FAYETTEVILLE — It has been a while since Arkansas football was at full strength in the secondary. In fact, the Razorbacks have had multiple defensive backs out since Week 1.
The injuries peaked this past weekend at BYU when cornerback Malik Chavis left late in the first quarter with a head injury. Arkansas finished off its 52-35 win over the Cougars with six defensive backs on the shelf.
While star safety Jalen Catalon and cornerback LaDarrius Bishop are out for the year, head coach Sam Pittman has remained confident that the others — Khari Johnson, Jayden Johnson, Myles Slusher and Malik Chavis — will be healthy enough to return following the open week.
“I expect every one of our guys back for the Auburn game, with the exception of DayDay and Cat,” Pittman said. “Khari is ready to go. Jayden’s close, and then your next one would probably be Slusher, and then probably the furthest away is probably Chavis.”
In addition to the defensive backs, backup offensive linemen Ty’Kieast Crawford and Marcus Henderson didn’t travel to BYU because of injuries suffered in practice last week. They are expected to return next week, as well.
Pittman also revealed that quarterback KJ Jefferson wouldn’t throw passes this week because of a sore shoulder. He suffered a stinger late in Saturday’s win, but indicated it was on his left side when talking with the media afterward. Pittman said he should be full-go Monday.
The off week will also be a good time for other players dealing with minor injuries they’ve been playing through to recover and gear up for the final five games of the regular season. Most notably, linebacker Bumper Pool has been playing through a hip injury and wide receiver Jadon Haselwood has been dealing with a shoulder issue since the spring.
“I think Bump needs it even worse than Haselwood,” Pittman said. “Bump’s injury is just nagging, which is affecting the way he plays, and hopefully we can get him back healthy.
“Haselwood is the same thing; he’s dinged up a little bit, which you can continually week after week after week, it just doesn’t get much better, so we’re certainly hoping that this week will help him, as well.”
To aid in that recovery process, Pittman has adjusted his typical plan for an open date. Rather than a couple of walk-throughs and regular practices, the Razorbacks will have just three walk-throughs with no contact. They are even ditching their helmets to ensure they eliminate all physicality and don’t go too fast, which they also did last year.
Arkansas would normally use one day during the open week to scrimmage its younger players, but Pittman said he doesn’t even feel like the team could afford losing anyone from the scout team.
“I hate it for the kids, because there’s some guys — like (James) Jointer, Landon Rogers…(Quincey) McAdoo, (Sam) Mbake, other guys, Nico (Davillier) — that need tackle football,” Pittman said. “But…three of them are all in our 2-deep and the other guys are very valuable for the scout team, as well.”
Despite not getting the physicality of a normal practice, Pittman said he believes the walk-throughs will benefit the team from a mental standpoint, which is a major point of emphasis this week. The aforementioned injured players are also able to participate, unlike in a normal practice, so they are still getting valuable reps.
As he’s mentioned in fall camp previously, Pittman is also a firm believer in preparing too much for a single team, because it creates a “lull” in the days leading up to the game. He added that he thinks the walk-throughs prevent that from happening because they’re different than the grind of normal practices.
“You over-emphasize the communication before the snap,” Pittman said about the walk-through practices. “The reason I like that is because the kids know exactly where to go and how to go do it. In a walk, you can kind of at times stumble into the right guy, if that makes sense.
“We want to make sure our footwork’s right at every position. We want to make sure our communication pre-snap, that we know where we’re going. We’re trying to really amp up our mental games this week and that includes extra film time for film on Auburn, as well.”
Warren Thompson Discipline Disclosure
Originally expected to be one of the go-to wide receivers for Arkansas football this season, Warren Thompson has been very limited the last few weeks for various reasons.
Despite going through pregame warmups, he was held out entirely from the Alabama game because of an undisclosed injury. He returned the following week, but came off the bench and barely played half of the snaps at Mississippi State.
This past weekend, Thompson once again came off the bench, but this time he didn’t play at all in the first half before starting the second half. Sam Pittman revealed Wednesday that it was an “internal…issue” and he was fine moving forward.
“That was just a discipline deal for a half and he is ready to go now,” Pittman said. “I thought he handled that situation great. He was excited on the sideline and all that, and then went in there. But he is healthy now and doing well.”
