FAYETTEVILLE — To say Arkansas football has struggled to stop the pass through three weeks would be quite the understatement.
Opponents are averaging a whopping 352.7 yards through the air against the Razorbacks, which ranks dead last among 131 FBS teams and is nearly 70 yards more than any other Power Five program. Quarterbacks for Cincinnati, South Carolina and even Missouri State have each thrown for at least 325 yards in Arkansas’ first three games.
“We’re having a hard time covering opponents,” head coach Sam Pittman said bluntly, when asked about what he saw after reviewing film of the Razorbacks’ 38-27 win over Missouri State. “We’ve had that the entire year.”
There’s no doubt that injuries have played a role in those struggles, as safety Jalen Catalon and nickel back Myles Slusher left the first game with injuries and haven’t played since. Backup cornerback LaDarrius Bishop missed the last game with an injury, too, plus there have been less serious in-game injuries to players like Jayden Johnson, Latavious Brini and Dwight McGlothern.
That has forced the Razorbacks to shuffle their defensive backs around to different positions and Pittman said they’re still searching for the right five-man combination in their base 4-2-5 nickel package.
“I think the first thing is you have to make sure you have the right people in the right spots…pre-snap, not where they’re aligned,” Pittman said. “I’m saying do we have our best players on the field. I think you have to figure that out first. We’ve been adjusting.”
While Catalon is out for the year, Slusher is expected to return this week and Pittman mentioned he’s capable of playing nickel, corner or safety. He added that Chavis could see his safety reps increase, as well. Clark, who has primarily been a corner at Arkansas, got a few reps at nickel against Missouri State, confirming Pittman’s previous comments that he’s also capable of playing other spots.
Regardless of where players end up, fixing and improving the secondary is near the top of Pittman’s priorities this week ahead of Saturday’s showdown with No. 23 Texas A&M.
“We can live with guys getting good throws,” Pittman said. “We can’t live with guys wide open. If somebody’s going to beat us, they need to beat us with us attempting to cover their guy.”
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 Texas A&M matchup, gave some injury updates, took a final look back at the Missouri State win and more…
- On facing Texas A&M this Saturday: We’re excited to go to Dallas and play Texas A&M. They have a really good team. Obviously a big win for them over Miami. They have a lot of speed – speed in the secondary. They’re big on the DL, at LB. Can really stretch the field with their wideouts. You have to stop 6 (RB Devon Achane) and 0 (WR Ainias Smith) on offense. That’s hard to do. Max Johnson played really well against Miami. They have a good special teams group. They look like a big, physical SEC team. I would consider Jimbo a friend of mine and I have a lot of respect for him and his program.
- On the biggest Missouri State takeaways after watching film: I thought our defensive line played well. We didn’t tackle well as a team. We’re having a hard time covering opponents. We’ve had that the entire year. On offense, you can’t turn it over three times and get none on offense. We had a lot of really good performances on offense. I thought our line played well. Need to throw it and catch it better, but we can’t turn it over. Special teams helped us.
- On how to improve tackling: We started last week in open-field tackling. Just trying to get the scout team on the ground. We missed a lot of tackles at linebacker, too. We just need to continue to do that.
- Health update on cornerback Dwight McGlothern: Nudie got hurt. Hamstring. Wasn’t much to it. He lifted yesterday and will practice today.
- On the differences in QB Max Johnson at LSU last year and now at Texas A&M: We didn’t see a whole lot of change in what they did with (Max Johnson) and what he did at LSU last year. He’s still a guy who can hurt you with his feet, but he’s in there to manage the game and throw the football.
- On running back Rocket Sanders: The thing about Rocket is he’s early to the study table, all of his teachers love him. That’s how he is. He’s a perfectionist. That’s probably what makes him good. He’s very talented, but his want-to is higher than his talent.
- On whether or not they expected Rocket Sanders to be this good: I don’t think we expected to use Rocket as much as we have. The way the game was going and where we were, behind the entire game, we just felt like as long as he wasn’t tired, he was our guy we’d go to. I knew he’d have production, I just didn’t know we’d use him quite as much as we are.
- On Texas A&M’s defensive improvements between the Appalachian State loss and Miami (Fla.) win: They played two totally different offenses. Miami tried to throw the ball quite a bit. App State was more of “we’re coming at you” and running the football. A&M’s defense is big and physical and can run. One of their strengths is their secondary. I think they got better last week, but that was two totally different offenses against them.
