FAYETTEVILLE — The University of Arkansas is set to open the season on Saturday against Georgia.
Senior linebacker Grant Morgan is one of the four captains for the Hogs. As the Bulldogs come to town, it’s a game on Sept. 18, 2010, that brings back memories for Morgan. He was asked if he is old enough to remember Ryan Mallett tossing a touchdown pass to Greg Childs to give the Hogs a 31-24 victory in Athens?
“Yes, I do remember that,” Morgan said. “That was when I first moved back to Arkansas from Kansas. That was when I wanted to be a Razorback growing up as a little kid. I definitely remember Ryan Mallett throwing to Greg Childs. The thing with Ryan Mallett, he brought a swagger to Arkansas. All I can think of is him and all those receivers around him. I definitely think that we can get that back here at Arkansas. But, yes, I’m old enough [to remember]. I’m about to be 23. I’m the old guy around here. I feel like I’m K-Rich (Kevin Richardson). I feel like I’m old as can be.”
While Bobby Petrino was the head coach of the Hogs then, Sam Pittman is at Arkansas now. He’s the third head coach for Morgan since he arrived at Arkansas. Morgan is pleased to have the opportunity to play for Pittman.
“As players, the only thing you can ask for is to have someone you want to go out there and play hard for, and the way you’re going to be able to do that is if you know they love being a Razorback as much as you,” Morgan said.
“So knowing we have a coach that loves being a Razorback, he loves putting on his hard hat in Fayetteville, Arkansas, and loves coming to work every single day to get better for Arkansas and for the state, it makes you fight for him even more. I think I said that my last interview, actually … Being able to have a coach that goes out there, and you know you’re going to give it your all for him, it definitely means something. Yeah, it means something coming from Georgia. Just the fact every single weekend knowing we can fight for him because he wants to be out there just as much as us.”
In 2019, Morgan finished the season with 39 tackles. He expects that to change this season as he’s due to start with Bumper Pool at linebacker.
“I definitely think it’s going to go up,” Morgan said. “I think just the amount of reps I’ll be able to get I’ll be able to move up and get the production up. This defense really relies on linebackers to be able to make tackles and if we’re doing what we’ve done in the past and what we’re going to try to do this year and how we’ve got better, I think that number is going to go up for both Bumper and I. Just our linebacker corps in general, because we have a lot of guys that can play.
“Our defense, the way it’s set up, we have to be able to stop the run. So unless they open up the book and throw the ball 90 times on us, I think it definitely can go up. I’m not going to set a number, just because I don’t want to put that juju on me or anything. But I definitely feel it’ll go up.”
The defense is led by Barry Odom this season with Rion Rhoades coaching the linebackers. Morgan talked about how this year’s defense will be improved.
“I think our aggressiveness to get to the ball,” Morgan said. “I think it might start with the D-line and having those big guys up front that we haven’t had in a while. Knowing where we are, knowing the style of defense we’re playing with Coach Odom, he wants us to attack the line of scrimmage every single play because he knows we’ve got someone else to cover us up if we hit that wrong gap a little bit. He knows that next person over the top is going to fit it perfectly so you can be more aggressive in this defense. I think the aggressiveness you’re going to see, I think we’re going to be able to put some pressure on some people. I think just because of the way people are understanding the where and how you’re supposed to get to a certain point, like the urgency you’re supposed to have. I think that’s going to be a big difference from last year, just based on being aggressive.”
Morgan and the Hogs are big underdogs this week against No. 4 Georgia. That doesn’t concern him.
“I don’t ever really look at the odds,” Morgan said. “I think I was always raised gambling is bad for you, right? I don’t know. We’re going to go in with a chip on our shoulder every single game just because we’re the Arkansas Razorbacks. I doubt we’ll be favored in any game this year. I’ haven’t looked at any of that stuff, so we’re just going to go be who we are. We’re going to go try to win some games, we’re going to try to give it our all, try our hardest and give it our all based on playing football. We’re not going to worry about the outside world, or worry about how many fans actually showed up – 17,000 or whatever. We don’t really care. We love that Arkansas can be with us because we play for everybody, but what matters to us right now is getting better and getting this group we’re in this building with getting better and working out.”
Morgan is pleased that there will be a season where the players can get a chance to show what they can do. For months there was extreme doubt by many that a season would happen this fall.
“It’s fun watching football, but there’s nothing like playing it and having that game-week feel,” Morgan said.”Whenever we see on our schedule that we get, it says in-season Tuesday. In season instead of offseason or fall camp. It means a lot to us. Like, I’m a senior. This is a big deal. Like, this is my last time I’ll have a first game. Being able to play football is just different.
“Back in March when we were on Zoom calls every single day – or 8 hours for a week – who would have thought we’d be here and lined up against Georgia, too? No one would have guessed that at this time. No one would have guessed that. Our team and the way we responded and the way we’ve acted, like, we never thought, ‘Ah, there’s no way we’re going to play.’ We just said, ‘Tell us when. Tell us where.’ Knowing that it’s finally here, everything that we’ve been waiting for and working for is here. I couldn’t be happier to go out there Saturday and play some football.”
Arkansas and Georgia will kickoff at 3 p.m. Saturday in Reynolds Razorback Stadium. The game will be televised on the SEC Network.