FAYETTEVILLE — Sam Pittman was obviously not happy with the last call in Saturday night’s 30-28 loss to Auburn.
The Razorbacks battled back from down 17-0 early in the second quarter to take a 28-27 lead with 5:52 remaining in the game. After the Hogs survived a missed 34-yard field goal by Anders Carlson, they weren’t able to run out the clock since Auburn still had all three timeouts.
The Razorbacks gave the ball back to the Tigers with 2:06 remaining. Auburn took over at the Arkansas 45 following a punt return. As Auburn was trying to work its way into field goal position, Bo Nix on a third-and-one play at the Arkansas 19 mishandled the snap from center. He picked it up and then appeared to everyone except the referees on the field to spike it backward which is a fumble. After a long review, Nix was called for intentionally grounding, but it was ruled not a fumble. Carlson then kicked the winning 39-yard field goal.
Following the game, Pittman was asked what he was told by the referees about the play?
“I was told it wasn’t a backwards pass,” Pittman said.
What did you see on the play?
“(I saw) the same thing you did, the ball went backwards 6 yards,” Pittman said. “I saw a fumble, then a spike that went backwards 6 yards.”
Pittman talked about what he told the players after the heartbreaking loss.
“That I was proud of them, that they fought their butt off, that we’ve got a good football team, and that times of us going some place and embarrassing our fans and our football team are over,” Pittman said. “I was proud of them. That’s what I told them.”
Quarterback Feleipe Franks was outstanding for the Hogs. He completed 22 of 30 passes for 318 yards and four touchdowns. He also rushed 15 times for 28 yards.
“He played tough,” Pittman said. “He ran the ball well, got some much needed yardage, threw it well. He played tough, he got hit a few times in the run and obviously got sacked a few times. But he just gets better every week. I was really proud of him. I know he’s banged up a little bit, but it’d be hard not to be proud of his performance tonight. He did a nice job.”
He completed six passes for 81 yards to Mike Woods, six for 78 yards and a touchdown to Trelon Smith, five for 95 yards and two touchdowns to De’Vion Warren and Blake Kern had four grabs for 59 yards.
However, Arkansas got the ball back with 2:38 remaining in the game with a first down at its own 20 following a missed field goal by Carlson. Auburn still had all three timeouts, but Arkansas chose to run it three times and then punt. They forced Auburn to use all its timeouts, but left enough time on the clock for the Tigers to drive for another field goal that ultimately proved to be the game winner.
“The plan was to run the football and then make a decision on third down, to go win the game or not,” Pittman said. “The problem was it was third and 12 or 13 or something like that and I thought, ‘Well, maybe we’ll just get them to burn their last timeout and see if we can hold them to two minutes or so.’
“In hindsight, I don’t know if I’d have tried to win the game right there or not on third down. I would’ve because we didn’t win. But at the time I thought maybe we could get a nice punt and keep them out of field goal range. They did a nice job in their two-minute offense with no timeouts.”
But it was another game of problems with special teams. George Caratan had a punt blocked by Auburn’s Jordyn Peters that Barton Lester fell on for a touchdown and 7-0 lead with 4:32 left in the opening quarter. The Hogs also were called for illegal formation several times on punting situations.
“Well, they had us where we weren’t moved up on the line of scrimmage and that we were too deep,” Pittman said. “It was several times. We tried to correct it, but obviously we didn’t get it corrected. That, I believe, is the first time it’s been called this year, so we have to make sure that we’re moved up.
“And people are going to try to block every punt we freakin’ punt until we figure out how to freakin’ protect the punter. We need to do that. Gave up seven points, kicked the ball out of bounds, kicked the ball out of bounds whenever we’re trying to hold them to no field goal. We gotta get better.”
Once again the Hogs started a game slowly on offense. Auburn led 17-0 9:22 remaining in the first half. Then Arkansas seemed to hit the on switch on offense.
“I don’t know, we’ve seemed to start slow,” Pittman said. “We may need to change what we’re doing in warmups, to be honest with you. Just something that can get us started a little faster. We can wear down defenses and you continue to go fast, but we weren’t wearing them down in the first quarter. We’re wearing down our defense, so I don’t know. I’m really proud of the way the guys finished up the last three quarters, but I don’t know, we’ve got to put a handle on that along with our special teams problems.”
How much did the rainy, wet weather impact the first half?
“I don’t know that it really did,” Pittman said. “I mean, it was windy and rainy, but it didn’t affect Auburn. They came out and scored pretty fast, and of course, they didn’t score that much, we gave them 7 on the punt team, but I don’t know that it really affected us. I know we dropped a 2-point conversion down there that might have had something to do with the weather or something of that nature, but we talked about it all week. We knew what we were getting into. We didn’t execute early, and I think that was part of the reason we muffed the first extra point, as well.”
Following Arkansas’ first touchdown when Franks passed four yards to Woods the Hogs didn’t get the PAT off. It appeared the hold never completely got down for AJ Reed. The Hogs then tried a pair of two-point conversions following their next scores, but were neither were successful.
Arkansas (1-2) will now be at home on Saturday to host Ole Miss at 2:30 p.m. in Reynolds Razorback Stadium. The game will be televised on the SEC Network. Ole Miss and Alabama are tied at 21 at intermission in Oxford tonight.