FAYETTEVILLE — The Arkansas football team is hitting pause on a grueling SEC slate to step out of conference play for a unique trip to BYU this week.
It will be a tough test for the Razorbacks, who are riding a three-game losing streak, because the Cougars have been a top-25 team for much of the season. They fell out after a close loss to Notre Dame, but are still 4-2.
Another aspect of the game head coach Sam Pittman must consider is the fact that BYU’s stadium, LaVell Edwards Stadium, is 4,649 feet above sea level. That is a significantly higher elevation than Arkansas is used to.
“For us, we’re going to hydrate,” Pittman said. “We’re going to hydrate as much as possible, and we’re going to watch our kids that have sickle-cell closely. And after that, we’re just going to go play the game.”
Hydration is almost always an important part of preparation, but the latter part of that is unique to the elevation at which the Razorbacks will be playing Saturday.
This won’t be Pittman’s first time coaching at elevation — he coached at Utah State in 1995 and Colorado in 2001 as members of the staff at Northern Illinois and Kansas, respectively — but it is his first time as a head coach, so he reached out to others who have experience with it.
Those conversations brought to light a topic that sometimes comes up with NFL players before matchups with the Denver Broncos.
“I have heard stories about kids with the sickle cell trait that you really need to watch them,” Pittman said. “We went over that this morning in our meeting, as well.”
According to the CDC, sickle cell disease is a genetic blood disorder that affects millions of people throughout the world — especially those whose ancestors come from sub-Saharan Africa. In the United States, about 1 out of every 365 Black or African-American babies are born with sickle cell disease.
Sickle cell trait, which occurs when a person inherits one sickle cell gene and one normal gene, is much more common — impacting about 1 in 13 Black or African-American babies — but generally doesn’t have the same symptoms. However, high altitudes are one condition that could prompt complications, hence the importance Pittman is placing on it.
Arkansas Football’s Weekly Press Conference
Here are several other updates from the third-year coach’s weekly Monday press conference, in which he previewed the Arkansas vs BYU matchup, gave some injury updates, took a final look back at the Mississippi State loss and more…
- On the upcoming BYU game: I’ve never been up there before for agame. I’ve driven by the stadium, but never for a game. I know our team is excited. They have a really nice team. They play extremely hard and have a really good quarterback. I really like their linebackers on defense. It’ll be a really nice challenge for us. It’ll be kind of neat to go out of conference right now before the bye.
- On the mental state of the team during a 3-game losing streak: I think the difference in this year and last year when we went on a 3-game losing streak was the health of the team was a little better, and we had won four instead of three before the losses and our next game was UAPB, not BYU. But we can still go back on us losing three straight and still finishing in the top 25…. We haven’t lost the team or anything. I think we’ll have a great week of practice. Plan to get our QB back and hopefully Slusher.
- On whether Malik Hornsby was the backup quarterback again: Malik certainly earned that spot on Saturday. I gave him his choice of staying as the No. 2 quarterback or move to wide receiver or even move to corner. He’ll have to explain it, but there was a big weight lifted off his back the way he played. He validated what he thought of himself as a quarterback. He wants to stay right there and be ready if needed at quarterback.
- On making the move to Reid Bauer at punter: We had struggled early in games punting the ball and it was a consistent pattern. We talked about it after the Alabama game. Some people perform differently in games than in practice. … Max (Fletcher) had difficulties with the first punt and we knew Reid would go in there at that point. We’ll stay with Reid as long as he keeps punting well.
- On Myles Slusher’s status this week: I thought he would be further along yesterday than what he was. So I don’t know.
- On how to get off to a better start than the last two weeks: We might take the ball if we win the coin toss. We usually defer because I like the ball coming out in the second half. We have to do a better job offensively with our openers. We have to have our 10 plays in there that we’re going to run and get our kids believing in those plays.
- On the lesser-used wide receivers who played at MSU: I was really proud of Bryce. That was a tough catch. Really good throw. Not an easy catch. Did a really good job with that. We’ve got to get going a little bit more. We didn’t play particularly well at wide receiver and we need to figure out who our third receiver is. That could be a Bryce or even Jaedon Wilson. I think we have the talent, we just need more effort and play harder.
- On the drop in production of Matt Landers: Sometimes you’re open and miss the throw or don’t see them. Receivers are so different because where they progress in the read and things of that nature. You can also target a guy and he has to get open and win that rep. Obviously we’re not doing one of those three things. I think Matt Landers is an unbelievable talent, but to get the football, you have to get open and all of those things have to happen.
- On the goal line/short-yardage struggles: We had a missed assignment on the goal line. That was one of them. We’ve got to cover up the front side edge somehow. That would be either bringing in one of our wide outs or have 12 personnel with another tight end. Because we had no chance on fourth-and-1.
