FAYETTEVILLE – So far so good, Sam Pittman assessed Wednesday of his Arkansas Razorbacks’ bye week before their Nov. 6 SEC game against the Mississippi State Bulldogs at Reynolds Razorback Stadium.
After last Saturday’s 45-3 nonconference victory in Little Rock over Arkansas-Pine Bluff, Pittman gave the Razorbacks Sunday and Monday off, had the regulars go through a walkthrough and scrimmaged the redshirts and seldom-used reserves.
That also would be the format for Wednesday’s closed practice, Pittman said earlier in the afternoon.
This week’s workouts conclude with a Thursday afternoon closed to media practice similar to a light Monday prep for Mississippi State coming off a game-week, Pittman said.
The players are off from Thursday night Saturday while the coaches go recruiting then regroup for a Sunday late afternoon practice and hard, full-padded Monday practice since the NCAA mandates next Tuesday off for Election Day.
Pittman said he originally had some different things in mind for Wednesday’s practice but the format would be “identical” to Tuesday’s because it went so well.
“We had three different 10-minute segments of walk with the offense and defense, then we had 10-minute segments of special teams on Mississippi State,” Pittman said. “Then we had a 29-play scrimmage with the young guys and came out of it heathy which was a big thing.”
Among the redshirting freshmen scrimmaging, Pittman cited defensive tackle Cameron Ball and tight end Landon Rogers.
He also praised Kade Renfro, the walk-on transfer quarterback via Ole Miss.
Even with it walkthroughs, Pittman sees ongoing competition in the secondary. Pittman and defensive coordinator Barry Odom used the UAPB game to give nickel back Jayden Johnson, a true freshman, and sophomore safety Malik Chavis of Rison their first starts of the season ahead of veterans Greg Brooks and Simeon Blair and reinsert LaDarrius Bishop of Ashdown, idled by injury the previous week in the 38-23 loss to Auburn, at cornerback.
“Certainly between Blair, Brooks, Jayden Johnson and (Myles) Slusher,” Pittman said of competition at nickel and safety. “I think that’s an ongoing competition as well as at corner (between Bishop and Hudson Clark). I think those are two competitions going on. We certainly have running back competition (Dominique Johnson, Trelon Smith, Raheim “Rocket Sanders and AJ Green).At receiver competition we have to figure out who we want to play at slot as far as our No. 2 slot. It’s a good week to find out about some of the younger guys and see if they do things well enough to be ready enough mentally to go play in a SEC game.”
While the running backs compete, Pittman again asserted that Johnson, averaging 7.9 per carry with 309 yards and four touchdowns on 39 totes, should get more opportunities than he’s been getting.
For just the second quarter and two early third-quarter rushes against UAPB, Johnson netted 91 yards on 6 carries.
“Dominique Johnson needs to carry the ball more,” Pittman said. “His first four runs he averaged 20 yards a carry.”
Pulled quickly after those two early-third quarter runs, Johnson was one of the Arkansas first-teamers to play in last Saturday’s second half with the Hogs, up, 45-0 at intermission.
The backups used on offense did not collectively fare well.
Arkansas was shut out the second half against UAPB but Pittman said film showed good work from reserve offensive tackles Luke Jones and Ty’Kieast Crawford.
Pittman said another week to heal helps defensive tackle Markell Utsey and offensive tackle Dalton Wagner, both withheld from the UAPB game because of injuries, and defensive tackle John Ridgeway, pulled early against UAPB because of injuries.
All three, Pittman said, should play the Nov. 6 game against Mississippi State kicking off at 3 p.m. at Reynolds Razorback Stadium in Fayetteville and televised by the SEC Network.
While the 5-3 overall/1-3 in the SEC West Hogs finish their bye week, the Bulldogs, 4-3/2-2, of the SEC West host Kentucky of the SEC East Saturday night in Starkville, Miss.
Joe Lee Dunn, the Mississippi State defensive coordinator from 1996-2002 after serving as Danny Ford’s defensive coordinator for the 1995 SEC West champion Razorbacks and previously the head coach at New Mexico and Ole Miss and defensive coordinator at South Carolina, has passed away at 75.