Pittman: 'We got dominated physically'
Entering Saturday's game against Missouri, the Arkansas Razorbacks were No. 8 in the nation in average rush yards per game (233.5). The Tigers limited the Hogs to just 113 yards on the ground and sacked KJ Jefferson seven times on their way to a 29-27 win at Faurot Field in Columbia.
The offensive line routinely allowed pressure to Jefferson and head coach Sam Pittman said it was a physically dominating performance by Missouri.
"They whipped our butt," Pittman said. "That's what happened. They whipped us. They physically dominated us. They did it in the run game, and they did it in the protection game. I don't know how else to say it. We got dominated physically is what happened."
One of the best examples of the Hogs getting physically dominated came at the start of the fourth quarter. Arkansas had a first-and-2 at the Missouri 2-yard line four plays into the quarter and it was unable to punch it in.
The three plays were a Jefferson keeper for no gain, a direct snap to Trey Knox for no gain and an incomplete pass intended for Ketron Jackson Jr. Rather than going for it on fourth-and-2, Pittman elected to kick a field goal to make it 29-27
"There were about eight minutes left in the game," Pittman said. "I felt like we could cut it down to a field goal. We had three timeouts left. Obviously, there was another opportunity there. I chose to take the points and cut it to two because we hadn't made a yard in the three previous plays."
The play call to try and sneak Knox in the end zone was a controversial one, and Pittman said they thought they could catch Missouri off guard.
" That one there we should have went to something else," Pittman said. "It just wasn't there. It was as surprise thing we felt like we could sneak it in, but it just wasn't there."
Four of Missouri's seven sacks came from linebacker Martez Manuel and defensive lineman Isaiah McGuire. When it seemed like Arkansas needed a big play, Jefferson was hit behind the sticks.
Jefferson was taken down for a loss of six on second-and-9 in the third quarter and followed that up with his fourth interception of the year. He suffered two sacks across Arkansas' final two drives of the game, one on each possession. Both drives resulted in a punt when the Razorbacks trailed by two and just needed a field goal.
"There wasn't a place for KJ to go," Pittman said. "We were getting beat around the edge, and we were so deep that he couldn't step up. Again, they were playing inspired. They had to get to a bowl game."
On top of the sacks, running back Rocket Sanders carried the ball 10 times for just 47 yards in the contest. He needed 98 yards to overtake Ole Miss' Quinshon Judkins for the SEC rushing title.
"I just, I think that we were getting smashed in the run game and we were trying to find our way," Pittman said. "And sometimes those are run-pass options. It might be called a run or pass, but we were physically getting handled in the run game. We felt like we needed to throw it a little bit."
Things actually went fairly well for Jefferson in company in the first two quarters of the game.
Jefferson accounted for 179 of Arkansas' 230 total yards in the first half. All three touchdowns came from him, two through the air and one on the ground.
When the Hogs needed a play, it was Jefferson completing a big pass or making a clutch run. He was 10-13 passing with 136 yards and a pair of scores to Rocket Sanders (eight yards) and Matt Landers (27 yards). He also scored the game's first touchdown on a 3-yard keeper and he led the Hogs with 43 yards rushing at the break.
"I was proud of that," Pittman said. "We really, honestly guys, we didn’t play very good at all in the first half either. We just made enough plays to be up. We were down 10, but the offense made enough plays, but there was no consistency in it. But we were up 21-20. I was really proud of that."
Despite the effort in the first 30 minutes, the final 30 were a different story. The Hogs recorded just 88 total yards in the final two quarters and they averaged 3.25 yards per play.
"(Missouri was) playing inspired," Pittman said. "They had to get to a bowl game. I felt we were matching. It was a great game. It's just we didn't tackle well. We didn't cover well. We didn't protect well. And we didn't run block well. Those are all physical things, and we just couldn't make enough plays to win at the end."
Pittman and his Hogs will now wait and see what bowl game they will draw. Until then, he and the staff will hold exit meetings with players.
"Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday we have exit meetings with the kids," Pittman said. "There’ll be… Without a doubt, there’ll be some portal action and all that kind of stuff — us and everybody else in the country. And then you just have to figure it out. It’s there for a reason and you just have to figure out, obviously, who wants to stay with the program and who wants to transfer out."
The ball has already started rolling on that process, as starting nickel Myles Slusher quit the team last week and wasn't playing against Missouri.