When Sam Pittman managed to talk his way into the Arkansas job in December, a lot of fans were despondent because Lane Kiffin and Mike Leach turned it down.
Let’s be just totally straightforward about it. The only guys pushing Pittman for the job were his former players.
It didn’t get much national attention beyond a shrug.
“Solid guy, decent hire,” was what one text message I got from a national media guy. “But he’s not Kiffin or Leach.”
Now he’s beaten both of them after knocking off Kiffin’s Ole Miss team Saturday, 33-21. He’d already beaten Leach’s Mississippi State team two weeks ago.
Now every Razorback fan is completely giddy over the hiring of Pittman. Fayetteville was one giant party Saturday night after the game and it extended from the west side of town all the way through Dickson St. and to the east side.
But the feeling is Pittman is getting kinda tired of hearing all the talk about how he’s supposed to be surprised over sitting at 2-2 (which should be 3-1 if not for the mess at the end of the Auburn game).
“Hell, I thought we were going to win ’em all,” Pittman said after the win over the Rebels. “Look, there’s not really any pressure on us. Expectations weren’t high outside the building but in our athletic department and our locker room, (expectations) are as high as they can be.
“I’m not surprised we beat Ole Miss today. I wasn’t surprised we beat Mississippi State. I wasn’t surprised we were in the ballgame at Auburn.”
He has to be at least a little surprised, though, at how the Hogs’ defense is playing. Senior Grant Morgan is playing at a fanatical pace.
Against Ole Miss he had 19 tackles and an interception return for a touchdown, playing with basically one arm.
The Hogs didn’t exactly shut down Mississippi State or the Rebels’ offense as much as they just allowed them to make the mistake that would cost them a drive.
In two games against coaches who are known for prolific offenses, defensive coordinator Barry Odom has figured out a way to get turnovers, put points on the board and get a couple of stops.
That’s the goal these days in college football. Rules and trends mean offenses are going to get yards and score points.
Yet Odom has figured out how to grab nine interceptions combined in those two games and turn three of them into touchdowns. Let that number sink in for a minute. A third of the interceptions against highly-regarded offenses the defense turned into touchdowns.
“Barry Odom is the real deal,” Pittman said Saturday.
He’s done it because he inherited some players who were hungry for success, bought into his approach and had talent a lot better than what just about everybody thought.
“We’ve got a talented group,” Pittman said. “We’ve got a resilient group. We have a group that can catch passes on defense and return them for touchdowns.”
Nobody wanted to believe that in August. You couldn’t find anybody that would have dreamed of getting six interceptions in one game … three by walk-on cornerback Hudson Clark.
“I was planning on getting seven when the game started, but we’ll take six,” Pittman said with a chuckle.
As for Clark, it’s probably a safe bet he’ll have a scholarship sooner rather than later. For those who didn’t know about him, it’s a good bet they will. His three interceptions Saturday were overshadowed a little in the headlines by Morgan, who is a senior playing with an elbow injury.
“They’ve heard of (Clark) now,” Pittman said. “Three times at least.”
Redshirt freshman Jalen Catalon also brought an interception back when he jumped a route in the first half, caught the ball and nobody could get him before he got to the end zone.
“That’s coaching, that’s playing, that’s being in position, that’s reading eyes,” Pittman said. “That kid Corral had one interception going into today. We picked him six times so that’s coaching and that’s players learning and obviously being able to get it done as well.”
Which is something often over-looked. Odom has this defense playing like it is because he’s simplified things, the players know each and every week what they are supposed to do and where they are supposed to be.
Defense in football is stupid simple. The important thing is to see who has the football and get the guy with it on the ground as fast as possible or catch the ball if it’s in the air.
Odom and his staff figure out on Sunday what the other team can do successfully, show it to the players. They know what to expect, where to be and can play full speed. That hasn’t been seen from the Hogs in years.
In case you’re wondering, the direction for that comes from the top.
Which is why Pittman has now beaten two of the more popular on the wish list of fans back in December.
It’s a good bet Hog fans wouldn’t trade for either of those guys now.