- On the red zone struggles: The good part is we have KJ as a runner. We’ve turned the ball over in the red zone and that’s hurt us. I’ve always believed that if you can run the ball consistently in the red zone, you’ll score. We haven’t done that on a consistent basis. We need to move the pocket a little more and give KJ a run-pass option. We need to score more touchdowns.
- On the plan vs. BYU’s offense: Hall is a really good quarterback. I like their offensive line. I like their two tackles. They’re all different personnel. They go empty. They got Romney back and another receiver. They’re big and throw a lot of one-on-one balls. We’re going to have to pressure him because I believe he’ll pick us apart if we don’t. We need to stop the run and pressure him.
- On the play of his offensive line: I think they’ve played well together as a unit, but the bad snaps and false starts have to stop. I get it, you’re going to have a false start on the road, but we can’t afford anything self inflicted.
- On Hudson Clark’s play at safety: We needed him to. He came up in the hole a few times and they ran hard, didn’t they? Might be out of position a little bit to be coming down in the A gap. But he’s the best option we had. You can count on Hudson Clark. He’ll be there. He catches some heck from the fans, but you can count on him. I love the kid. He’ll just get better and better.
Watch Sam Pittman’s full interview here:
Arkansas Football – Monday Practice Observations
The first 15-20 minutes of Monday’s practice were open to the media. Here are a few observations from that time…
- The Razorbacks practiced inside Walker Pavilion on Monday.
- As expected, quarterback KJ Jefferson was back in action at Monday’s practice. Sam Pittman said he was pretty much fully cleared, except he couldn’t go through contact drills Monday — but as a quarterback, he doesn’t do that anyway.
- Wide receiver Jadon Haselwood was the only player in a green non-contact jersey. He’s been dealing with an AC joint sprain in his shoulder all season.
- Another position change to report: After freshman wide receiver Sam Mbake converted to cornerback last week, fellow freshman wide receiver Quincey McAdoo has made a similar move. He was spotted working at cornerback Monday while wearing a club on his right hand. That was after being seen wearing a cast on his right arm/wrist before the Alabama game. In a corresponding move, he has changed jersey numbers from 81 to 24.
- Hudson Clark moved from corner to safety last week and was still working with the safeties on Monday.
- Defensive backs Khari Johnson and Jayden Johnson suffered undisclosed injuries in the Mississippi State game. As Pittman said in his press conference earlier in the day, neither were seen at practice during the media viewing period.
- Pittman revealed after the Mississippi State game that linebacker Bumper Pool has been dealing with injuries all year, which Pool specified later as a hip injury. He continued to tough through it Monday, going through practice without a green non-contact jersey.
Arkansas Football Injury Report
Here’s the latest on various Arkansas football players dealing with injuries…
- QB KJ Jefferson (head): Regular practice week ahead of BYU… Dressed out and participated in pregame warmups, but did not play at Mississippi State
- DB Jayden Johnson (undisclosed): Won’t practice on Monday, but still TBA for BYU game… Had to be helped off the field late in the second quarter at Mississippi State, did not return
- DB Khari Johnson (undisclosed): Pittman didn’t sound optimistic that he’d be available this week… Suffered an undisclosed injury at some point and didn’t play much, if at all, in the second half at Mississippi State
- DB Myles Slusher (calf): Pittman was optimistic that he’d be back this week after not traveling to Mississippi State, but sounded less optimistic during Monday’s press conference… “I thought he would be a little bit further along yesterday, to be perfectly honest with you, than what he was,” Pittman said. “So I don’t know.”
- LB Bumper Pool (hip): Been playing through the pain all year
- WR Jadon Haselwood (shoulder): Been playing through the pain all year
- WR Quincey McAdoo (arm/wrist): Did not travel to Mississippi State after being on the Texas A&M travel roster… Spotted with a cast on his right arm/wrist prior to the Alabama game
- DT Taurean Carter (knee): Expected to be out for a while
- CB LaDarrius Bishop (knee): Out for the year
- S Jalen Catalon (shoulder): Out for the year
Arkansas Football Depth Chart
The following depth chart was released to the media by the UA in its weekly game notes…
(NOTE: It’s important to remember that this depth chart is essentially worthless, as has been proved time and time again.)
|QB||KJ Jefferson||Malik Hornsby||Cade Fortin|
|RB||Rocket Sanders||AJ Green||Rashod Dubinion|
|TE||Trey Knox||Nathan Bax||Hudson Henry|
|WR||Warren Thompson||Jaedon Wilson|
|WR||Jadon Haselwood||Bryce Stephens|
|WR||Matt Landers||Ketron Jackson Jr.|
|LT||Luke Jones||Andrew Chamblee|
|LG||Brady Latham||Jalen St. John|
|C||Ricky Stromberg||Patrick Kutas|
|RG||Beaux Limmer||E’Marion Harris|
|RT||Dalton Wagner||Ty’Kieast Crawford|
- Hornsby is listed as the backup quarterback once again after Fortin got the start in Jefferson’s absence vs. Mississippi State.