Through seven games, of which he’s played six, Thompson has nine receptions for 129 yards and two touchdowns this season.
Sam Pittman’s Wednesday Zoom
Here are several other updates from Sam Pittman’s weekly Wednesday afternoon Zoom, which is the only time he will meet with the local media during Arkansas football’s open week…
- On looking to the portal for future help on defense: I think we have to. Certainly we’re not through with players leaving or anything of that nature. We understand the portal will be open. We have to be ready for that. Right before this Zoom, we were watching junior college players — I look at JUCO the same as a portal transfer, someone for immediate help. We would certainly do that. We wouldn’t be very smart if we didn’t.
- On facing Auburn, which also has an open date this week: We checked what they’re doing and I think they’re going Tuesday, Wednesday and coming back Sunday. It’s a different philosophy. But they’re a very physical team and really talented. They can get after the passer. Their quarterback is scary because he can run and throw, plus they have Tank (Bigsby).
- Health of the defensive backs: Khari (Johnson) has been cleared, so he’s fine. Jayden (Johnson) is not yet cleared. He’d probably be in (individual drills) if we were actually practicing. I expect every one of our guys back for the Auburn game, with the exception of Bishop, Catalon and Carter. Khari is ready, Jayden is close, then there’s (Myles) Slusher and the furthest away is probably (Malik) Chavis.
- On facing Auburn: Last year was the first time we were ever favored in a game since I’ve been here and we lost. Started extremely slow, made a comeback and we had a sack-fumble that really turned the game around. Auburn is a proud program, good football team.
- On health of offensive linemen Ty’Kieast Crawford and Marcus Henderson: Both of them are dinged up, but expected to be back for Auburn. They aren’t necessarily cleared for full contact yet, but expected back. They got hurt in practice last Wednesday.
- On wide receiver Warren Thompson: We had an internal issue there. It was a discipline deal, suspended for the first half. He’s good to go now. I thought he handled it great, cheered for his teammates on the sideline.
- On whether they could still add a high school recruit to the 2023 class: We certainly could. I want to leave that open. To be honest, if we were going to take… There’s a few out there that we would, but if we were going to take somebody that couldn’t be here in January right now, we would probably wait on the portal and see what goes on with that.
Watch Sam Pittman’s full interview here:
Sam Pittman on SEC Teleconference
The third-year coach also made his weekly appearance on the SEC coaches teleconference Wednesday morning. Here are a few nuggets from that interview…
- On this week’s practice plan: The team was off Sunday and Monday. We had a night practice last night, but it was just a walk-through. Already started focusing on Auburn.
- On Keuan Parker’s first action on defense: Thought he did a nice job. It was a tough situation against a good quarterback from BYU (Jaren Hall), but he did a really nice job.
- On Hudson Clark’s role moving forward: To be honest, he’s going to have to play both (safety and cornerback). … He’s getting better back there at safety, but he’ll have to play both spots.
- More on this week’s plan: Last year, we practiced Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and two of those were walk-through practices focusing on our opponent, which was Mississippi State. We started prepping for Auburn last night. We’ll do a walk-through today and tomorrow, too, this year. It’ll be a regular work week starting Monday. Biggest concern is being mentally prepared for Auburn and getting healthy.
- On the benefit of lesser-used DBs getting playing time: We’ll feel much better about putting those guys in the game, or giving starters a break, because of the playing time those guys (Keuan Parker and Trent Gordon) have gotten. That should help us down the road.
- On Jalen Catalon’s future: I don’t think he’s decided what he wants to do yet. I did speak with him yesterday.
- On when Taurean Carter might be able to return: We’d be fortunate to get him back for the last two regular-season games, maybe as late as the bowl game. I definitely think we’d have him for a bowl game if we qualify. We’ll see how that goes.
- On Dominique Johnson: He’s 100% (healthy). It’s just a situation where they other guys have gotten better. We’ve very confident in him, but he’s in a depth chart battle. We’re very pleased with AJ Green’s progression and the addition of R-Dub (Rashod Dubinion).
- On how they’ll used this week for recruiting: Our coaches are going to leave Thursday after practice, which was moved up a little bit so they can get out and watch some games. We need to hold on to our 2023 commits and everybody is rolling on 2024s now. Our whole staff, including myself, will be out Thursday and Friday.
