FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. -- Coach Sam Pittman and his No. 16-ranked Arkansas football team won the SEC’s first “Kirby Bowl” over Shane Beamer’s South Carolina squad Saturday at Razorback Stadium.
The former Georgia football assistants watched their team slug it out on a hot afternoon in Northwest Arkansas, the Hogs outlasting the Gamecocks by a 44-30 count.
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The Razorbacks dominated on the ground, out-rushing South Carolina 295 to 40 yards, while Gamecocks QB Spencer Rattler spent much of the game scrambling, still managing to complete 23 of 38 passes for 371 yards and a touchdown.
Arkansas 44, South Carolina 30
Many expected this to be a four-quarter game with both programs on the rise, but there was a time Pittman and Beamer would have seemed like longshots to be head coaches.
Fact is, Pittman and Beamer weren’t among the more celebrated hires when Arkansas and South Carolina appointed them as their programs’ coaches. Much of the second-guessing had to do with neither Pittman nor Beamer having served in coordinator roles, much less head coaching positions.
But here it is, three years into Pittman’s hire and Arkansas football is in Hog Heaven.
Beamer is among those who are not surprised.
“There’s so much more that goes into being a head coach than being able to call plays on offense or defense,” Beamer said. “It’s two guys that love the places they are coaching at and believe in the places they are coaching at.”
South Carolina, in Year Two under Beamer, is coming off a surprising 7-6 season and is back to selling out Williams-Brice Stadium where No. 2-ranked Georgia looks to win its first road game of the season next Saturday.
The Gamecocks have some regrouping to do after Saturday’s loss, but Beamer had a front-row seat to see how Smart dealt with difficult losses six years ago, when UGA went 8-5 with losses to Vanderbilt and Georgia Tech.
Beamer and Pittman were part of that initial Smart staff in 2016 and helped grow the program into SEC Champions and Rose Bowl victors in 2017.
“They’re both great people, enjoyed having both those guys on our staff,” Smart said. “They both helped us get the thing started. Sam was here a little longer and certainly was a part of building the foundation here, in terms of getting it off the ground and going.
“I’m proud of what each one of them is doing.”
Pittman and Beamer worked closely together on those 2016 and 2017 Georgia staffs before Beamer took an assistant head coach position at Oklahoma.
“He was the tight ends coach as well as the special teams coordinator, so we worked hand in hand a lot in combinations that your tackles and tight ends have to do,” Pittman said.
“So we were good friends and are good friends.”
Beamer, who played and coached under his College Football Hall of Fame father Frank Beamer along with hall of famers Steve Spurrier and Phillip Fulmer, counts Pittman among his most important mentors.
“I learned so much from him, he was a huge help to me in my career when I got hired at Georgia by Kirby,” Beamer said. “I had never coached tight ends before in my life.
“I was definitely a rookie there, and Sam helped me so much,” he said. “He was very patient and taught me a lot about offensive line play and tight end play.”
Pittman’s veteran presence is such that six of his first 24 games coached at Arkansas have come against programs he once worked, including the Razorbacks’ season-opening 31-24 win over 2021 CFP Playoff team Cincinnati.
Suddenly, an Arkansas team that was 1-23 in SEC games from 2017-2019 has gone 8-11 under Pittman with wins in four of its last five league games.
“My first year here we never played a game we were the favorite, so there’s not quite as much pressure because you’re not expected to win,” Pittman said.
“Now, we’re picked to win more and you don’t want to let anyone down. The difference is you feel more pressure, and I’m trying not to, but you do.”
Beamer’s still has some grace in Year Two after his 7-6 first-year campaign caught many off guard. South Carolina had gone 2-8 the season before under Will Muschamp and Mike Bobo.
The Gamecocks found ways to win football games with four different starting quarterbacks last season, including a 38-21 win over North Carolina in the Duke’s Mayo Bowl.coach in his first year at a school.
The Gamecocks found ways to win football games with four different starting quarterback last season, including a 38-21 win over North Carolina in the Duke’s Mayo Bowl.
South Carolina showed so much promise that 2021 Oklahoma preseason Heisman Trophy contender Spencer Rattler chose to transfer and play for Beamer over several other coaches.
Beamer also added former NFL head coach and renowned Bruce Arians’ assistant Freddie Kitchens after last season as an analyst to help grow the program.
The South Carolina fans, many of whom turned out strong at Razorback Stadium, are showing a sort of passion not seen since Beamer was serving as an assistant to Spurrier in Columbia.
“To have a home sellout in a non-SEC game, that was the first statement,” Beamer said of the Gamecocks’ season-opening win over Georgia State.
“I’ve had text messages from people that were at the Gamecock Walk and never saw it that packed.”
It’s a safe bet South Carolina fans will be lined up before the Georgia game next Saturday, while Pittman and his Hogs get a breather against Missouri State.