Thu October 12, 2023

By Lance Hawley

Arkansas Secondary Improved this Season
By Otis Kirk

FAYETTEVILLE -- Arkansas and No. 11 Alabama are set to meet on Saturday in Tuscaloosa with the Hogs the big underdog.

Alabama enters the game having won four in a row which is the exact number Arkansas has lost in a row. An area that has really improved this season with the exception of the second half of LSU game is the Arkansas secondary coached by Marcus Woodson and Deron Wilson. Has that unit exceeded Sam Pittman's preseason expectations?

"Really good question," Pittman said. "I felt like this last week we played the most confident that we have. Now we still gotta get guys on the ground and tackle a little bit better, we’ve got work to do, but I felt like that group played really well. I think some of that has to do with the versatility of guys like a (Hudson) Clark, like Snaxx (Lorando Johnson). Obviously we got beat up last week physically, so we’re not quite as what you might call non-confident in our guys. We feel a lot of confidence in them because they’ve been able to play and show that they can have success.

"Again, we learned that cross-training a little bit during that COVID year and we continue to do that, that way it’s kind of allowing us to get our best five, what we feel is the best five, on the field at the same time. I’m very confident that the kids will go out and play well. They’re to have to defend the long ball and we know that.'

Johnson is a transfer from Baylor who has started at both the Hog and cornerback spots. Pittman talked about how he's been able to do that.

"I think first of all, it starts in his mind," Pittman said. "I think he thinks that he could play nose guard. I think he thinks he could. Not an over-confident guy, but he possesses enough size… If you could go out and recruit big corners, that’s what you’d want because now you have a guy that has the size, the ability to play corner, but yet he can go play Hog, he can play safety, all those type things. A little bit of that is what Snaxx is. He’s got enough size to play the Hog, but he’s also got enough quickness to play the corner. When we got him, there was not any thought in our mind for him to go to the Hog position. We got him as a corner and then we found out what type of tackler he was and the aggressiveness that he had, then we were able to move him in to Hog. So I hope that answered your question."

Cornerback Dwight McGlothern suffered a concussion against Texas A&M and missed the Ole Miss game. Pittman expects him back this week and talked about how he feels him and Johnson can match up against the Alabama receivers led by Jermaine Burton.

"We’ve played some really good wide receivers and we understand that…we played LSU and they’ve got some good ones," Pittmans said. "We’ve played some good wide receivers. It’s going to be about our technique, things of that nature. We know Alabama has outstanding wideouts and a guy that can get it to them. But I feel good about it. Obviously if we don’t feel good about man-to-man coverage, we’ll do some type of zone and we can drop eight and do some different things to try to help the guys. I feel good about our guys playing well."

A freshman who has earned his way into starting is cornerback Jaylon Braxton. Unfortunately Braxton was hurt against Ole Miss and is questionable this week.

"Talked to him about it yesterday, actually," Pittman said. "It was about my experience playing in college and his experience, and I said, ‘Hey, is this what happened to you?’ Basically I had seen exactly what you’re asking me about what you’ve seen. Basically what happened is it just clicked for him, what he’s supposed to do, how he’s supposed to do it. It just all finally kind of clicked. It happened to me when I played football as well. Now you’re seeing that true athletic ability that he has and the speed that he has. I’m going to tell you now, when they didn’t let him go back in the game — and I hope he doesn’t mind me sharing — he was emotional now. It bothered him. He’s a guy that loves to play the game and finally earned his right to be that starter and was playing extremely well. Whether he’s able to play or not, I don’t know. But his future for us is really bright. It finally clicked to him. He understood the calls, understood where he’s supposed to be on the field, and just let his athletic ability take over at that point. He quit thinking as much."

Another true freshman who is making his mark in the secondary is safety TJ Metcalf. Pittman likes what he has seen from him this season.

"His only deal is his opportunities haven’t come quite as often as what Braxton’s have, but we have a lot of confidence in him," Pittman said. "He is playing faster as well, and I think he is going to be a really big part of our future. I really like him a lot. I like his family. I like everything about him but his opportunities haven’t come as often as Braxton’s because of who is playing in front of him, and injury situation and things of that nature, but I think he’s going to be a really good player and he’s doing a really good job for us now."

Little and Arkansas will kickoff against Alabama at 11 a.m. on Saturday in Tuscaloosa. The game will be on ESPN.