- On players they want back for a fifth year: There’s a bunch of them. I’m going to guess around 6-8 we’d ask to come back. One of them is DayDay (LaDarrius) Bishop. Obviously (Jalen) Catalon would be in that because he’s going to graduate. There are several on the defensive line we’d like to have back.
Listen to Sam Pittman’s full interview here:
Arkansas Football Injury Report
Here’s the latest on Arkansas football players dealing with injuries…
- QB KJ Jefferson (head/stinger): Returned to the field at BYU after missing one game with what was believed to be a concussion… Left the game early with what was described as a stinger… Nothing serious and could have returned if needed
- 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
- OL Ty’Kieast Crawford (undisclosed): Injured last Wednesday at practice and did not travel to BYU… Expected to be back for Auburn
- OL Marcus Henderson (undisclosed): Injured last Wednesday at practice and did not travel to BYU… Expected to be back for Auburn
- CB Malik Chavis (head): Left the BYU game after getting his “bell rung” late in the first quarter… Expected to be back for Auburn, but furthest away among four defensive backs with non-season-ending injuries
- DB Myles Slusher (calf): Missed last two games with a calf injury… Also missed two games earlier in the season with what was believed to be a concussion… Expected to be back for Auburn
- DB Jayden Johnson (undisclosed): Did not travel to BYU after getting hurt against Mississippi State… Getting close to fully cleared, expected to be back for Auburn
- DB Khari Johnson (undisclosed): Did not travel to BYU after getting hurt against Mississippi State… Has already been cleared, expected to be back for Auburn
- CB LaDarrius Bishop (knee): Out for the year
- S Jalen Catalon (shoulder): Out for the year
Arkansas Football Stat Check
|Scoring||32.7 ppg (t-51st)||32.6 (112th)|
|Yards||488.6 ypg (18th)||457.1 (120th)|
|Passing||248.6 ypg (62nd)||314.0 (128th)|
|Rushing||240.0 (11th)||143.1 (66th)|
|3rd Down||49.1% (18th)||44.8% (114th)|
|Turnovers||9 (t-57th)||9 (t-70th)|
|Sacks||1.57 (t-45th)||3.00 (t-14th)|
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)
Auburn’s Rankings: NR (AP) | NR (Coaches) | No. 42 (SP+) | No. 50 (FPI)
Arkansas’ Rankings: RV (AP) | RV (Coaches) | No. 34 (SP+) | No. 44 (FPI)
ESPN FPI: Arkansas has a 44.6% chance to win (up 14.5 percentage points from preseason projection)
Bryan Harsin on Hot Seat
Auburn has won its last six games against Arkansas, which would make a loss at home vs the Hogs all the more damning for the Tigers’ head man whose seat is already “scalding” according to The Athletic’s Bruce Feldman. Bryan Harsin’s bunch has lost three straight SEC games to fall to 3-4 on the season.
“If Auburn fires Harsin without cause, the school owes 70% of his remaining salary through the contract term,” 247Sports’ Brad Crawford wrote. “That totals $15.3 million, with 50% of that total due within 60 days. Auburn fired Gus Malzahn in December 2020, and paid more than $21 million in buyout funds. Auburn paid out half of that to Malzahn within a month.”
As you can see below, Harsin takes the cake when it comes to BetOnline’s latest odds for the next college fooball coach to get fired:
|Next NCAA Coach Fired (Listed Only)|
|Bryan Harsin (Auburn)||10/11||(-110)|
|Jeff Scott* (South Florida)||7/2|
|David Shaw (Stanford)||6/1|
|Ken Niumatalolo (Navy)||7/1|
|Kirk Ferentz (Iowa)||7/1|
|Jimbo Fisher (Texas A&M)||19/2|
|Neal Brown (West Virginia)||19/2|
|Eli Drinkwitz (Missouri)||10/1|
|Pat Fitzgerald (Northwestern)||11/1|
|Brent Venables (Oklahoma)||22/1|
|Scott Satterfield (Louisville)||22/1|
|Marcus Freeman (Notre Dame)||50/1|
*Chad Morris is working his dark magic to help boost Scott’s chances
More coverage of Arkansas football from BoAS…