FAYETTEVILLE – Even with a smile, Sam Pittman didn’t feel good enough Thursday to provide a feel good answer about his Arkansas Razorbacks’ covid-19 coronavirus testing and contact tracing situations compelling quarantines.
Turning up with testing positive and contact tracing back to those afflicted cases sent to quarantine earlier in the week, first-year Arkansas Coach Pittman was asked before Thursday’s practice if he “feels good” about the Razorbacks staying above the healthy 53 scholarship players minimum roster limit to play Saturday’s 11 a.m. SEC Network televised SEC West game at Reynolds Razorback Stadium against the LSU Tigers.
“No, I don’t feel good about covid,” Pittman, though himself feeling good and cleared in person to coach since Wednesday after quarantining from Nov. 9-17 because of positive covid-19 tests, said before Thursday’s practice. “I think everybody’s looking for an answer and I’ll give you the answer: We’re going to play Saturday – as of right now we’re going to play.”
He had to stress the “as of right now” much as he wants to play the game.
“We have a test that we took today that gets back tomorrow,” Pittman said. “I’m just going to tell you the truth, we’re running thin. We want to play the game. But you have to have adequate numbers to play the game and we are thin. If we have a good test tomorrow, then by golly we’re going to play the game. We want to play the game.”
He’s stressed the want-to to his team.
“We have not talked to our players one second about not playing the game because we want to play the game,” Pittman said. “They want to play, so as long as our numbers will allow us to play, that’s what we’re going to do. Are we thin? Yes.”
LSU Coach Ed Orgeron can commiserate and certainly wants to play.
LSU, last year’s 15-0 national and SEC champion, suffer a 2-3 nightmare of injuries, opt-outs, covid induced postponements and staff and player turnover since clobbering Clemson Jan. 14 for the national championship.
Most ominously, LSU is this week headlined by allegations of sexual abuse linked to its football program and other campus organizations.
On the field, the Tigers had to, because of a hurricane menacing Baton Rouge, move a home game to Columbia, Mo. and 45-41 loss to Missouri, postpone until Dec. 12 an early-season game with the Florida Gators because of the Gators’ covid afflictions, and then were hit with their own covid outbreak forcing an indefinite postponement of last Saturday’s game vs. Alabama.
There would seem no place to put this game on LSU’s schedule if the Hogs can’t play or LSU’s numbers, now to the good, Orgeron said, would lapse below standard off Thursday’s testing.
Arkansas, 3-4, so far has played its entirely SEC 10-game schedule.
Pittman said defensive coordinator Barry Odom, the former Missouri head coach and acting head coach for Arkansas’ 63-35 loss at nationally No. 6 Florida in Gainesville while Pittman quarantined, offensive coordinator Kendal Briles and special teams coordinator Scott Fountain, kept the Monday and Tuesday practices humming before Pittman’s Wednesday reappearance after a week and a half providing his input through Zoom meetings with players and staff and reviewing workouts off videos.
“Practice has gone really good,” Pittman said Thursday. “It’s great to being back with the team yesterday and today. I thought Monday and Tuesday went well. The coaching staff ran the practices really well. The kids practiced hard. We’ve had to make a few adjustments, but you injury wise you’d have to do that anyway. And so the practice has gone well.”
Pittman has kept mum regarding which Razorbacks must be withheld Saturday because of covid concerns.
However, there’s no doubt that with top three receiver De’Vion Warren out for the season upon tearing his ACL during last week’s game and requiring major surgery, that Helena born, Fayetteville High grad Razorbacks senior Tyson Morris and sophomore Trey Knox will see their roles increased complementing top receivers Treylon Burks and Mike Woods.
“Both of them have had good practices,” Pittman said. “I think you’ll see both of them Saturday morning and they’ll be ready to go. But we’ve caught the ball well this week. We’ve cut down a little bit of practice this week simply because of numbers and because it’s later in the year. We would do that anyway. Not a lot but enough to try to save some legs and we’re down a little bit number-wise. But those two guys certainly have had good weeks, and I’ve got a lot of confidence in them.”
Originally a walk-on and the son of former Nolan Richardson era Razorbacks basketball forward Isaiah “Butch” Morris, Tyson Morris has proven an invaluably understated reliable reserve annually catching a touchdown lettering 2018-2020 with 4 catches for 30 yards in 2018, 15 for 240 last year and 4 fo 47 this season with the bulk of quarterback Feleipe Franks’ passes going 34 times to Burks, 24 to Woods, 16 to running back Trelon Smith and 15 each to Warren and tight ends Hudson Henry and Blake Kern.
Knox became publicity superstardom spring practice hyped reporting in 2019 as a January enrolled true freshman high school graduated in December.
His freshman year 2019 maybe wasn’t superstar but still awfully good, 28 catches for 385 yards and 3 touchdowns.
A couple early-season drops plus Warren supplanting him has limited Knox to just 4 catches for 33 yards and no scoring for 2020 but this staff, returning receivers coach Justin Stepp, knows Knox can do much better and sees his chance.
“I can tell that he is excited about this week,” Pittman said. “Any time that you started and then you’re not necessarily starting or not playing near as much as you would, that’s hard. It’d be hard on a grown man. Very, very thankful for the way he handled it. I think he’s extremely excited about his opportunity this Saturday, as well as I am and our offensive staff.”