FAYETTEVILLE – Arkansas continued Wednesday with raised expectations but lower targets prepping for Saturday’s 6 p.m. ESPN televised game vs. Texas at Reynolds Razorback Stadium.
From bygone Southwest Conference days Arkansas fervor always rose sky high vs. Texas.
It appears doing so again with the still Big 12 Longhorns committed to be in Arkansas’ SEC once they fulfill contracts with the league they will leave.
The SEC Nation crew and Marty & McGee count on the hoopla telecasting from 8 a.m. through 11 a.m. Saturday at the parking lot in front of Reynolds Razorback Stadium.
Both teams stand 1-0.
The Razorbacks recovered from a slow start down 17-7 to rout Rice, 38-17 last Saturday at Reynolds Razorback Stadium. Meanwhile the Longhorns in Austin, Texas walloped the then 23rd ranked Louisiana-Lafayette Ragin’ Cajuns zooming Texas from 21st to 15th in this week’s AP poll.
“We’re really excited to play the University of Texas,” Arkansas Coach Sam Pittman said Wednesday. “They have a wonderful team. A lot of skill on offense. A very good defense that runs hard to the ball. We certainly have our work cut out for us.”
Arkansas expectations indeed soar up but tackling targets are down. For after automatic game ejections on inadvertent helmet to helmet hits dogged Arkansas safety Jalen Catalon last season and linebacker Hayden Henry in last season’s last game carrying over to missing the first half last Saturday vs. Rice, linebackers Grant Morgan in last Saturday’s first half and Bumper Pool in the second half were targeted for targeting penalties.
Morgan fulfilled his ejection time in last week’s second half but Pool’s second-half penalty vs. Rice extends through missing Saturday’s first half against Texas.
“We’re trying to lower our target,” Pittman said Wednesday. “Normally you’re hitting a guy in the chest and trying to roll up from there, and now it’s got to be lower than that. We’ve worked on it this week in practice.”
The rule’s intention is for safety and enforcing against vicious, cheap shots to the head. But its automatic ejection penalty has come under increasing criticism given the inevitable unintentional collisions of a full speed tackler vs.a full speed carrier instinctively lowering his head striving for every yard he can.
“I know what the rule was intended for and I’m all for the rule,” Pittman said. “There’s no reason to try and damage anybody. But I feel terrible about the (unintended consequences). The runner, if he lowers his head at the point when I’m running in there to tackle, some of those things are going to glance in there and hit.”
Pittman’s opinion seems shared coast to coast. Particularly after Monday night’s lone nationally televised Ole Miss vs. Louisville game.
“I think they might have had four ejections in the first half,” Pittman said. “It sure seems like the crime and the punishment don’t match a lot of times. I think it’s certainly something that the rules committee is going to look at and probably needs to. And we need to do a better job of coaching how to stay away from it as well.”
Pittman and special teams coach Scott Fountain have a correction to make regarding the blocked punt suffered against Rice.
“They weren’t trying to block the punt, or anything,” Pittman said. “We just let a guy go. So, that’s something that certainly is an easy fix and should have been fixed before and was fixed every time we went in practice. We have to win special teams but we really haven’t done it.”
Punter Sam Loy, out injured last week, is an either-or with punter Reid Bauer this week, Pittman said Wednesday.
The Hogs did get a special Rice game performance from kickoff man Vito Calvaruso booming non-returnable kicks through the end zone. Such kickoffs could be pivotal this Saturday given Texas’ D’Shawn Jamison last year returned a kick for a 100-yard touchdown.
“Really, really important for him to kick the ball like he has,” Pittman said. “I think he’s averaging about seven yards (end zone) deep. They have a very strong return game, both kickoff and punt returns, big wall return team. We have to kick it in the right spot, punt it in the right spot and also get guys in the wall.”
Much is and should be made about Texas running back Bijan Robinson and his 176 all purpose yards (103 rushing and 103 receiving) and two touchdowns against Louisiana-Lafayette.
But Arkansas running back Trelon Smith opened right well, too.
Smith netted 102 yards and a touchdown on 22 carries against Rice.
“I thought he ran really hard,” Pittman said. “That’s kind of who he is to be honest with you. He’s that spark plug that we need on offense. I thought our (offensive) line did a good job against them. I felt we wore them down with our tempo and our speed starting the third quarter on.”
Photos courtesy of Craven Whitlow, CW3 Sports Action