The inaugural season of the Sam Pittman era at Arkansas has come to a conclusion. Streaks were broken and games were won, but the work has only begun for Pittman and his staff.
Arkansas was a consensus pick for last place in the West Division of the Southeastern Conference before the season began. Some outlets including Bleacher Report and Saturday Down South thought the Hogs might go 1-9 after they were dealt a grueling schedule that included four teams that finished in the top 15 at the end of the year.
In a season that was engulfed in question marks surrounding a team that had won four games in two seasons, Pittman and company defied all the odds. The team ended a 20-game SEC losing streak and secured its first home win over an SEC team in four years.
The quick success in Pittman’s first season shined a national spotlight on the Hogs. Media outlets around the country reacted to the team's success.
The season opener was anything but easy for Arkansas as it lost to a top-five Georgia Bulldog team. The next week, the Razorbacks shocked the world in Starkville, Mississippi, with a 21-14 victory over the No. 16 Mississippi State Bulldogs. The victory ended a 10-game losing streak that was tied for the longest in program history.
With a controversial loss to the Auburn Tigers on a call that will live in infamy, the Hogs fell to 1-2 on the year. The next week, the defense, led by defensive coordinator Barry Odom, sparked the Razorbacks with six interceptions and seven total turnovers, powering the team to a 33-21 victory over the rival Rebels.
A loss to a Texas A&M team that finished the season 9-1 set the Hogs back, but a 24-13 victory over the Tennessee Volunteers on Nov. 11 gave Arkansas its first three-win season in three years. Just like that, Pittman and the Hogs were sitting at 3-3 in a year they were not expected to win more than two games.
Through six games, the Hogs were allowing just over 26 points per game to opponents and the defense was keeping the team in games. The slow-starting Arkansas offense took note and lit up opposing secondaries through the second half of the season, all of which were losses. In turn, the defense fell off.
The Razorback defense surrendered 48 points per game to opposing offenses in the final four games of the season. Graduate transfer quarterback Feleipe Franks and the high-flying Hog offense could not keep up. Despite the seven losses, three SEC wins translated to hopes of postseason play.
The Razorbacks managed to earn a bid in the Texas Bowl on Dec. 31 against the TCU Horned Frogs, but COVID-19 issues led to TCU opting out of the game.
Franks capped off the season with a team-high 2,107 passing yards and 17 touchdowns. He ran the ball 105 times for 204 yards and a score. *College Football stats take away rushing yardage when a quarterback is sacked*
Redshirt junior running back Trelon Smith showed his playmaking abilities each week and paced the Hogs with 710 rushing yards and five touchdowns on the ground. Smith caught 22 passes for 129 yards and a touchdown as well. Before opting out on Dec. 1, senior running back Rakeem Boyd ran for 309 yards and three scores.
The star on offense most weeks was sophomore wideout Treylon Burks, who led the team with 51 catches for 820 receiving yards and seven touchdowns. Junior Mike Woods was a big-play threat and recorded 619 receiving yards and five scores, four of which came in the final five games of the season.
The defense was led by a three-headed monster. Linebackers Grant Morgan and Bumper Pool racked up tackles each week and both earned SEC Defensive Player of the Week honors during the season. Morgan ended the regular season No. 2 in the nation with 111 tackles. Pool was seventh with 101 total stops.
No player was more polarizing on the field than redshirt freshman safety Jalen Catalon. The hard-hitter from Mansfield, Texas, came in right behind Pool with 99 total tackles on the season. He had three interceptions, two forced fumbles and four pass breakups on the year. Catalon was the first freshman in the SEC since 2007 SEC Freshman of the Year and All-American Eric Berry to rack up at least 86 tackles and three interceptions in a year.
Catalon has been named a semifinalist for the Jim Thorpe Award and was named SEC Defensive Player of the Week and Thorpe Award Player of the Week after the victory over Tennessee.
It was a complete turnaround season for Arkansas. The team scored nearly four more points per game and averaged close to 50 more yards per game than the 2019 Hogs. They recorded seven more interceptions than last year's team that went 2-10.
Arkansas will retain seven seniors that took advantage of the NCAA granting all players an extra year of eligibility. Of the seven was Morgan, who was named to the Walter Camp All-America second team.
The majority of the Razorback coaching staff will return for the 2021 season. The only coach who departed after the season was wide receivers coach Justin Stepp, who returned to coach in his home state of South Carolina. Former Ohio State Buckeye Kenny Guiton will fill the shoes of Stepp.
“We’re not near where we need to be or where we want to be,” Pittman said after the final game of the season against Alabama. “We won three SEC games and we hadn’t done that in the three years past...I was proud of the seniors that stayed with us that fought their butt off for us. It’s been a very very fun group of guys to coach.”