Arkansas Razorbacks Head to Mississippi State

Nate Allen

FAYETTEVILLE – Arkansas will travel more defensive backs and less linebackers to Starkville, Miss. for Saturday’s game against Mississippi State Coach Mike Leach’s Air Raid offense.

First-year Coach Leach’s Bulldogs, 1-0  zoomed from unranked  to 16th and 14th in the Associated Press and Amway Coaches polls, host Arkansas, 0-1, at 6:30 p.m Saturday on the SEC Network Alternate Channel at Davis Wade Stadium.

First-year Coach Sam Pittman’s  Razorbacks, able to suit 80 at home compared to traveling 70 on the road, had a full quota of linebackers against Georgia’s conventional offense but were without unable to be medically cleared defensive backs Jarques McClellion and Devin Bush.

Though practicing earlier in the week, McClellion of Lake Worth, Fla., twice quarantined since June 1 related to the coronavirus decided for health reasons to opt out of playing for the remainder of the season.

Bush is back and some reserve DBs not employed behind the starting secondary of corners Montaric Brown and Jerry Jacobs, safeties Jalen Catalon and either boundary safety Simeon Blair or Joe Foucha and nickel back Greg Brooks likely will rotate in Saturday.

Normally the starter, Foucha played off the bench last week having for health reasons not practicing last week until the Thursday before the Georgia game.

Fresh secondary manpower seems a prerequisite given Bulldogs quarterback K.J. Costello attempted 60 passes, including five touchdowns,  and set a SEC record 623 passing yards against LSU.

Pittman said Thursday that “it’s big,”to have Bush back and Foucha fully prepared and others knowing they will be needed.

“We need as many as we can take,” Pittman said.  “We’re going to take 14-15 guys that are from nickel to safety to corner to the game. I mean, we’re going to roll in there three deep, and we need to. That’s a big deal getting those guys back. We’ve got a majority of our secondary back – not a majority, but a few secondary guys back last week on Tuesday, and certainly we’re planning on being able to take everybody this week.”

With it Thursday and injured during the Georgia game  senior starting defensive end Dorian Gerald sounding more doubtful for Saturday in Pittman’s tone, the coach is pleased to see sophomore Mataio Soli, a 2019 starting defensive end as a true freshman, return to active duty after missing the Georgia game.

Of Gerald, Pittman said, “We’re hoping, but as of right now we’ll just have to kind of wait and see.” 

 So what’s the impact of Soli’s return?

“A lot, Pittman said.  “We needed him back regardless of Dorian’s status. He’s looked good. He was out 10 days. And so we were concerned about his conditioning, but not so much anymore. I think he’ll be fine.”

Backup sophomore defensive end Zach Williams made seven tackles in the 37-10 loss to Georgia after Gerald went down.

“Zach played well, I thought, the other day,” Pittman said.  “No matter what happens with Dorian, he has earned more playing time, so we’re expecting him to go out there and play well for us.”

Pittman was asked the importance of the defensive ends, junior college transfer Julius Coates starts on the other defensive flank, and defensive tackles pressuring Costello.

“Well, if we let him just sit back there he’s going to pick us apart,” Pittman replied.  “We have to move him. He can’t just stand there. If we don’t sack him he has to move. We have to pressure him and I’m excited to see what our scheme does.”

Without delving into specifics, Pittman said some personnel changes have been invoked on special teams burned last week for key Georgia punt returns and kickoff returns and their part with Georgia punter Jake Camarda continually putting the Hogs into miserable field position.

“Special teams are a lot about desire, want-to,” Pittman said before Thursday’s closed practice.   “Personal one-on-one battles that you have. We certainly emphasize the heck out of it. We still have another day today to do it again. There have been some personnel issues where we thought we had a little bit of a mismatch going on Saturday, and hopefully they’ll be better. I expect them to be.”

Senior Ty Clary, last year’s starting center, has been practicing after missing much time, including the Georgia game, because of illness.

Clary now seems ready to back up starting center Ricky Stromberg or fill in at offensive guard.

“He had missed quite a bit of practice this year, and he’s back now,” Pittman said.   “He was back last week late in the week, and so he’s doing a good job.  I really have no doubt that he’ll play this week.”

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