Wally Hall is the managing sports editor for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. A graduate of the University of Arkansas-Little Rock after an honorable discharge from the U.S. Air Force, he is a member and past president of the Football Writers Association of America, member of the U.S. Basketball Writers Association, past president and current executive committee and board member of the Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame, and voter for the Heisman Trophy. He has been awarded Arkansas Sportswriter of the Year 10 times and has been inducted into the Arkansas Sportswriters and Sportscasters Hall of Fame.
Like it is:
What a wonderful week to cheer for Hogs
Always friendly, the young man at the bank drive-thru window closed the transaction with a bigger-than-usual smile and: “How about them Hogs!’
It has been that kind of week for the first time in too long.
Arkansas’ win on the road over Mississippi State may mean the program has turned a corner. It hasn’t crossed the intersection, but it can at least see it from it’s current location.
Even the biggest skeptics are becoming convinced Sam Pittman wasn’t just the right choice, he was the only choice.
That could be taken literally, since several prospective coaches — including three who ended up in the SEC — were afraid the program was like the Titanic, on the bottom of the ocean with nowhere to go.
Pittman has done everything right so far.
He’s made no promise other than the Razorbacks will play hard.
And that they have, even in a 37-10 loss to Georgia, which was a more lopsided score than game against one of the best defenses in the country. A defense that held Auburn to two field goals last weekend.
The Tigers were held to 15 first downs, two by penalty, and a total of 216 yards.
Everyone says you can’t compare scores and games, but if you did, the Razorbacks had 280 yards of offense and scored a touchdown against Georgia.
Which brings us to this: Where is the Razorbacks program today?
It is 1-1 and in a six-way tie for second place in the SEC West, which is a whole lot better than the past two seasons.
However, the corner that was turned in Starkville, Miss, leads to Auburn, Ala., where things could be different.
Gus Malzahn and his football team will be almost as mad as their fan base.
Malzahn is from Arkansas and spent a year coaching on the Razorback staff — albeit it the most tumultuous season in school history, and he was one-fourth of the equation. Since becoming Auburn’s head coach, he’s 6-1 against the Hogs.
His margin of victory averages 29 points a game, and four times he has hung more than 50 on the Razorbacks.
Chad Morris — Malzahn’s new offensive coordinator whose unit is averaging just 17.5 points per game so far — may want a little roasted pig, too, after getting fired after less than two seasons at Arkansas.
Morris is a really nice man, but not everyone is cut out to be a head coach in the SEC.
So there’s that added drama, which is absolutely nothing compared to what will be going on in Oxford, Miss., on Saturday when Nick Saban and Alabama take on his former offensive coordinator and sometimes critic Lane Kiffin and the Ole Miss Rebels.
Arkansas faces a much bigger challenge than Alabama.
Malzahn seems to have the Razorbacks circled on his schedule, and the only time he lost to them was in a rare Hog shootout, 54-46 in four overtimes, in 2015.
Pittman has made a point this week to remind everyone it is hard to win road games in the SEC, and he has put the win over Mississippi State on the shelf beside the past two seasons.
Pittman hasn’t been on the job a year, yet he’s backed up every single thing he’s said, such as improving and only looking to the future.
He’s also shown a genuine belief that this Razorback team has more talent than most thought.
They definitely have more heart than previously thought.
It was heart and soul, and a refuse-to-lose mentality, that broke the 20-game SEC losing streak Saturday. It may take all of that and more to get another road win in the SEC.
Still, this has been the best football week for the Razorback Nation in three years.
Have a comment on this story? Join the discussion or start a new one on the Forums.