- On quarterback KJ Jefferson: He can hurt you either way. Very confident throwing the football. We need to get him involved in the game early, either running or throwing.
- On snapping the losing streak against Texas A&M last year: It felt really good. It was really important to us because we were fortunate enough to beat Texas and then beat Texas A&M. I knew it would help us in recruiting, but also our national attention. It felt awful good.
- On former OL Dan Skipper making his first NFL start this weekend: I love Dan Skipper. He called me last week and told me he was going to get his first start. Been in the league for six years. He was very complimentary to me like I had something to do with it and I didn’t – that was all him.
- On the neutral site matchup: You don’t normally walk into a stadium and it’s even with fans. It’s really cool. Being in Mr. Jones’ stadium is really neat.
- On wide receiver Matt Landers: Matt was really down on himself last week. I mean, into Wednesday. To come out and have that game, hopefully it propels him to something special and even better.
- On defensive end Landon Jackson: He’s playing with a lot more speed, a lot more confidence. I think if you look at him and Drew Sanders, they’re getting better each week and being more comfortable in the system.
- Injury updates: Dominique (Johnson), we could have played him, we just didn’t. (Jashaud) Stewart, I think we need to wait today and tomorrow and see how he looks. I think he’ll be able to play, but I haven’t seen him yet.
- On wide receivers Jadon Haselwood and Ketron Jackson Jr.: Haselwood has been pretty solid all year. I think his leadership is better than it was at the beginning, but he’s been the most consistent of the receivers. He’s a leader and he’s tough. I love the kid. Ketron, we could look at 10 personnel to get him on the field, but then you’re taking Trey off the field. I kind of like the rotation as it is now.
Watch Sam Pittman’s full interview here:
Monday Practice Observations – Arkansas Football
Arkansas opened up about 15 minutes of Monday’s practice to the media. Here are a few tidbits from that viewing period…
- Record-high temperatures in Fayetteville, coupled with the fact that Saturday’s game is inside a climate-controlled AT&T Stadium, led to Sam Pittman moving this week’s practices inside Walker Pavilion. The UA even brought in portable A/C units to try to cool things off.
- The UA also recently put new speakers in Walker Pavilion and they were quite loud as the Razorbacks simulated crowd noise during some scout team work.
- After missing the last two games with an injury suffered in Week 1, nickel back Myles Slusher returned to practice Monday and was in a green non-contact jersey. The only other player in green was walk-on wide receiver Kamron Bibby, who did not dress out for the Missouri State game.
- Wide receiver Isaiah Sategna was not spotted at practice during the viewing period. The freshman rolled his ankle last week and did not dress out for the Missouri State game. Cornerback LaDarrius Bishop also wasn’t spotted.
- On a positive note, cornerback Dwight McGlothern was at practice and went through position drills. Pittman revealed earlier in the day he had a hamstring injury that limited him in the second half against Missouri State.
Arkansas Football Injury Report
Here’s the latest on various Arkansas football players dealing with injuries…
- RB Dominique Johnson (ACL): Pittman said they were prepared to play him against Missouri State, but he was fourth in the pecking order behind Rocket Sanders, AJ Green and Rashod Dubinion… Ultimately didn’t play for the third straight week… Pittman confirmed again Monday that he is cleared and ready to play this week against Texas A&M
- CB Dwight McGlothern (hamstring): Got dinged up during the Missouri State game… Was able to lift weights Sunday and will practice Monday, so should be fine for the Texas A&M game
- DE Jashaud Stewart (undisclosed): In a surprising development, Stewart did not dress out for the Missouri State game… Pittman didn’t reveal any specifics after the game… On Monday, Pittman said he’s optimistic he’ll be available against Texas A&M, but wants to see how he does at practice Monday and Tuesday
- DB Myles Slusher (undisclosed): Despite optimism that he could return against Missouri State, Slusher didn’t dress out for the second straight week after suffering an undisclosed injury against Cincinnati in Week 1… Expected to practice Monday and be available against Texas A&M
- TE Trey Knox (ankle): Despite dealing with a lingering ankle injury, Knox started and played virtually the entire Missouri State game… Finished with three receptions for 30 yards
- S Latavious Brini (ankle): Although it didn’t seem quite as bad as Knox’s, Brini was also dealing with an ankle injury this week, but he started and played virtually the entire Missouri State game… Finished with five tackles
- CB LaDarrius Bishop (knee): Did not dress out against Missouri State
- QB Kade Renfro (ACL): Just as he has all year, Renfro dressed out and went through pregame warmups, but did not play against Missouri State
- WR Isaiah Sategna (knee): Did not dress out against Missouri State after rolling his ankle in practice Tuesday
- DT Taurean Carter (knee): Did not dress out against Missouri State, expected to be out for a while
- 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…
|QB||KJ Jefferson||Malik Hornsby|
|RB||Rocket Sanders||AJ Green|
|TE||Trey Knox||Nathan Bax -OR-||Hudson Henry|
|WR||Warren Thompson||Jaedon Wilson||Quincey McAdoo|
|WR||Jadon Haselwood||Bryce Stephens||Isaiah Sategna|
|WR||Matt Landers||Ketron Jackson Jr.||Sam Mbake|
|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|
- There are no changes on the offensive depth chart.
