FAYETTEVILLE — Arkansas will host FIU on Saturday night in Razorback Stadium in a game that carries much more importance than maybe thought when the 2023 season started.
Arkansas (3-7) is coming off back-to-back embarrassing showings in Razorback Stadium, three if you go back to BYU, and needs to get a win against FIU. Arkansas is 1-3 in Razorback Stadium this season. They defeated Kent State 28-6 and then lost to BYU 38-31, Mississippi State 7-3 and Auburn 48-10. In between the Mississippi State and Auburn losses, Arkansas went to The Swamp and won over Florida for the first time in school history 39-36 in overtime.
FIU (4-6) is a huge underdog in the game, but the pressure is all on Arkansas not them. A loss to FIU would drastically hurt any chance Sam Pittman has at returning to coach in 2024.
“Well, we got a lot to fix,” Pittman said Monday. “So I’m going to go today about what we did wrong and how we can fix it. Our kids probably hear and read the same thing that the recruits do. I’m not going to address it because I don’t think it’s as severe as y’all do. But if they ask me about it, then I’m going to explain about that, but I don’t have time really to explain about my job security, to be honest with you. We’ve got to beat FIU and that’s an honest answer.
“So, if I was worried about me personally, I think it would take away from what we’re trying to get done here. I’ve got a job to do, I get paid to do it. I need to do a better job, so I can’t really sit around worried about my job security or me. I think it’s a much bigger issue with the media than it is with myself.”
Regardless of Pittman’s job security, Arkansas needs to win and play well in a Fayetteville game. Here’s five keys to making that happen.
Don’t Play Down to Level of Competition
I know Arkansas says they aren’t a logo team, but through the years not sure if that is true. The Hogs blasted Western Carolina 56-13 to open the 2023 season, but that was maybe the exception rather than the rule. The truth is Arkansas has struggled with non-SEC teams many times and that happened long before Pittman arrived at Arkansas. It took a late rally for Arkansas to defeat Missouri State 38-27 and lost to Liberty 21-19. In 2019, no one can forget the Chad Morris jewels against San Jose State 31-24 and 45-19 to Western Kentucky. Club Dub got shut down for good after Ty Storey and Western Kentucky blasted Morris’ team. Morris had others such as Colorado State and North Texas. Bret Bielema’s best team was 2015 and even then they lost to Toledo 16-12 in Little Rock. Toledo was a good team, but they had no business beating the Hogs. A near disaster was averted when Bielema’s last team put together a huge rally to down Coastal Carolina 39-38 in Razorback Stadium. That Coastal Carolina team entered the game 1-7 and ended up 3-9 on the season. Bielema had others along the way. The only point in bringing those games up prior to Pittman is to show Arkansas has a history of playing down to the competition and that can’t happen Saturday night. It just can’t.
Get The Offense Going
The offense looked good against Florida and anything but good against Mississippi State and Auburn. The Hogs need Kenny Guiton to dial up some plays and keep FIU off balance much like he did against the Gators. I suspect both KJ Jefferson and Jacolby Criswell will get some action at quarterback on Saturday. The perfect situation would be Jefferson and the offense roll the first half, he breaks what records are remaining and then Criswell gets some second-half reps. That is the perfect situation and this season has been anything but perfect so it’s anyone’s guess how the rotation at quarterback, if there is one, goes. The offense needs to get rolling on Saturday night and bury the underdog early in the game.
Play Complete Game
Last week, the offense, defense and special teams all were out of sync. Arkansas needs all three units, and not just the offense, clicking on Saturday night. Both the defense and special teams have been pretty good this season until the Auburn game. Arkansas struggled on defense the second half against LSU, but Jayden Daniels can do that to any team. The special teams had some bad moments against BYU with two short punts and a missed field goal. But those units have played good enough most games for Arkansas to win and on Saturday Pittman needs all three units playing well. Arkansas has superior talent to FIU and shouldn’t struggle against them.
Win Third Down on Both Sides of Ball
On offense keep drives going on third down and get off the field on defense when it’s third down. Neither worked for Arkansas last week, but one of the reasons it didn’t work the Hogs couldn’t win first down on either side of the ball. Auburn had second and short or third and short all day. Arkansas couldn’t do anything positive on first down thus faced a third-and-long situation virtually all game. Have explosive plays on offense against a weaker FIU team and dominate from the start.
Avoid Turnovers, Excessive Penalties
I was tempted to go with play with energy here, but I feel that should be covered in all of the above. To accomplish the other things on this list it will be very important the Hogs play with energy. They definitely don’t need to give life to FIU with turnovers, possible short field, and shoot themselves in foot with penalties (see BYU game). The Hogs need to play a clean game with no turnovers and keep the penalties at five or fewer.