HOGS relish wins, want more; notes
FAYETTEVILLE - Some veterans of struggling Arkansas teams Tuesday considered the difference in their past and present.
The Hogs wallowed 2-10, 2-10 overall and 0-8, 0-8 in the SEC during the Chad Morris regime of 2018 and 2019.
Through an entirely SEC schedule this fall with three of the four teams ranked No. 4, No. 16 and No. 13 when they played them, the Sam Pittman-coached Hogs stand 2-2.
They should be 3-1, the college football world acknowledges of the egregious officiating error in Auburn, Ala. voiding an Arkansas fumble recovery and enabling then 13th-ranked Auburn to kick a 30-28 game-winning field goal.
Last year’s Hogs would have crumbled after such a devastating loss.
This year’s Hogs responded Saturday by intercepting six passes and beating Ole Miss. Earlier they upset then No. 16 Mississippi State and opened the season by leading No. 4 Georgia midway through the third quarter.
Could anybody on the previous two Arkansas teams expect that response?
“This is what we expected,” Arkansas junior receiver Mike Woods (8 in UA photo above) said. “We should have never been 2-10. We never expect to be the laughingstock. We’re supposed to beat these teams. This is what we expect. That’s our mindset going into this year.”
A mindset they cherish.
“It’s just fun to win,” Woods said. “Nobody’s feeling bad. Nobody’s arguing. When you lose all season, that’s when stuff like that gets magnified. But when you’re winning, it’s good.”
Growing up in Fayetteville, senior left offensive guard Ty Clary remembers banner UA teams under Houston Nutt and Bobby Petrino. He lettered the past three years while the Hogs went 1-23 in the SEC.
“Going through the struggles the team went through, it (this season) is so exciting,” Clary said. “Especially for my class, some of the guys I came in with. Everybody’s so happy with the wins we’ve already gotten. But now it’s like, ‘We have to get more.’ You want more. No one’s satisfied.”
Senior linebacker Hayden Henry of Pulaski Academy knew Razorbacks tradition from his family: father Mark Henry who played for Ken Hatfield’s 1989 Southwest Conference champions, and older brother and current NFL star Hunter Henry who won the 2016 Mackey Award as a tight end for Bret Bielema’s 8-5 Razorbacks.
Knowing all that made it harder to handle the past three years.
“I just think everyone’s so fed up of being Arkansas: The bottom feeder,” Henry said. “I think it’s been great getting to win some games to realize that ‘Wow, we have talent on this team. We have guys who can play at a really high level.”
Odom, as defensive coordinator, deserves the acclaim, but the cornerbacks also praise cornerbacks coach Sam Carter and the defensive linemen praise D-line coach Derrick Leblanc. Henry praises linebackers coach Rion Rhoades.
“Coach Rhoades, he's a great teacher,” Henry said. “That's what you are when you're a coach. You're a professor, and we're his students. He's tough on us, and I love that. I don't want a coach who’s going to go out to practice and baby me every day. He pushes us like no other.”
So far as the team’s linebacker supersub, Henry has seen Arkansas linebacker Bumper Pool pushed to be SEC Defensive Player of the Week and Bronko Nagurski Award Player of the Week for his 20 tackles against Mississippi State.
Then, with Henry subbing for injured weakside linebacker Pool and excelling while compiling eight tackles and a pass breakup against Ole Miss, Henry marveled watching postgame TV. Only then did he realize senior middle linebacker Grant Morgan made 19 tackles in addition to his game-sealing 23-yard interception return for a TD.
Greenwood’s Morgan is this week’s SEC Defensive Player of the Week and the Chuck Bednarik (national) Player of the Week.
“I didn't know how well he played because I was out there with him,” Henry said. “You lose track of the plays, and then I go on ESPN after the game and he's got 19 tackles and a sack and a pick-6, and I'm just like, 'Good Lord! I mean, this is unbelievable!’”
Does this team worry the bye week halts momentum before the next game Oct. 31 at nationally No. 7 Texas A&M?
“I think the open date came at a great time.” Mike Woods replied. “People have been trying to put us on a high horse and stuff like that, but it gives us some time to come back down to earth and take some time off. Get our bodies right. Get some people back and just focus.”