FAYETTEVILLE — Sam Pittman has Arkansas Football being recognized nationally after just 14 games coaching.
The Hogs went 3-7 in 2020 against an All-SEC schedule. Some might not have been impressed with that until they realize Arkansas had won one conference game in the three years prior to Pittman arriving. The four years this season in that many games already equals how many the Hogs won in the two years combined before he become coach.
Some fans have said they knew Pittman would turn the program around, but they are surprised it happened this fast. Pittman has the players trusting him and playing with no quit in them is one reason for the turnaround.
Also, a couple of more reasons are among the quicker than expected turnaround. Arkansas signed three transfer defensive linemen last season. Two from Missouri, Tre Williams and Markell Utsey, along with Illinois State’s John Ridgeway.
In addition, Pittman had players such as linebackers Drew Morgan and Hayden Henry, wide receiver Tyson Morris, tight end Blake Kern, offensive tackle Myron Cunningham, linebacker Deon Edwards, running back TJ Hammonds, punter Sam Loy, offensive lineman Ty Clary and defensive end Dorian Gerald return for an extra senior season. Gerald was later injured and lost for the season.
But how much did these transfers and the super seniors help make this transition quicker?
“A lot,” Pittman said. “I think when you have kids come back, there’s two-fold there. Obviously, you have some experience coming back but you want them to come back better. I think our kids that played last year are playing better than they did last year right now. The portal is a scary deal. I think the one thing you want to do when you go in the portal is you want to see kids who’ve played at this type of level. With Utsey and Tre Williams, we saw them. We saw them play in the SEC. Now Ridgeway was a different story. He was at a smaller university. A good university and played really good ball. We went on his athleticism and his size but we had no idea about the kid’s heart. He’s one of the finest kids you’ll ever meet, and he plays hard. So, those were all big hits for us because that’s where we needed help on the D-line as far as depth goes and being able to rotate. I think that’s really helped us.”
Morgan also talked on this topic Saturday since it’s obvious the seniors are going to leave the program in much better shape than when most of the other players arrived.
“Yeah, wins like this are why you come back,” Morgan said. “Like, this is why I came back. It’s why Hayden came back. We saw what this could have been. We saw this was a possibility from last year’s team with Pittman and the crew.
“I’ll tell you right now, there’s not a single person in that locker room that’s a super senior that says, aw, dang, I wish I would have left. So I’m excited to be able to be a part of this group that’s changing the history or changing how the momentum was going in Arkansas football and how we’re starting a new path.
“I’m excited to be able to be in that spot to say younger guys, this is how you win. This is how you continue to win. And we have to continue to do that. Our job is not done. We are 4-0, but we have a big test next week. So we’re going to celebrate this tonight and be able to hang out. And then worry about the next win tomorrow.”