By Otis Kirk
FAYETTEVILLE — No. 19 Arkansas will host No. 2 Alabama on Saturday with a large crowd expected at Razorback Stadium.
Alabama (4-0, 1-0) is heavily favored to defeat Arkansas (3-1, 1-1), but Sam Pittman knows games aren’t played on paper and is looking forward to the game.
“Well we’re really excited to play the University of Alabama, a wonderful team, and get them at home,” Pittman said. “It’ll be exciting for our fans and our university to play a program like that on campus. We have the ultimate respect (for them). They have a lot of fine players, two of the finest on both sides of the ball in the country, and we have a huge, huge challenge, but we’ve had a good week of practice and we’re excited for the opportunity.”
Arkansas is coming off a 23-21 loss to Texas A&M this past Saturday night in AT&T Stadium. In that game, Arkansas had some mistakes that hurt them including a KJ Jefferson fumble that resulted in a 98-yard touchdown return. Pittman was asked if he has talked to Jefferson about that play?
“No, I think any time you have elite players on your team, there’s not a whole lot you have to say to them, to be honest,” Pittman said. “You saw him during the game after that play trying to play his heart out, trying to, I don’t know if make up for the play is something, but he’s trying to win the game and had us in position to do that. I think he’ll be fine.
“I’ll be honest with you, I stood up guys who made MAs, I stood up coaches, including myself, that could have done a better job, I stood up guys who missed tackles, guys who missed blocks, and the bottom line is guys who miss kicks and guys who fumble the ball, and the bottom line is the entire team stood up. We all made mistakes, sometimes they’re just bigger than others because of the situation and the timing of the game that they happen. It was a mistake and we had everybody on our team (stand up) that made a mistake, and coaches, as well, so we all had to move on from it. He’s done a really nice job moving on this week. We don’t have time to feel sorry for ourselves. We’ve got the University of Alabama we’re needing to play, so that’s kind of how we handled it. He’s fine.”
Arkansas enters the Alabama leading the nation in sacks with defensive coordinator Barry Odom and first-year defensive line coach Deke Adams. Pittman talked about how the sack total has developed to the point of leading the nation.
“Well, I think a big part of it is that obviously we the past two seasons here we’ve been playing a ton of double cloud coverage and rushing three and trying to keep everything underneath us and things,” Pittman said. “So we are playing a lot more man than we have in the past, which has allowed us to get another rusher. Obviously Drew Sanders has something to do with that. Jordan Domineck has something to do with that. I think between them they’ve got something like 9 sacks or 10, something like that. Barry has done a really nice job and Deke Adams of schematics. A lot of times sacks are something new that they haven’t seen or you just have a better player than they do. And so, in a nutshell, all those things have contributed to more sacks.”
Pittman acknowledged the Hogs continue to work hard at tackling and ball security during practice. That was the case again on Tuesday.
“Well we sure are working on it, I can promise you that,” Pittman said. “It’s a big emphasis, as well, this week of starting fast in the third quarter and hanging on to the football, like you just alluded to. You kind of gotta wait until Saturday to feel like if what you’re doing is working. We certainly are emphasizing it and hopefully we’ll be better at it. We certainly think we will be because we’re practicing specifics, but I think you have to wait until Saturday. A lot of that is closing air, closing cushion. You’re going to be a much better tackler in a phone booth than you are out on the highway. So we’ve got to close the space down better.”
Pittman did discuss one personnel move that will likely lead to a true freshman, tight end Tyrus Washington, redshirting.
“You really don’t ever decide to redshirt somebody to be honest with you,” Pittman said. “I think it just kind of happens. However, Tyrus Washington has been a guy we’ve used on kickoff returns, and you and I both know that probably 80-85%, 90 in this league of the kickoff returns, you don’t have an opportunity because you’re kicking them out of the back of the end zone. So that would be the one guy that I told our staff, ‘Hey, listen, let’s take him off of special teams,’ and if we need him to play tight end to win a game, then we will go ahead and do that. If not, then his four games would be played. That would be the only guy right now that’s kind of not obvious, to be honest with you.”
Arkansas and Alabama will kickoff at 2:30 p.m. on Saturday with the game televised on CBS.