s SEC Defensive Player of the Week and also the Chuck Bednarik Player of the Week.
“I didn’t know how well he played because I was out there with him,” Henry said. “You know, you lose track of the plays, and then I go on ESPN after the game and he’s got 19 tackles and a sack and a pick-6, and I’m just like, ‘Good Lord! I mean, this is unbelievable!’
Does this team worry the bye week halts momentum before the next game Oct. 31 at nationally No. 7 Texas A&M?
“I think the open date came at a great time.” Mike Woods replied. “People have been trying to put us on a high horse and stuff like that, but it gives us some time to come back down to earth and take some time off. Get our bodies right. Get some people back and just focus.”