- For the first time this season, Arkansas lists more than two running backs on its depth chart. Dubinion is listed as third, ahead of Johnson.
- Wide receivers Isaiah Sategna, Harper Cole and Sam Mbake are no longer listed on the depth chart. Sategna and Cole had been listed behind Haselwood and Stephens. Mbake had been listed third behind Landers and Jackson. His removal isn’t surprising considering his move to cornerback last week.
- Although he’s listed as a starter, Thompson didn’t start against Mississippi State, but he did play. Instead, Jackson made his second straight start.
|DE||Landon Jackson||Jashaud Stewart|
|DT||Eric Gregory||Terry Hampton|
|DT||Isaiah Nichols||Cam Ball|
|DE||Zach Williams||Jordan Domineck|
|MLB||Drew Sanders||Chris Paul Jr.|
|WLB||Bumper Pool||Jordan Crook||Jackson Woodard|
|NB||Myles Slusher -OR-||Jayden Johnson||Trent Gordon|
|CB||Dwight McGlothern||Keuan Parker|
|S||Latavious Brini||Khari Johnson|
|S||Simeon Blair||Jayden Johnson|
|CB||Malik Chavis||Hudson Clark|
- The only change on the defensive depth chart is there is now an “or” at nickel between Slusher and Jayden Johnson. Johnson – who has always been listed as a backup safety – has started at the position while Slusher has been out with an injury. The status of both Slusher and Johnson for this week is still up in the air.
- Even though he’s listed as a starter, Brini has not started since Week 3 against Missouri State.
- Khari Johnson is still listed as a backup safety, but it doesn’t sound as though he’ll be available to play this week.
- Clark is still listed as a backup cornerback, but he started at safety against Mississippi State.
- Freshman wide receiver Sam Mbake converted to cornerback and took second-team reps at practice last week, but is not listed on the depth chart.
|P||Reid Bauer -OR-||Max Fletcher|
|LS||Eli Stein||John Oehrlein -OR-||Francisco Castro|
|KOR||AJ Green||Rashod Dubinion|
|PR||Bryce Stephens||Harper Cole|
- There is now an “or” between Bauer and Fletcher at punter. Fletcher had handled all of the punting duties this season until Bauer took the second punt against Mississippi State and the rest of them. Pittman said Bauer would be the starter moving forward, unless a change needed to be made.
- Even though there is an “or” at backup long snapper, Oehrlein has been the second long snapper on each of Arkansas’ road trips so far this season.
How to Watch Arkansas vs BYU
Date: Saturday, Oct. 15
Location: LaVell Edwards Stadium (Provo, Utah)
Kickoff Time and TV Schedule: 2:30 p.m. CT (ESPN)
Announcers: Dave Pasch (play-by-play), Dusty Dvoracek (analyst), Tom Luginbill (sideline reporter)
Arkansas’ Rankings: NR (AP) | NR (Coaches) | No. 39 (SP+) | No. 50 (FPI)
ESPN FPI: Arkansas has a 36.0% chance to win (down 17.6 percentage points from preseason projection)
Odds/Betting Line: BYU, -3 | O/U 59.5 (FanDuel)
Razorbacks Talk BYU Football
Below is an excerpt from the press conference of Jordan Domineck and Hudson Clark. They discuss BYU quarterback Jaron Hall:
Domineck: “From a D-line perspective, he’s really a dynamic football player. He’s really good at game management. He’s quite dynamic. He knows how to run, he can sit in the pocket and throw if we don’t pressure him. He’s able to get out of the pocket and make something happen with his feet.”
“They’re a pretty big O-line, SEC size O-line, 6-7, 6-8 across the board, 6-6. Over 300 [pounds].”
“It’s going to be a really physical game for us, especially trying to contain their quarterback. Just to be able to keep him in the pocket, keep him from making plays that he would otherwise be able to make.”
“It’s just going to be us getting him off his spot as a D-line, so to speak, and just trying to dominate the line of scrimmage from the get-go from the very start. We’ve got to be able to start fast.”
Clark: “I think we’ve seen he can run, he can throw. He’s pretty accurate with the deep ball and on his intermediate and short routes.”
“We’ve been working on scramble drills if he does get out of the pocket, staying with the receivers, because he can get out and extend the play that way.”
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