FAYETTEVILLE — Much like Eric Musselman and his stance on NCAA Tournament expansion, Sam Pittman appears to have a “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” philosophy for Arkansas football.
After back-to-back slow starts against Alabama and Mississippi State, the third-year coach once again adjusted the format of practice leading up to the Razorbacks’ road trip to BYU.
Although they fumbled on their opening drive and had to punt on their second one that started at the 1, the Razorbacks quickly got it in gear and scored on their next eight possessions en route to a 52-35 win over the Cougars.
“We’re going to change practice up just like we did when we went to BYU,” Pittman said. “We’re going to start fast with good on good and things of that nature. It worked so we’re going to keep it that way.”
That’s likely what Arkansas would have done last week, too, but it was the open date and Pittman changed up practice once again.
Instead of having even one regular practice, the Razorbacks just had three walk-throughs as they tried to recover and get healthy for their final five games of the regular season. Their focus was on the mental side of things.
“We tried not to rest them mentally as far as prep — mental prep, film, walks, things of that nature — for Auburn,” Pittman said. “But obviously when your body slows down, a lot of times your mind does too, so hopefully we’ve got the perfect remedy for the guys to kind of go down a little bit, relax a little bit, because we know we have a hard five-game stretch coming up.”
However, now that Arkansas is once again in game week, Pittman said he’ll ramp things up beginning Monday, with a more physical practice in “shells” — shoulder pads and helmets.
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 Auburn matchup, gave some injury updates, took a final look back at the open week and more…
- On the upcoming Arkansas vs Auburn game: We’re excited to go to Auburn. We had a good bye week. I feel like we’re healthy as we can be going into this game. We know they have a lot of good players. They’re very talented. But we’re looking forward to it.
- On how he spent the weekend: I watched college football all day. Obviously I went to some high school games on Friday night and visited some schools. I got down to Hot Springs around 11 Friday evening then watched games all day Saturday. We met back up at 5 yesterday and worked until about 10.
- On some injury updates (more in injury report below): We’re going to look at Slusher in Indy today and see how much he can progress. We feel like he’ll be fine. Marcus Henderson is one guy who probably won’t be ready early in the week. He had a high-ankle sprain. Getting (Ty’Kieast) Crawford back today.
- On Arkansas’ offensive balance: I think we opened up the game plan a little bit more last week on early downs. That’s who we are. We can throw and catch, especially when we’re unpredictable. I think that helped us against BYU. Certainly I believe you have to run the ball to have success, the way we’re built.
- On the defensive game plan vs Auburn: Each game is a lot about matchups. I think the first thing with Auburn is you have to be able to stop their run game, then how do you match up against their receivers. We’re going to have to give them several looks. They have a very talented quarterback, but he’s young. We’ll mix it up.
- On quarterback KJ Jefferson’s health: He didn’t throw the football last week. I want to say it may have been going into A&M on a Thursday, he threw a ball and didn’t finish the practice. It’s been nagging him a little bit, but he’s healthy now and I expect him to be ready to go.
- On Auburn quarterback Robby Ashford: Robby is their second leading rusher. Some of those are designed runs, then obviously the other part is getting outside the pocket and running. We’re very concerned about that. He’s got a strong arm, but he’s most dangerous when you have guys covered and he takes off.
- On how Auburn is playing despite head coach Bryan Harsin being on the hot seat: I think they’re playing really hard. It’s Auburn. We haven’t beat them since I’ve been here. I think they’re playing hard. For them to come back after being down 21-0 and make it close, it says a lot about their coaching staff and the kids still believing in them.
- On right guard Beaux Limmer: Beaux has a little nastiness in him. He likes to finish blocks. He’s extremely smart and strong. He’s probably the most improved offensive lineman we have this year. He’s playing with a lot of confidence. Been very pleased with him this year. He’s a good center, as well, but we haven’t played him there because of Ricky. I think he is an NFL player.
- On how Rocket Sanders is handling the work load: I like where Rocket is at. He’s averaging 124 yards a game. Ball security has to improve there – not necessarily just the ones on the ground, but the way we’re carrying the ball. Rocket is a competitor. He’s mature for his age. I think he can handle the load he’s getting right now.
- On Auburn edge rusher Derick Hall and linebacker Owen Pappoe: Hall is really good. So is Pappoe. Hall is a problem. I think he has maybe 4 sacks, but it’s not just the sacks. He’s a good run defender. He can chase you down on QB reads. He can affect throws. I think he’s really, really good and is playing extremely well. Pappoe can really run and get you on the ground. Very smart player. Seems to always be in the right spot.
- On tight end Trey Knox: Trey made some key catches for us at BYU. He’ll become more of a key target as we open things up on first down. I think he’s had a really good year.
- On Arkansas’ third-down offense ranking 17th nationally: It certainly has helped. We’d like to be higher than that. Last week was 12 out of 15. If we can continue to stay on the field… We have to lean on our offense. A lot of teams lean on one side of the ball or the other. Our offense needs to stay out on the field and score points for us.
- On safety Jalen Catalon’s plans moving forward: That was left open-ended. I don’t know that he’s ready to come back yet. You’d have to ask him.
- On the LSU-Ole Miss game on Saturday: It just got out of hand. LSU was very, very physical and had their best offensive outing against a top team. LSU is talented. They have a lot of good players who made plays.
Watch Sam Pittman’s full interview here:
Monday Practice Observations – Auburn Week
Here are a few observations from the 15-20 minutes of practice open to the media Monday afternoon…
- As expected, the Razorbacks practiced in “shells” – shoulder pads and helmets. They were inside Walker Pavilion because of rainy weather in Fayetteville.
