KNWA morning weatherman Josh Rugger and I have been doing a news segment each week on weather related games in Arkansas’ past. This week the story wasn’t about the weather but a game botched so badly by SEC refs that the entire crew was suspended for the rest of the season. A year later head coach Bobby Petrino and quarterback Ryan Mallett were still fuming over a 23-20 loss to Florida when a reporter tried to joke about it. Mallett walked out of an interview with her. Petrino called her out in one of his daily press conferences.
With Arkansas headed to Florida this week at 0-5 against the Gators in Gainesville I suggested to Rugger that it was way past time for payback and this was the game when it would happen. But as the Hogs headed toward the end of what looked like another heartbreaking loss it appeared that I was gonna have to eat those words. There were a least two highly questionable decisions made by the refs that had the potential to, once again, give the game to the Gators.
Thankfully I was wrong. A team that had found virtually every way possible to lose close SEC games week after week suddenly flipped the script. The Hogs’ running game sparked late behind the two guys who were being touted in the preseason but had not done much as a tandem. Rocket Sanders and K.J. Jefferson gave Arkansas in the lead with 2:34 to go on a ten-play, 84 yard drive. However, an Arkansas defense that had been solid for much of the contest appeared to be gassed. The Gators responded with a three-play, 72 yard drive to regain the lead.
Yes, Kenny Guiton’s debut as Arkansas’ Interim offensive coordinator had largely been a success but now it was the defense that could not deliver a win. This team is snake bit, I was thinking.
After another critical drive by the offense Arkansas got close enough to tie the game up on a 49 yard Cam Little field goal. Florida then missed on a field goal of its own and in overtime Arkansas’ defense came up big forcing the Gators to kick a field goal while the Hogs responded with a touchdown to win it.
It wasn’t just any touchdown. Guiton dialed up a short pass from Jefferson to little used receiver Tyron Broden who was open in the endzone.
Creative play calling.
Afterward, on Twitter, (X) one of my followers suggested that the win was nice but not enough to guarantee Pittman his job for 2024, therefore any suggestion that Guiton had nailed down the OC job was also premature.
I guess anything is possible but I was told that even after the Mississippi State loss Pittman was unlikely to be fired because of the size of his buyout and a few other factors. A win in a place Arkansas had never won with a first time offensive play caller that he selected, over a team that was unbeaten at home this season all but assures that Pittman will get the chance to promote Guiton. Especially with the offensive numbers Arkansas put up. The rushing game reappeared with 226 yards on the ground. Jefferson threw for 255 more.
Pittman was clearly relieved and happy that his close-but-no-cigar Razorbacks had finally nailed down an elusive SEC win but he also stressed a need for his guys to come back home and play this way in front of their own fans.
For now, at least, a bowl bid is still possible for this team courtesy of a win in the same Swamp that had Petrino, Mallett and thousands of Hog fans steaming back in 2009. I have to believe that Mallett was looking down from above and smiling on this day. Payback had finally arrived.