Arkansas coach Sam Pittman is trying to teach his football team to have selective memory.
“As much as we would like our recruits to remember 2010 and ’11 when we were in the Sugar Bowl (Jan. 4, 2011) and Cotton Bowl (Jan. 6, 2012) and all that, they don’t remember that,” he said Wednesday. “And what we’re trying to do is have them forget that we weren’t a very good team over the past five seaons or so before this year.”
Arkansas (6-3, 2-3) had four straight losing seasons before this year, including a 3-7 mark in Pittman’s first year as head coach in 2020. He was Arkansas’ offensive line coach and recruiting coordinator from 2013-15 when the Hogs had two winning seasons.
But remember this. The Razorbacks reached the College Football Playoff rankings on Tuesday for the first time since 2016 at No. 25, following a 31-28 win over No. 17 Mississippi State. Remember it even if Arkansas loses at LSU (4-5, 2-4 SEC) on Saturday in a 6:30 p.m. game on the SEC Network. The Hogs are a 2.5-point favorite by FanDuel.
“It’s a big deal for us,” Pittman said. “It’s a big deal in recruiting. We certainly sent out that we’re 25th in that, and we’re proud of that. We do understand how hard that is to stay in that, especially in the West and in the SEC.”
Arkansas has not won in Tiger Stadium since a 31-14 victory in 2015.
“Any time that (a ranking) happens, you start worrying, ‘Well, they’re going to look at that and not concentrate on practice and all this,'” Pittman said. “I’m a little different in that our program has been down for a few years. And with us getting the top 25 after Week Nine, I think that’s a mark for our program. I know myself and our staff, we were excited to be in the top 25.”
Arkansas lost 56-20 on its last trip to LSU in what was the first start of quarterback KJ Jefferson. He finished 7-of-14 passing for 105 yards and was sacked three times.
“I just remember him being a raw young guy,” tight end Trey Knox said. “Just a little antsy in the pocket. But now he has a certain swag about him and knows how to carry himself on the field.”
Jefferson is No. 13 nationally and No. 4 in the SEC in efficiency at 164.7 on 129-of-201 passing for 1,848 yards and 16 touchdowns with three interceptions while also rushing 92 times for 433 yards and five touchdowns.
“Only thing I remember is it being loud down there. Like, extremely loud,” Jefferson said of his last game at Tiger Stadium. “Probably one of the loudest places I’ve ever played at so far. I’m more comfortable now in my decision-making. Now, I’ve been through it playing in a hostile environment. It’s easy for me now.”
He will face a LSU defense that held Alabama to six net yards rushing in a 20-14 loss last week. The Tide had not rushed for so few net yards since 1990 when it also gained six in a 9-0 loss to Penn State. The Tigers also sacked quarterback Bryce Young four times.
“LSU has talent, and they were playing very inspired football,” Pittman said. “Did a few things differently in that game as far as their third down, their blitz package. Just a little bit difference of more aggressive play calling defensively, I felt like, from LSU.”
For the Arkansas game, the Tigers will be without injured starting offensive guards Ed Ingram and Chasen Hines, who has been ruled out for the season. Sophomore Marlon Martinez and freshman Xavier Hill are expected to start at those guard spots.
Starting freshman defensive end Maason Smith is also not expected to play. Starting defensive back Cordale Flott, who missed the Alabama game, is expected to play Saturday.
LSU coach Ed Orgeron has said he will play two quarterbacks — sophomore Max Johnson, who is expected to start his 10th game this season, and true freshman Garrett Nussmeier, who has played briefly in three games.