FAYETTEVILLE — Ole Miss and Arkansas are slated to kickoff at 2:30 p.m. on Saturday in Reynolds Razorback Stadium, but both have a strong possibility of missing several key players.
Arkansas’ issue is more related to injuries while Ole Miss is having issues with COVID and the required quarantine rules associated with it. Both Sam Pittman and Lane Kiffin were on Wednesday’s SEC Teleconference.
“I’m hoping that we can get a few guys back from injuries,” Pittman said. “We’ve had a little bit of a difficult time with injuries. But I feel like we are getting healthier. We have a tremendous challenge playing Ole Miss. Coach Kiffin, he is an offensive genius. I mean he really, really is. Those guys are playing unbelievable. They’re fun to watch, they’re obviously scary to watch, but they’re fun to watch. They have a great offensive line and outstanding skill. Their defense has continued to get better each week. We’re obviously looking forward to playing here at home.”
On the other hand Kiffin talked about COVID issues with his squad.
“We are dealing with our first covid issues of the season,” Kiffin said. “Unfortunately. We had it in camp but have been great the first two or three games. That’s been a big challenge this week. You know we are already banged up after a very physical highly competitive game against a great team in ‘Bama. So this is going to be very challenging.”
Can you give us any specifics as far as numbers on COVID?
“Probably not,” Kiffin said. “Just like injuries we’re not going to give any detail on that. We’re just trying to manage it the best we can. So, sorry.”
Are the numbers so low at a particular position you may be in danger of having to postpone this game?
“I hope not,” Kiffin said. “If we were to play today, we could play, so hopefully it stays that way.”
Kiffin, like everyone else, had an opinion on the call that decided the Arkansas and Auburn game this past Saturday.
“I mean, I’m sure Auburn is counting their blessings,” Kiffin said. “The ball is backwards. Knox (his son) knew that when he saw it. It’s really a shame for Arkansas to play that well and should have won the game.”
Arkansas hasn’t won an SEC home game since beating Florida 31-10 on Nov. 5, 2016. Pittman helped Arkansas break a losing skid in the SEC now hopes they end another though it isn’t something he has spent time worrying over.
“I didn’t even know we had a home losing streak until you just told me,” Pittman said. “I figured we had a losing streak since we hadn’t won in a while. I don’t know. Winning would be incredible. I mean, that’s what we all go out and strive to do on Saturday. I don’t know if breaking streaks are any kind of a big deal for us. We’re just trying to win football games.”
While Saturday is homecoming this year in the SEC that means still much smaller home crowds than a normal season.
“Well, I don’t know,” Pittman said. “We obviously want the 16,000 people that we are allowed to have in our stadium to be extremely loud. That would help us. I don’t want to speak for other coaches, but for me, going on the road is not near like what it used to be as far as the advantage of crowd noise. However, if you get 16,000 people in a stadium and they’re raising heck on every snap, it’s certainly going to help you a lot more than if you’re on the road.”
Kiffin was asked about the impact of road crowds this season as well?
“I don’t think there’s any impact,” Kiffin said. “Maybe a point or two just because you’re supposed to play better because you’re used to playing on the field in that stadium. But I don’t think the crowd is gonna effect at all. Certainly wish we had a normal crowd last week the way the game was going how much energy it would have been to try to help us on defense.”
Ole Miss and Arkansas are both 1-2 on the season. But both are coming off impressive efforts in losses. The Hogs fell to Auburn 30-28 and led Georgia 7-5 at halftime before losing. Kiffin sees a much better Arkansas team than in the past.
“Well, they have a really good team,” Kiffin said. “You know I kind of wished they were like last year but [Pittman] has done an awesome job. Completely difference on defense. They go run to the ball, play as hard as can be and are giving people problems. Offensively very explosive with the tempo. Sam is doing a great job. So we are going to have our hands full.”
The two offensive coordinators in Saturday’s game are obviously very familiar with each other. Arkansas’ Kendal Briles and Ole Miss’ Jeff Lebby.
“I see several similarities in what Coach Kiffin and Coach Lebby do and what we do here at Arkansas with Coach Briles,” Pittman said. “Certainly some route concepts are different. Very similar in the run game. And so it could bode well for both defenses in having seen that obviously during camp and each time during the week.”
A reporter asked about Kiffin and Lebby being close friends.
“They should be close,” Pittman said. “You know I think Coach Lebby married Kendal’s sister. So unless there’s a family feud, they should be good friends.”
Kiffin also weighed in on Lebby and Briles though he doesn’t think it impacts the game.
“I don’t think it’s a big deal,” Kiffin said. “You know that happens in coaching all the time where you have relatives or people playing with your dad’s team and stuff. You know it is what it is. They are not just brothers in law, they are best friends. They grew up best friends and he ended up marrying Kendal’s sister. So I joke with him that he was just trying to get a job with Art. So they are very close.”
Speaking of family, Kiffin’s father Monte was the defensive coordinator at Arkansas from 1977-79 under Lou Holtz. Lane, who was born on May 9, 1975, was asked what he remembered about Arkansas?
“I think I was like two or three or something like that,” Kiffin said. “I’ve seen pictures. I don’t really remember it. I guess that was on the plane back I believe from the Orange Bowl with the big upset I think Oklahoma. All the starters out and still took care of Oklahoma I believe in the Orange Bowl I think. So I guess I was on the plane, but I don’t recall.
“It is awesome having him here on staff. He’s unbelievable with our young coaches. He’s just unique. I call him a coaching angel they just don’t make people like him now. So many people, wherever I go recruiting, high schools, colleges, I mean people daily when I’m out tell me a story of about running into him and how much time he took to help them get better.”
Saturday’s game will be televised on the SEC Network.