FAYETTEVILLE — Several factors went into the Arkansas football program moving its season opener up three hours, but it apparently didn’t consider the nap schedule of its most important player.
The Razorbacks are now slated for a noon CT kickoff against Western Carolina at War Memorial on Saturday because of excessive heat in the forecast for Little Rock. It was originally scheduled for 3 p.m.
While that will impact travel and tailgating plans for fans, it will also mean they’re kicking off right when quarterback KJ Jefferson usually starts taking his daily nap that will last until about 1:15 pm or so.
“I feel like if I don’t take a nap, then I’m not as focused and locked in as I should be because I didn’t get that nap,” Jefferson said in a recent interview on the Hog Pod. “It’s like I’m drained and tired, but once I get that nap, I’m energized, I’m focused, I’m locked in.”
Of course, playing the first game of what is likely to be his final season at Arkansas should give Jefferson plenty of energy, even against an FCS opponent.
The bigger impact will be on fans enjoying themselves outside the stadium before the game, but head coach Sam Pittman is more concerned about his team playing with temperatures climbing into the 90s. Saturday’s high in Little Rock is 93 degrees, but it’ll feel even hotter on the turf field and with humidity.
“I’m not worried about tailgating, I can tell you that,” Pittman said. “I know that’s going to make people mad, but I don’t care. We’re trying to do what is best for our team and what’s best for the fans.”
With the game being streamed on SEC Network-Plus and ESPN-Plus, the Razorbacks are in charge of setting the kickoff time and therefore have more flexibility to change it than if they were on traditional linear television.
Pittman said they could have moved it back to make it a night game, but that would mean returning to Fayetteville super late and still going through pregame warmups at the hottest time of the day.
“It just made no sense to me to move it back and get our kids back here at 1:30, 2, 2:30 in the morning for a game where we could move it up,” Pittman said. “Tailgating should be cooler. The game should be cooler.”
The latest weather forecasts for Little Rock come Saturday show a high of 93 degrees and sunny skies.
Arkansas Football’s Weekly Press Conference
Here are several other updates from the fourth-year coach’s weekly Monday press conference, in which he previewed the Arkansas vs Western Carolina matchup, gave some injury updates and more…
- On the season opener: We’re excited to have an opportunity to get down to Little Rock and play Western Carolina. Coach Bell does a wonderful job with that team offensively. They do a lot of things that are concerning for us. Defensively, they have some good defensive ends. Certainly have our work cut out for us. First games are scary because of the unknowns, but we’re really excited.
- On the kickoff time change: We’re trying to do what’s best for our team and what’s best for the fans. I would imagine tailgating when it’s 80-something or 95 or 96 would be better for the fans. When the heat came out, there was a decision to move forward or backward. If we moved it backward, we’d be getting home at like 1 a.m. instead of 7:30. With five of our first eight games on the road, it didn’t make sense to me to move it back.
- On there being six team captains: The team selected them. We don’t have any influence on it. There were a few that were high in votes, a couple, then the rest of the guys were all about the same, so we decided to go with six this year. It was so close that I didn’t want to have to be the guy to make that decision. We have good leadership on our team.
- On the “or” positions on the depth chart: They’re “or” because in all honesty, we don’t know who’s going to run out with the 1s. If there’s an “or,” they’re going to play ball for us. Maybe it has to do with injury or moving some kids. We really don’t know today exactly who we’re going to run out there yet, but we trust them and they’re going to play a lot of football.
- On lessons learned with the transfer portal: They have to earn everything they get. Not that Jadon Haselwood didn’t deserve to start for us, but he didn’t earn the right to start on Day 1 of spring ball. I made a mistake.
- On the battle at left tackle: Devon (Manuel) had that spot, he’s just been beat up. He’s not quite back to full speed. It just depends on how long it is before he’s full speed. If it gets to midweek, then (Andrew) Chamblee has earned that right.
- On his goals for this season: I want to play our best ball. There’s some things that are concerning, like how we played against non-logo schools. We didn’t play well against Missouri State or Liberty last year. Even Rice two years ago. That’s a concern. We talk a lot about playing our best ball and we need to get back to that physicality and playing our hearts out no matter who we play.
- On Isaiah Sategna being named kickoff and punt returner: He was the most consistent back there. We believe in Bryce, but Isaiah was the most consistent catching the football on punts. He returned a kickoff for a touchdown in our scrimmage. So we’ll let him have it and see how he does.
- On the tight ends: I think, right now, at least four of them will play significant minutes. (Luke) Hasz is probably No. 1 on that list. The other guys are really good players. They excel in different things. Hasz is probably the most consistent with catching and blocking. But we believe in four or five of them.
- On the travel to Little Rock: We’re bussing down and back. We can get back by 7 or 7:30, which is a good time. I’m concerned about eight games in a row. This A/C in the indoor is huge because you get into Week 5 and it’s hot and you just played a brutal schedule… We had to cut some reps a couple years ago because of the heat.
