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OPINION | WALLY HALL: Plenty of fight remains in Hogs, Pittman

by Wally Hall | November 9, 2021 at 2:09 a.m.

Two years ago, three years ago and maybe four years ago, it would have been different.

If Mississippi State, or any SEC school, had taken a 27-23 lead against the Arkansas Razorbacks with 2:22 to play, the most action seen would be what was left of the crowd headed to the exits.

Not last Saturday. None of the 68,000-plus fans left.

Everyone was on their feet.

The great Razorback fans -- as well as the Bulldog faithful like Ray and Debbie Dillon and Michael Marion -- were in it to the end.

Something not seen by Razorback fans since Nov. 25, 2016, when Arkansas led Missouri 24-7 at the half. The Razorbacks were 7-4 and already headed to a bowl game.

And in the second half, it looked like they had caught an early flight out of town.

They were outscored 21-0 in the second half and lost 28-24.

It seemed everyone regrouped and the Razorbacks went to Charlotte, N.C., to face No. 22 Virginia Tech.

That time, the Razorbacks bolted to a 24-0 halftime lead.

They lost 35-24.

The dye was cast. The next season, the Razorbacks' only conference win was over Ole Miss and Brett Bielema was coming off the field after a 48-45 loss to Missouri -- after leading 21-7 after the first quarter -- he was pulled aside and fired before he could talk to his team.

Then Chad Morris was fired after two seasons and 0-16 in SEC play.

Morris was hired two days after Hunter Yurachek, but the new athletic director was not involved in the coaching search or hire.

When Yurachek's turn came, he and his committee of Jon Fagg and Steve Cox, a former Razorback and NFL veteran who is on the Arkansas Board of Trustees, interviewed several people.

Three of them ended up at other SEC schools. Lane Kiffin (Ole Miss) and Mike Leach (Mississippi State) wanted cash on the barrel head. Yurachek wanted an incentive based contract that pays you for doing your job.

The third, Eli Drinkwitz, a native of Alma, apparently thought he had a better chance of winning at Missouri than Arkansas.

Of all the men who were interviewed, one stood out as the guy who wanted the job. He wanted to be at Arkansas. He wanted to take on the challenge of fixing one of America's great programs. He was not afraid.

When his contract was ready for signing, he skipped to the final page and signed and didn't read how much he was going to make.

Last Saturday night, with 2:22 to play and the loud crowd believing, Sam Pittman and his team -- including or maybe even especially, quarterback KJ Jefferson -- were ready.

With Jefferson completing 6 of 8 passes, the Razorbacks drove 75 yards in 2:01 to regain the lead, 31-28.

Yes, a Bulldog holding call kept the Hogs hopes alive. But three plays later, Dominique Johnson ran 4 yards for the winning touchdown.

The play of the game may have been the previous one, when Jefferson appeared to be sacked. But Johnson made a key block and Jefferson cut left then right for a critical 5-yard gain to make it first and goal at the 4.

Arkansas' prevent defense allowed Missouri to complete three consecutive passes for 53 yards. But with two seconds left, Leach opted to try a field goal to tie and it missed.

The Razorbacks found a way to win a game in the clutch.

This is not the most talented Razorback team, but it may be one of the most motivated.

They reached one of their goals last Saturday: They are going to a bowl for the first time since that debacle in Charlotte. But they aren't finished.

How many more will they win is anyone's guess, but there is no quit in this team.

Print Headline: Plenty of fight remains in Hogs, Pittman

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