FAYETTEVILLE – More T.J. Hammonds and more Treylon Burks are in Arkansas’ game plan against the Missouri Tigers Saturday.
Arkansas Coach Sam Pittman said as much before his 3-5 Razorbacks practiced Thursday prepping for Saturday’s 11 a.m. SEC game against the 4-3 Tigers televised on the SEC Network at Mizzou’s Faurot Field in Columbia, Mo.
Hammonds, previously this season a reserve running back/receiver is elevated to fulltime No. 2 running back with Trelon Smith elevated to full-time starter since Preseason All-SEC senior Rakeem Boyd this week opted out of playing for the Hogs to concentrate preparing for the spring NFL draft.
In Arkansas’ last game, the 27-24 Nov. 21 loss to LSU in Fayetteville which Smith started while Boyd missed apparently because of covid-19 testing or contact tracing, Hammonds carried once as a running back and ran it 29 yards.
As a receiver against LSU, Hammonds of Little Rock Joe T. Robinson caught a 51-yard pass from quarterback Feleipe Franks.
Based on that LSU game, Pittman Thursday was asked if Hammonds indeed worked strictly at running back in this week’s closed practices and will he touch the ball more against Mizzou than his two touches against LSU.
“Yes and yes,” Pittman replied. “Yes he’s moved there. And yes I believe he’s earned the right to touch the ball more. He did a nice job against LSU. He made a couple of big plays for us. He’s had a really good week and it’s been a physical week here. Certainly to answer your question, yes and yes.”
Sophomore receiver Burks of Warren, added this week to the Fred Biletnikoff Award Watch List that postseason honors the nation’s best receiver, had a big game against LSU catching 5 passes for 90 yards including a 65-yard touchdown from Franks plus carried once for four yards as a running back. However, Pittman said Burks would have had a bigger game with more touches that Pittman said may have to be forced considering the defensive attention that Burks attracts.
“I think we have to get him more than six touches,” Pittman said. “A lot of times you have to force that. The way you force that I don’t think necessarily is in the passing game. I think you can throw some screens to him. Give him the ball on some motions and give him the ball out of the backfield and things of that nature.
Just get the ball in his hands.”
Good things generally happen when that happens, Pittman said. “He’s dynamic,” Pittman said. “He’s big (6-3, 232.) He’s fast. We need to get the ball 10, 12, 15 times a game if we can to him. I don’t know if we’ll ever get him that many, but I’d like to see it in his hands that many times.”
One plus for defenses blanketing Burks (a team leading 39 catches for 598 yards and 6 touchdowns this season) they can’t see the Woods for their forest. Arkansas junior receiver Mike Woods caught 4 passes for 140 yards against LSU and 2, both touchdowns of 87 and 42 yards, for 129 yards in the 63-35 loss at Florida and now for the season has 27 catches for 553 yards and 4 touchdowns.
Pittman did not sound optimistic that injured starting right offensive tackle Noah Gatlin, absent the last three games with fourth-year junior Dalton Wagner starting at right tackle, can actively return against Mizzou.
“I’m concerned there,” Pittman said. “I don’t know if he’ll be cleared yet or not. I thought there was a good possibility early in the week but I don’t know. We’ll have to wait and see there.
Pittman did say this week’s first two of three covid-19 tests bode well for the Hogs who had to postpone last Saturday’s originally scheduled game at Mizzou because too many positive covid-19 tests and quarantines from contact tracing put them under the SEC healthy roster protocol.
Mizzou used the Arkansas postponement to play its earlier postponed by covid game with Vanderbilt, clobbering the Commodores, 41-0 last Saturday in Columbia.
“Covid’s been kind to us this week,” Pittman said Thursday. “They tested today, so we’ll get the results back in the morning. But it’s been a good week as far as negatives and covid tests.”
The covid tests likely will complete the week’s kindness quota.
Pittman expects a hard-fought battle from the Tigers who were a physical outfit when first-year Arkansas defensive coordinator Barry Odom head coached Mizzou from 2016-2019 and remain so under first-year head coach and Alma native Eliah Drinkwitz.
“We have to win both lines of scrimmage,” Pittman said. “That’s a tall task because they’re very good on both sides of the ball. To me, that’s where this game is going to come down to, because if we don’t, coach will just turn around and hand the ball off, like he did against Kentucky, and control the clock for 40 minutes. We understand that. We’ve had really spirited and good practices.”