Watch Arkansas football coach Sam Pittman’s full press conference here:
Arkansas Football Injury Report
Here’s the latest on various Arkansas football players dealing with injuries…
- LT Devon Manuel (undisclosed): Missed a couple weeks of practice, but returned in a limited role last week… Not yet back to full speed, so his status for the opener is uncertain
- LG Brady Latham (undisclosed): Missed a few days of practice last week… No update from Pittman
- WR Jaedon Wilson (shoulder): Has missed the last several days of practice, but Pittman said he’s confident he’ll be able to play Saturday
- LB Chris Paul Jr. (MCL): Has returned to practice, but Pittman cited his health as why there’s an “or” between him and Jaheim Thomas
- LB Antonio Grier (pulled quad): Has missed a quite a few practices, but Pittman said he returned in a limited manner Saturday… Unsure if he’ll be healthy enough to play in the opener
- CB Kee’yon Stewart (undisclosed): Did not dress out for Thursday’s practice last week… No update from Pittman
- OL Terry Wells (torn pec): Left off fall camp roster and still out
- WR Sam Mbake (knee): Out for the season
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||Jacolby Criswell|
|RB||Rocket Sanders||AJ Green||Rashod Dubinion|
|TE||Luke Hasz||Francis Sherman||Nathan Bax -OR-|
Var’keyes Gumms -OR-
|WR||Andrew Armstrong||Tyrone Broden|
|WR||Isaac TeSlaa||Davion Dozier||Dazmin James|
|WR||Isaiah Sategna -OR-||Jaedon Wilson||Bryce Stephens|
|LT||Andrew Chamblee -OR-||Devon Manuel|
|LG||Brady Latham||Josh Street|
|C||Beaux Limmer||Amaury Wiggins|
|RG||Joshua Braun||Ty’Kieast Crawford|
|RT||Patrick Kutas||E’Marion Harris|
- There are two “or” listings on the first unit and both of them are because of injuries to previously presumed starters (Wilson at wide receiver and Manuel at left tackle).
- The only other “or” listings are at tight end, where Hasz is the starter and Sherman is the backup. There are three options listed on the third team – Bax, Gumms and Washington.
- Interestingly, there is no “or” at running back, like we predicted. Instead, Green is the backup to Sanders, with Dubinion and Johnson listed third and fourth, respectively.
|DE||Landon Jackson||John Morgan III||Jashaud Stewart|
|DT||Taurean Carter||Keivie Rose|
|DT||Eric Gregory||Cam Ball||Anthony Booker Jr.|
|DE||Trajan Jeffcoat||Zach Williams|
|LB||Chris Paul Jr. -OR-||Jaheim Thomas||Brooks Both|
|LB||Jordan Crook||Brad Spence|
|NB||Lorando Johnson||TJ Metcalf||Jaylen Lewis|
|CB||Dwight McGlothern||LaDarrius Bishop -OR-||Kee’yon Stewart|
|S||Alfahiym Walcott||Malik Chavis|
|S||Hudson Clark -OR-||Jayden Johnson|
|CB||Jaheim Singletary||Jaylon Braxton -OR-||Kee’yon Stewart|
- Much like on offense, there are two starting spots with an “or.” Paul and Thomas at linebacker is because of Paul’s health, while Clark and Johnson and safety appears to be a true battle. Johnson has been getting most of the first-team reps in portions of practice open to the media.
- The other “or” listings are at cornerback, where there are essentially three players – Bishop, Braxton and Stewart – vying for two backup spots.
|K/KO||Cam Little||Blake Ford|
|P||Max Fletcher||Devin Bale|
|LS||Eli Stein||Ashton Ngo|
|H||Max Fletcher||Devin Bale|
|KOR||Isaiah Sategna||AJ Green|
|PR||Isaiah Sategna||Bryce Stephens|
- If there is any surprise on special teams, it’s that Sategna won both jobs at returner. Green and Stephens, his backups at kickoff return and punt return, respectively, have far more experience than him.
How to Watch Arkansas vs Western Carolina
Date: Saturday, Sept. 2
Location: War Memorial Stadium (Little Rock, Ark.)
Kickoff Time and TV Schedule: Noon CT (SECN+/ESPN+)
Announcers: Eric Frede (play-by-play), Jordan Reid (analyst)
Western Carolina’s Rankings:
Arkansas’ Rankings: RV (AP) | RV (Coaches) | No. 28 (FPI)
ESPN FPI: Arkansas has a 99.0% chance to win
SP+ Projection: Arkansas has a 98% chance to win, favored by 36.2 (proj. score: 48-12)
Odds/Betting Line: Arkansas, -34.5 | O/U 62.5 (BetSaracen)
On What Getting the Big Honcho Locker Means for KJ Jefferson
In the below “Hog Pod” video, Jefferson discusses how much getting an honorary locker in the Arkansas football locker room means to him. He said he added his signature to a group of recent senior tenants, including Bumper Pool last year.
“The team looks up to this person right here in this locker,” he said. When things go wrong and when things go right, they still look to you to be able to come up with an answer.”
He added: “It’s one of those Mount Rushmore type deals. I’m in this locker for a reason. I know guys who play before me, they was the guys, and now it’s my turn to carry the torch.”
One way Jefferson has learned to do that is by becoming a more vocal leader in the last couple of years. A big part of that, he said, is knowing when to speak up. That is, not every teammate is else is going to be tuned in all the time to his message, so he has to learn to roll with that. Especially in the moments where it matters most.
“Some might hear it, some might not hear it, but at a time where it is needed to be said, you have to say it right then and there to gain everybody’s attention.”
Jefferson has a fun time talking about his sleep routine starting at 20:00 here:
More coverage of Arkansas football from BoAS…