Despite a virus, opt-out excuses, schedule, Pittman has made Hogs better

| allHOGS •

Despite catastrophic predictions to the contrary from just about every corner, Arkansas managed to complete a ridiculously tough schedule in a crazy year.

An uncontrollable virus led to the greatest excuse for players to quit and coaches to run off players are just the highlights of what Sam Pittman has had to deal with in his first head coaching gig.

The fact he actually improved on things with the Razorbacks may be lost on some after a 52-3 loss to Alabama on Saturday that probably wasn’t really as close as the final score might indicate.

In the second half, Nick Saban was looking to the SEC Championship next week, which matters considerably more than the margin of victory over the Hogs.

“The second half they were just trying to go home,” Pittman said of the Crimson Tide, who took the second-half kickoff and ran off over half of the third quarter. “We got our butts kicked today … bad.

“But that’s the only time this year.”

Yes, it was ugly and every bit as bad as Pittman said. It was worse than Georgia, Texas A&M or Florida. Don’t judge the season by the last regular-season game.

“I told them you can’t let one game define your season,” Pittman said about what he told a group with long faces after the game.”

The numbers say things turned around for the Hogs this season. The final record will say 3-7, but it should have been at least 4-6 (the Auburn loss), probably 5-5 (with one defensive lineman regular in loss to LSU).

Remember, Pittman didn’t even get to see his team practice until the summer with the coronavirus wiping out spring practice and delaying everything for a month in fall practices.

And the SEC handed him maybe as tough of a schedule as anybody has ever had to play. When you have every opponent but one ranked at some point during the season that’s tough. Half of the schedule was the Top 10 at some point, making it tougher.

Despite all of that, plus the craziness of opt-outs and safety protocols, the Hogs still won 30% of their games … all in the SEC.

Since the 2012 season, Arkansas has won just 20.3% of their conference games. In one season, Pittman took a roster that hadn’t won a single league game in two seasons and won nearly a third of the conference games.

Maybe Pittman’s best recruiting efforts when he got the job was keep the seniors from leaving in droves. He’ll be recruiting most of them again since they can come back due to the free year they all get this year.

His pitch is probably going to be to keep it going.

“These guys helped start turning the program,” Pittman said. “We’re not near where we need to be, where we want to be. They helped us.

“We won three SEC games and we hadn’t done that in three years.”

To put this season in context, Pittman has dealt with getting a job and not getting to coach his team for nearly nine months, then having to deal with a ridiculously difficult schedule while never knowing who he’s going to have on the team.

“Ya’ll have no idea what going through covid, opt-out and injuries are about,” he said. “I mean none. You basically put your team together on Friday because the test comes back on Thursday.”

You get the idea, though, the opt-outs that players do bothers Pittman more than anything. It does me, too.

While it was designed as a way for players concerned about their safety could not play and keep their eligibility, it’s turned into an excuse for some of them to flat quit and avoid criticism.

Coaches have also used it as a politically-correct way to run off malcontents.

“Hopefully if the vaccine gets out and things our depth will get better,” Pittman said. “The kids aren’t afraid of the virus and at that point opting-out would be a thing of the past. Our depth is probably better than it looks simply because of the virus and opting out.”

When all of this settles down (and it will, whether you want to believe it or not), there will be plenty of things that could have been done differently.

That’s for later.

For now Pittman will be holding practices this week and waiting to hear where the Hogs’ bowl destination will be.

And he sounds confidant the Hogs will go bowling.

“In a regular season when you beat three SEC teams, you usually have 3-4 wins in the non-conference games and that’s 6-7 wins, and you go to a bowl game,” he said.

It has nothing to do with playing a game. That’s simply for television (this year ESPN is wanting matchups that people want to watch because records don’t mean a whole lot).

“Teams that don’t go to bowl games, they lose about 15 practices … they lose a spring ball to everybody that [goes to a bowl],” Pittman said Saturday. “If we didn’t think practice is important, then we wouldn’t want to go to a bowl game. But we do, and we want to.”

The good news is he will be going to a bowl game, probably in Houston or Memphis. Pittman was careful not to mention any specific bowl games.

Practices will be held this week he said near the end of his postgame comments.

Most of this week is about recruiting where the Hogs are sitting at No. 19 in the national rankings, according to the composite rankings.

Which is the most important thing right now because the season is complete.

And that may ultimately be the biggest accomplishment of all.