FAYETTEVILLE – This of course was never actually Razorbacks said prior to an Arkansas vs. Alabama kickoff but periodically mused in press boxes.
“Arkansas wins the toss and elects to concede.”
Might as well have conceded given Arkansas’ recent history when Alabama rides nationally No. 1 as its Crimson Tide does now. The unanimously No. 1 Tide rolls 9-0 into Saturday’s 11 a.m. ESPN televised regular-season closing kickoff at Reynolds Razorback Stadium as the already SEC West champion vs. the 3-6 Razorbacks.
While nationally No. 1, the Tide rolled 52-0, 52-0 Razorbacks in Tuscaloosa, Ala. and 2013 in Fayetteville 41-9 in 2017, 65-31 in 2018 and 48-7 last year.
Arkansas first-year Head Coach Sam Pittman was then first-year Arkansas Coach Bret Bielema’s offensive line coach when the 2013 Hogs lined up against Alabama knowing their eventual 0-8 in the SEC campaign would not break through Tide for SEC win No. 1.
“The only way you can beat Alabama is you think you have a good enough team to beat ‘em,” Pittman said. “You go back to 2013. We go to Alabama and I’m pretty sure there wasn’t 100 percent of the guys that felt like we could win. I do know this: The next year they came here in 2014 and we had a team that believed we could win.”
In 2014 Alabama needed to block a PAT in Fayetteville to escape, 14-13.
He knows these 3-6 every game underdog but believing Hogs could so easily be 6-3 from reviewing 30-28, 27-24 and 30-28 defeats.
“Don’t know if I’ve been on a team that was underdogs in every single game they played,” Pittman said. “But I’m very proud of our football team, that they believed that they could win every one of them. I think they’ve proven that by the way they’ve played, and I don’t think that will be a problem on Saturday.”
Las Vegas oddsmakers don’t believe. As of Thursday night they favored Alabama by 32 and a half.
On pure talent Pittman knows that’s accurate unless the Hogs somehow play both within and above themselves and Nick Saban’s Tide commits some uncharacteristic mistakes.
Perhaps, though don’t bet under it with Saban in charge, the Tide will be emotionally caught betwixt and between. Last Saturday Alabama avenged last year’s trash-talked loss to 2019 national champion LSU by trouncing the Tigers, 55-17.
On Dec.19 Alabama’s SEC championship game in Atlanta looms against SEC East champion Florida and Kyle Trask, the Gators’ Heisman candidate quarterback.
Alabama’s offensive focus hasn’t wavered even losing then No. 1 receiver Jaylen Waddle to a season ending injury in Game Five.
Now not only Alabama’s best receiver but maybe the country’s best, JaVonta Smith sports Heisman Trophy candidate stats: 80 catches, 1,305 yards and 15 touchdowns.
Pittman praised 1,038 yards rushing Alabama running back Najee Harris among many options helping, making quarterback Mac Jones Alabama’s No. 1 Heisman candidate. Along with Jones’ own prowess of course
Jones has completed 195 of 253 passes for 3,113 yards and 27 touchdowns against three interceptions.
“His team believes in him big time,” Pittman said. “To me, he’s the epitome of a team leader at quarterback that everybody would like to have.”
All that Pittman praise for Jones, Smith and Harris, and the old offensive line coach said if he could cast a Heisman vote it would be for Alabama’s entire starting offensive line.
“Their offensive line is the best in college football,” Pittman said. “I’m not for sure that I’ve seen an offensive line — including the ones I coached — that well coached and that physical. They can do it all.”
Alabama’s offense has score from 41 to 63 points every game since beating Missouri, 38-19 in the season opener.
Arkansas’ October glimmer of hope later to stem the Tide stemmed from the Alabama defense. The week before Arkansas thwarted Ole Miss, 33-21 intercepting six passes in Oxford, Miss.,
Alabama needed a big fourth quarter to outlast the Rebels, 63-48.
Some even remarked Saban had been “outcoached” by his former offensive coordinator, first-year Ole Miss Coach Lane Kiffin.
Haven’t heard anything defensively derogatory about Saban these past six games. A sound 41-24 victory over Georgia marked Alabama’s most points allowed. The other five foes scored zero, three, 13 and 17 twice.
“Defensively, they’ve got Coach Saban all over them,” Pittman said.
Saban doesn’t stay on top by overlooking opponents. Especially ones vastly improved like these Razorbacks.
“We have a lot of respect for Arkansas as a team,” Saban said. ‘They played very, very well to lose three games by a total of seven points and be in every game they’ve played.”
Odds stack against the Hogs still being in this one late.
Yet there’s belief their coach has inspired them to believe they can.