Arkansas Razorback Football

Nate Allen

FAYETTEVILLE – Though not their position coach coaching them directly,  young Arkansas  defensive ends Zach Williams and Eric Gregory sufficiently have experienced defensive coordinator Barry Odom’s handiwork vastly improving Arkansas’ defensive  to know he’ll capably head coach the Razorbacks Saturday against the Florida Gators.

First-year Arkansas Head Coach Sam Pittman, leading the Razorbacks to a 3-3 SEC start following successive 0-8, 0-8 SEC seasons under the Chad Morris previous regime, tested positive a second consecutive time for the covid-19 coronavirus, it was announced Tuesday.

So Pittman must stay quarantined at home while Odom, Missouri’s head coach from 2016-2019, leads the Razorbacks into Saturday’s 6 p.m. (CDT) ESPN televised game visiting the nationally sixth-ranked 4-1 SEC East leading Gators at their “Swamp” in Gainesville, Fla.

“Oh, yeah for sure,”  redshirt freshman Gregory of Memphis said after Tuesday’s practice of his confidence in Odom.  “He was the Missouri head coach last year so I feel like he knows the job a little more than any of the other coaches on the staff just coming from a head coaching job last year.  So I feel like we’re going to be very well prepared. So I feel it’s very good he’s been a head coach before this.”

Sophomore Williams of Little Rock’s Joe T. Robinson concurred his confidence.

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“Coach Odom and all the other coaches have stepped up” Williams said.  They’re really leading the practices. Even without him (Pittman), we’re still doing good. We had one of our greatest practices today.”

They don’t fret Odom combining the head coaching and defensive coordinator roles.

“I think he’ll handle it pretty well,” Williams said. “He was the old head coach at Missouri and he’s a pretty good defensive coordinator. He does things right. And I just feel like he won’t really have a problem with it.”

Besides, thanks to Pittman zooming in with Zoom technology to meet with the Hogs and review practice, they feel their head coach is with them even while quarantined at home.

“Coach Pittman is still involved with the Zoom meetings and stuff like that,” Gregory said.  “So really it’s like he never left us.  Like he’s still giving guys pointers and great coaching  and looking out for us and stuff like that.”

Williams said he’s “shocked” that of anyone, Pittman would  test covid positive.

“Coach Pittman, he’s the main one talking about safety and everything else,” Williams said. “I think everyone was surprised he got it, because he’s probably the main one washing his hands and doing everything he’s supposed to do.”

Between Pittman as Georgia’s offensive line coach from 2016-2019 in the SEC East, and Odom at Mizzou from 2016-2019 in the SEC East annually coaching against Florida, the Hogs have plenty of experience vs. the Gators.

But nobody on hand is more Gators experienced than Arkansas’ quarterback.  Graduate transfer Feleipe Franks was a Gator from 2016-2019 and the regular starter from 2017 through the first three games of 2019 when a broken ankle ended his season and prompted his transfer to Arkansas.

Has Franks provided Arkansas’ defense with any tips about the Gators’ offense and Kyle Trask, Franks’ so successful successor since last season as Florida’s quarterback?

“”He gave us a little tips from the O-line,” Gregory said. “A few O-linemen that’s been there and the tendencies they have. So, it’s really helped us on the D-line a little bit with the tendencies he gave to us, information.”

As for Trask, Williams said, “He can pass the ball pretty well, but I feel like he can’t really run that good.   So I think we’re going to go for him a bit more than the other quarterbacks. We also can watch for him running out of the pocket, but I feel mainly he can’t really run so we’re just going to go for him instead of trying to contain because he won’t really get past us.”

On the offensive end, Franks said Tuesday’s practice under offensive coordinator Kendal Briles sailed business as usual.

“I thought it was obviously not the ideal situation with Coach Pittman,” Franks said. “But practice has been the same. Practice is guys come out there motivated. It’s another big week and a great opportunity for our team. These guys do a great job coming out every day and being motivated, not needing extra motivation.”

Certainly would seem Florida native Franks requires no extra motivation  coming home playing his old school.

Franks had just finishing Arkansas’ down 13-0 to 24-13 triumph over Tennessee last Saturday night in Fayetteville when he was asked about coming back to Florida as a Razorback.

“For the Florida game, man, it’s going to be kind of just crazy,” Franks said.  “Not necessarily emotional for me, but I love all those guys on the staff and the players. It’ll just be fun to get back out there to play again in the Swamp. These guys here are ready and excited to play.”

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