FAYETTEVILLE — Arkansas and Western Carolina will start the 2023 season three hours earlier than anticipated on Saturday.

Arkansas announced in a release on Monday the game will kickoff at noon instead of 3 p.m. Regardless of kickoff time it will be the season opener for both and Sam Pittman is ready to get Year 4 going.

“It’s game week obviously, and we’re excited to have an opportunity to get over to Little Rock and play Western Carolina,” Pittman said. “Kerwin and Kade Bell do a wonderful job with that team offensively. I think they set records last year in touchdown passes and records for total offense. A lot of bubbles. A lot of things that are concerning to us that we’ve been practicing on now going into today will be Day 4 for Western.

“Defensively they have some really good pass rushers and defensive ends and guys in the back that can run. Offensively I forgot to mention their wideouts and their running back. Very explosive guys. We’re going to have our work cut out for us. First games are always scary because of the unknown. Unknown about the opponent. Unknown this year about our own team. But we’re really excited to get over there and play a fine Western Carolina team.”

With the game in Little Rock’s War Memorial Stadium Pittman was asked if he thinks the earlier kickoff will hamper tailgating there?

“No, I’m not worried about tailgating,” Pittman said. “I can tell you that. 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. We’re trying to. I imagine tailgating three hours before when it’s nine o’clock and it’s 88 degrees versus 96 or 95 or whatever it will be if you started at noon, I would think it would be better for the fans. We play five of our first eight games on the road.

“So, when the heat came out there was a decision to make are we going to move it forward or are we going to move it backwards. Moving it backwards, if it starts at six or seven, you’re going to get the team home at 1:30 or 2:30 in the morning versus 7:30. We don’t have a break until after Week 8, and obviously you guys know we have a four-game spread there on the road. 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. Tailgating should be cooler. The game should be cooler. As you well know, if the game starts at six you are out there at four o’clock and it’s 96 degrees out there for tailgaters, pregame, Hog Walk, all those things. I just thought it was the smartest thing for us once the heat became a factor to move it up for the safety of our kids and for our fans.”

The new depth chart was also released which included eight ors on it. Is that something Pittman is comfortable with?

“I do,” Pittman said. “I mean, they’re ‘ors’ because in all honesty we really don’t know who’s going to run out with the ones. If they’re an ‘or’ we know they’re going to play a lot of ball for us. But in all honesty we haven’t decided who’s going to run out there. Now we’ve decided what positions and all that, but there’s a few of them that either by injury — are they going to be back in time for Saturday’s game? — maybe it is with moving some kids, like Snaxx (Johnson) has moved from [corner to Hog] you know, where Jayden Johnson and Hudson Clark are. Very, very close battle right there. So we really don’t know today exactly at some of those positions who were going to run out there with the ones yet. But we know that group, if they’re an ‘or’ we trust them and they’re going to play a lot of football. Who runs out there first probably, in most cases, has been decided not all.”

Pittman said wide receiver Jaedon Wilson is healing and he’s confident that the wide receiver will play. Transfer linebacker Antonio Grier Jr. has been banged up much of the preseason and wasn’t on the depth chart.

“It’s a matter of is he going to be healthy enough to play?,” Pittman said. “He did practice on Saturday. Not necessarily physically, but he was out there in some 7 on 7 doing some things, so we’ll see how he comes around today and tomorrow. We gotta get going – and it’s not his fault – but if he gets healthy, obviously he’ll have some type of role on Saturday, but we just don’t know yet right now if he’ll be healthy enough to play or not.”

There was also an or at left tackle on offense between Devon Manuel and Andrew Chamblee.

“Dev had that spot,” Pittman said. “He’s been beat up just a little bit. We haven’t gotten him quite back yet full speed. It just depends on how long it goes before he can go full speed. If he gets to mid-week, I don’t think there is a decision. I think Chamblee has earned that right. If it’s today and things [that Manuel is back], we’ll see who plays better over the next few days.”

Redshirt freshman Isaiah Sategna should be a busy guy on Saturday. He’s listed in an or situation with Wilson at who is starting wide receiver. Sategna is also listed as the kickoff and punt returner.

“He was the most consistent back there,” Pittman said. “Obviously we believe in Bryce (Stephens) and things of that nature. But he was the most consistent catching the football on the kickoff. He returned one a Saturday ago for a touchdown on kickoff. We’re going to let him have it and see what he does. But he’s very talented. The other guys are, too, but you can only have one. Kind of like a quarterback back there. You can only have one. You try to pick the best one and let it go. That’s why we decided, just his consistency in practice.”

The Hogs won’t be flying to Little Rock and back for the game.

“No, we’re bussing down and back,” Pittman said. “Especially with the game being moved up, you know we can get back by seven, seven-thirty. Which will be a good time. Again, I’m concerned about eight games in a row. And, I’ll tell you this too. You may or may not think about his but you if you went to practice every day, this air conditioning getting fixed in the in-door, was huge. I mean, huge. Because you get into week five and it’s hot, and you just played a pretty brutal schedule. You’re going through it. And, I remember when we won nine games, it was we had to cut some reps and different things like that. Now, I don’t think that’s really good for anybody. We had to do it because of the heat. So, hope that answered your question.”

The Hogs will return to the practice fields this afternoon.