- Despite there being an “or” between them, Bax has gotten virtually every backup snap at tight end and Henry has played only when Knox was dealing with an injury in the South Carolina game.
- Among the backup receivers, only Jackson has consistently gotten snaps, as he’s emerged as the true No. 4 guy at the position.
- Although he’s listed as the backup center, Kutas is probably fourth – at best – in the pecking order if something were to happen to Stromberg. Marcus Henderson has been back at practice and taking the second-team center reps, but Limmer would likely slide over to center in the event of a Stromberg injury and Crawford would sub in at right guard. Kutas has been spotted getting right guard snaps with the second-team offensive line at practice, so he appears to be ahead of Harris.
|DE||Zach Williams||Jordan Domineck|
|DT||Isaiah Nichols||Cam Ball|
|DT||Eric Gregory||Terry Hampton|
|DE||Jashaud Stewart||Landon Jackson|
|MLB||Drew Sanders||Chris Paul Jr.|
|WLB||Bumper Pool||Jordan Crook||Jackson Woodard|
|NB||Myles Slusher||Trent Gordon||Jacorrei Turner|
|CB||Hudson Clark -OR-||Malik Chavis|
|S||Latavious Brini||Khari Johnson|
|S||Simeon Blair||Jayden Johnson|
|CB||Dwight McGlothern||LaDarrius Bishop|
- The only change is that there is now an “or” between Clark and Chavis at cornerback. Chavis actually started against Missouri State, but he rotated with Clark.
- The fact that Slusher is listed as the starter doesn’t mean he’s for sure playing because he was also listed as the starter each of the last two weeks and didn’t even dress out.
- The same can be said about Stewart at defensive end. He was listed as a starter, but missed the game because of an undisclosed injury.
- Although Gordon is listed as the backup nickel, Jayden Johnson – who’s listed as a backup safety – has been starting in his place.
- Bishop is listed as a backup cornerback, but he missed the last game with a knee injury. Keuan Parker has been getting second-team reps in his place at practice.
|P||Max Fletcher||Reid Bauer|
|LS||Eli Stein||John Oehrlein -OR-||Francisco Castro|
|KOR||AJ Green||Rashod Dubinion|
|PR||Bryce Stephens||Harper Cole|
- There are no changes on the special teams depth chart.
How to Watch Arkansas vs Texas A&M
Date: Saturday, Sept. 24
Location: AT&T Stadium (Arlington, Texas)
Kickoff Time and TV Schedule: 6 p.m. CT (ESPN)
Announcers: Joe Tessitore (play-by-play), Greg McElroy (color analyst), Katie George (sideline reporter)
Texas A&M’s Rankings: No. 23 (AP) | No. 20 (Coaches) | No. 11 (SP+) | No. 32 (FPI)
Arkansas’ Rankings: No. 10 (AP) | No. 10 (Coaches) | No. 21 (SP+) | No. 38 (FPI)
ESPN FPI: Arkansas has a 42.2% chance to win (up 2.4 percentage points from preseason projection)
Odds/Betting Line: Texas A&M, -2.5 | O/U 48 (FanDuel)
Watch Texas A&M head coach Jimbo Fisher’s preview press conference here:
More coverage of Arkansas football from BoAS…