Clay Henry is the publisher and executive editor of Hawgs Illustrated. He is a voter for the Heisman Trophy and has been inducted into the Arkansas Sportswriters and Sportscasters Hall of Fame.
State of the Hogs:
Little validates Pittman's recruiting belief with biggest boot yet
Arkansas kicker Cam Little (29) kicks the game-winning field goal in overtime during a game against LSU on Saturday, Nov. 13, 2021, in Baton Rouge, La. The Razorbacks won 16-13.
Just in case anyone still wonders, there is a valid reason Arkansas coach Sam Pittman believes in awarding scholarships to place kickers.
Freshman Cam Little validated those beliefs for the second straight week to help Arkansas defeat LSU 16-13 in overtime before 98,772 at Tiger Stadium.
Little hit a 37-yard field goal after Montaric Brown’s pass interception in the end zone after LSU snapped a second-down play at the Razorbacks' 8-yard line. Freshman quarterback Garrett Nussmeier tried to beat Brown on a fade in the corner of the end zone, but the senior cornerback had perfect position.
The Hogs, favored by 3 points, were out-gained 308 to 283 in total yards by the blitzing Tigers. But they took advantage of three LSU turnovers —including two interceptions thrown by Nussmeier — to rally from a 10-3 halftime deficit.
Pittman pointed out on his weekly radio show on Wednesday night that the 31-28 victory over Mississippi State is the reason he gives kickers scholarships. He has resisted much bragging on Little throughout the season, but he succumbed to the ultimate compliment after the Moore, Okla., product hit from 48, 27 and 37 yards.
More from WholeHogSports: Full coverage from Arkansas' win over LSU
“He’s Mr. Automatic,” Pittman said on the SEC Network postgame interview.
In his session with the full media, Pittman said, “I call him Little Cam. And, yes, I know his name is Cam Little. He’s got a big leg. How nice is it to have a kicker if you put it in the middle of the field, he’s going to go make it? He doesn’t feel pressure.”
Indeed, that would seem to apply. The 27-yarder gave the Hogs a fourth-quarter lead after Pittman called a fake field goal that holder Reid Bauer took 23 yards.
The Hogs sputtered on offense throughout, but quarterback KJ Jefferson protected the ball while dodging blitzers. He completed 18 of 25 passes for 142 yards.
LSU stuffed the Arkansas run in the first half by loading the box on early downs, often playing a five-man front against the Kendal Briles spread. It was effective.
Pittman said the Hogs did “a little better in the second half,” but noted the only way to beat the LSU blitz was for Jefferson to dodge the free man.
“We struggled but KJ made enough plays,” Pittman said.
The Hogs committed nine penalties for 64 yards, including critical mistakes in the fourth quarter to stall drives. They were called for illegal formation on a successful fourth-and-1 dive by Johnson with just more than four minutes left in regulation.
Of the LSU defensive strategy of a heavy box, Pittman said, “They rushed one more than we could block. We call it an even box because we’ve got the quarterback to run the ball. But it’s hard to block when they bring one more than you’ve got. We didn’t have enough time to throw it.”
Jefferson said, “I knew they were bringing pressure and I’ve got to make one miss. I’m accounting for that one.”
Jefferson took no chances in the overtime after Brown’s interception. He rolled right for four yards, to the left side for two, then centered the ball on a quick dart behind his right tackle on third down.
“We were going to run it twice and if we didn’t get a first down, we were going to center it,” Pittman said.
The Hogs got 39 of their 67 rushing yards in the first half against an ultra-soft LSU scheme in the last 36 seconds. Trelon Smith made 28 on the last play of the half, a play launched with 4 seconds left with most of the Tigers 50 yards deep.
The Tigers had played vanilla schemes for their first eight games, but used an open date ahead of a 20-14 loss to Alabama to retool with safety and weakside linebacker blitzes. They used them on passing downs against the Hogs.
Jefferson was sacked twice. There were two screen passes for lost yardage against blitzes.
After trading field goals in the opening quarter, LSU got the only touchdown of the first half when Nussmeier led a three-play, 40-yard drive. Trey Palmer’s 10-yard punt return after a 36-yard Sam Loy punt provided the short field.
Tyrion Davis-Price made 11 yards before Nussmeier escaped blitz pressure to find tight end Jack Bech in the back of the end zone for a 29-yard pass on the first play of the second quarter. Bech was shielded by safety Malik Chavis, called for pass interference. Bech gave a little shove to provide separation.
The only time the Hogs threatened in the first half came on their first possession. Freshman speedster Bryce Stephens, subbing as punt returner, rolled 26 yards to the Arkansas 47. Regular return man Nathan Parodi was left at home in concussion protocol.
Jefferson passed to tight end Blake Kern for 18 yards, but the drive stalled at the LSU 30 where Little booted a 48-yard field goal that had plenty to spare into a light north breeze. It was 3-0 Arkansas at 11:59 of the first quarter.
LSU came up empty on a 12-play drive, then Nussmeier entered to lead a 28-yard, 9-play march for a 34-yard Cade York field goal.
The Tigers made few mistakes in the first half, but made only 136 total yards. They lost a fumble on a botched trick play to end one threat, but were perfect in the kicking game to win the field position battle.
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