The focus shifts to getting stronger

FAYETTEVILLE — Regardless of Arkansas’ result in their yet-to-be-announced bowl game, the Razorbacks will have rueful memories of being passed by Mizzou.

The Missouri Tigers only beat Arkansas 29-27 last Friday in Columbia, Missouri, but physically “whipped our butts,” said Arkansas coach Sam Pittman.

Pittman was an offense coach for tens of years until he became head coach for the 2020 season and responded immediately to his line being topped in three of the last four games, most notably in Missouri.

Reports circulated Saturday morning that Pittman was firing strength coach Jamil Walker. The same walker that former Georgia offense coach Pittman proudly brought from Georgia, along with fellow assistant strength coach Ed Ellis.

Pittman constantly bragged about Walker, increasing Walker’s salary annually for bolstering the under-stretched offensive force inherited from Arkansas’ failed Chad Morris regime.

No praise for Pittman after the Colombia game.

“They passed us on both sides of the ball tonight,” Pittman said. “They had the more physical team tonight.”

Arkansas suffered seven sacks. The Hogs eight would have suffered better. Harassed quarterback KJ Jefferson threw an interception that led to a field goal by Mizzou while miraculously escaping would-be sacks.

“They hit us on the butt,” Pittman said. “That’s what happened. They did it in the running game, and they did it in the protection game. We were physically dominated, that’s what happened.”

Meanwhile, Mizzou quarterback Brady Cook rushed for 18 carries for 138 yards and completed 16 of 26 for 242 yards and 1 touchdown. He was released twice.

“I thought Brady Cook would be the difference in the game for Missouri,” Pittman told the Razorback Sports Network on the radio. “We couldn’t stop in the first half.”

The Arkansas defense adjusted in the second half, holding Mizzou on a touchdown and a field goal. But Arkansas, miraculously leading 21-20 at the half despite being overplayed, accumulated just six second-half points on two field goals from Cam Little. Little kicked his second after the Hogs advanced by nothing three times, starting at the 2 with the first and the goal.

“We tried three times and were still with them both, and I decided (with 12:40 in the game) to shoot a field goal,” Pittman said. “I felt like we could stop them. Of course, we never got back within field goal range after that.”

Two weeks earlier, in the 13-10 loss to SEC West champion LSU, Pittman went fourth-ranked and goal from LSU 2 and did not convert.

It turned out that a small field goal would have sent the game into overtime 13-13.

After Arkansas’ surprise 9-4 season in 2021, when so much broke right, damned if you do and damned if you don’t mean much of that 6-6 campaign. Arkansas lost 3 games by 2 points and 1 game by 3 points.

Many fine lines separate these 9-4 and 6-6 teams. Apparently, Pittman first points to strength and endurance for a line that doesn’t end well.