- The only player in a green non-contact jersey Monday was wide receiver Jadon Haselwood, as he’s been dealing with a nagging shoulder injury since the spring. He’ll probably remain in green the rest of the year.
- Sam Pittman was being honest when he said it was the healthiest they’ve been in a while. Defensive backs Myles Slusher, Khari Johnson and Jayden Johnson were back at practice, as was offensive lineman Ty’Kieast Crawford. All of those were expected based on Pittman’s press conference earlier in the day.
- Also expected was the absence of cornerback Malik Chavis and offensive lineman Marcus Henderson. Pittman said he’s hopeful Chavis will be back Tuesday and Henderson might return later in the week.
- Freshman Sam Mbake is still on defense, but he appeared to be practicing with the safeties. Fellow converted freshman wide receiver Quincey McAdoo was still with the corners, but he was no longer wearing a club on his hand.
- Quarterback KJ Jefferson didn’t throw last week because of a sore arm, but he looked fine throwing at Monday’s practice.
- Scouts from the New York Jets, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, New England Patriots and Seattle Seahawks were at practice.
Arkansas Football Injury Report
Here’s the latest on various Arkansas football players dealing with injuries…
- QB KJ Jefferson (shoulder): Pittman revealed last week that Jefferson wouldn’t throw during the open week because of a shoulder injury… On Monday, he said it was a nagging injury suffered in practice leading up to the Texas A&M game… Should be healthy and ready to go this week… Missed the Mississippi State game with a head injury and left late in the BYU game with a stinger
- DB Myles Slusher (calf): Expected to participate in individual drills Monday and Arkansas will reassess afterward… Pittman is optimistic that he’ll return… Missed last two games with a calf injury… Also missed two games earlier in the season with what was believed to be a concussion
- OL Ty’Kieast Crawford (undisclosed): Expected back at practice Monday… Injured in Wednesday’s practice leading up to the BYU game
- OL Marcus Henderson (ankle): Dealing with a high-ankle injury suffered in Wednesday’s practice leading up to the BYU game… Probably won’t be available early in the week, but possibly later in the week
- CB Malik Chavis (head): Pittman is hopeful he’ll be back at practice no later than Tuesday… Left the BYU game after getting his “bell rung” late in the first quarter
- DB Jayden Johnson (undisclosed): Expected to return to practice Monday… Did not travel to BYU after getting hurt against Mississippi State
- DB Khari Johnson (undisclosed): Fully cleared last week… Did not travel to BYU after getting hurt against Mississippi State
- DB Latavious Brini (ankle): Been dealing with a nagging ankle injury for 5-6 weeks… Pittman is hopeful the week off helped him get healthy
- LB Bumper Pool (hip): Been playing through a nagging hip injury… Pittman says he “feels better” after getting a week off
- LB Drew Sanders (undisclosed): Has apparently been playing through something, as Pittman mentioned he “feels better” when discussing injured players Monday afternoon
- WR Jadon Haselwood (shoulder): Also been playing through pain… Feels better after a week off, but Pittman said he expects the shoulder injury to nag him the rest of the year… Will continue practicing in green
- DT Taurean Carter (knee): Been out since getting hurt in the Spring Showcase… Pittman is hopeful he might be able to return for the final two games of the regular season, or for the bowl game at the latest
- 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.)
|Ketron Jackson Jr.
|Jalen St. John
- The only change is at wide receiver, as Jackson is listed as a starter for the first time this season. He has started each of the last three games, as Thompson battled an injury and also served a first-half suspension at BYU. In a corresponding move, Wilson is now listed as the backup to Landers.
- Crawford is still listed as the backup right tackle, but he did not travel to BYU because of an undisclosed injury. He is the Razorbacks’ No. 6 offensive lineman who would likely come into the game if anyone got hurt.
|Chris Paul Jr.
|Myles Slusher -OR-
- There are no changes to the defensive depth chart.
- However, it’s worth noting that Clark is still listed as a backup cornerback despite starting the previous two games as a safety.
- Chavis left the BYU game because of a head injury and Parker filled in for him.
- They are not listed on the depth chart, but freshmen converted wide receivers Sam Mbake and Quincey McAdoo are probably the backup corners behind Parker.
- Slusher and Jayden Johnson are listed with an “or” at nickel, but neither played in the last game. Khari Johnson also missed the BYU game, even though he’s been listed as a backup.
- Even with the Razorbacks opening up in a four-man front against BYU, Gregory started at defensive end instead of Williams, allowing Hampton to start at the second defensive tackle spot beside Nichols.
|Reid Bauer -OR-
|John Oehrlein -OR-
- There are no changes to the special teams depth chart.
- There’s still an “or” listed between them, but Bauer is the starting punter.
- There is also an “or” between the two backup long snappers, but it’s worth noting that Oehrlein has been the on Arkansas’ 70-man travel roster for SEC games this season and not Castro.
How to Watch Arkansas vs Auburn
Date: Saturday, Oct. 29
Location: Jordan-Hare Stadium (Auburn, Ala.)
Kickoff Time and TV Schedule: 11 a.m. CT (SEC Network)
Announcers: Dave Neal (play-by-play), Deuce McAllister (analyst), Andraya Carter (sideline reporter)
Arkansas’ Rankings: RV (AP) | RV (Coaches) | No. 33 (SP+) | No. 43 (FPI)
ESPN FPI: Arkansas has a 43.7% chance to win (up 13.6 percentage points from preseason projection)
Odds/Betting Line: Arkansas, -3.5 | O/U 61.5 (FanDuel)
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