FAYETTEVILLE — Sam Pittman has seen the weather forecasts for Saturday in Auburn and knows there’s a great chance it will be raining during the game.
Weather.com has the weather for Saturday predicted to be 79 degrees and a 70 percent chance of rain. Pittman was asked if due to the weather expectations does Arkansas take any extra equipment?
“I think you bring a lot of extra things,” Pittman said. “More of what you have. Ball, rain jackets, towels, more of what you already have. You might switch to screw-in cleats, you know, things of that nature that can function a little bit better possibly in mud. What I hope we bring is the mentality that if it’s raining ‘come on, let’s go, we’re ready to go’, that’s what I really want to bring to the game”
The Hogs will practice with a wet ball again today. Pittman talked about how the practices have gone in that regard this week.
“Well, we’re getting another day today of wet ball,” Pittman said. “Then we’ve had, this will be our fourth day of handling it. Some of the quarterbacks handle it better than others. I think a lot of times it has something to do with hand size you know and things of that nature. The running backs haven’t seemed to have a problem with it and the wideouts haven’t seemed to have a problem with it. Our big emphasis is trying to get a first down. We do not want to go three and out on offense.”
Arkansas suffered some injuries against Mississippi State. Among them were running back Rakeem Boyd. If he can’t go this week then Trelon Smith is in line to get the start. Smith leads the team in rushing with 20 carries for 86 yards. Pittman has confidence in Smith.
“I’m very confident in Trelon and the other backs,” Pittman said. “We’ll have to wait and see on Rakeem. But I’m very confident. He’s a hard runner, nice blocker. I mean, the guy plays hard. More importantly, our team believes in him. So if that’s the case then we’ll be just fine with him.”
Pittman listed true freshman Dominique Johnson and redshirt freshman A’Montae Spivey behind Smith.
“I think you have two,” Pittman said. “You have Dominique and you have Spivey. I don’t really know. I think it’s going to be dictated on is it muddy? If it’s a muddier game it might be better for a bigger guy, which would be Dominique. I’m not positive who we’d go with first. I’ll know Saturday morning. We’ll discuss it and decide. I think you’ll see all three of them play, assuming Rakeem can’t. And if Rakeem can then you’ll probably see a couple of them.”
Arkansas defeated Mississippi State 21-14 last Saturday night for its first SEC win since defeating Ole Miss in 2017. Some have speculated the Hogs may still be in celebration mode following that win than focusing on Auburn. Pittman shot that theory down.
“We’ve probably even been a little bit harder on them this week than maybe what we were the last two weeks,” Pittman said. “The expectations are the same, but we’ve probably been a little bit harder on strain, finish, transition. Just a lot of expectations probably have been amped up a little bit. So, we’ll see what happens, but they’ve had pretty good practices.
“Let me say this, if we went out there and didn’t play well, it’s not because we beat Mississippi State. I promise. It’d be because Auburn beat the heck out of us. That’s why. We are ready. We’re prepared. We’ve put the game from Mississippi State away. We really have. And our kids are hungry to try to go out there and get that feeling again.”
Redshirt freshman Hudson Henry has caught four passes for 20 yards including a 12-yard touchdown from Feleipe Franks last Saturday night. Senior Blake Kern also has a nine-yard reception. Pittman talked about the tight ends.
“I think it’s getting better,” Pittman said. “We’re still not as physical as I’d like to be there. We’re getting better in our route running, better in our understanding of the offense. We have to be more consistent there, but I think the key word there is I believe that they’re getting better in all those situations. I think we’ll have a pretty good tight end room by mid-season – maybe a little later than that – but right now I think we’ve got good individuals. We need to be a little bit better in all those aspects to become a good room of tight ends.”
One positive that came out of all the injuries at Starkville last Saturday was the Hogs still found a way to win the game. Treylon Burks goes out and De’Vion Warren comes in and catches four passes for a 100 yards and one touchdown. Smith and others picked up the slack as well including redshirt freshman walk-on defensive back Hudson Clark. Pittman said this helped everyone’s confidence.
“I think the team does, too,” Pittman said. “Obviously we do, but I think the team does. I think the team believes that if we take 70 kids – 67 kids last week – then that’s who we need to win the game. That sure helps our kids believe that.
“We took out Hudson Clark at the end of practice yesterday and said, ‘Hey look, this guy was ready. He played two, two and a half quarters, he was ready to go.’ We knew he was capable, he just wasn’t quite as good as the guy in front of him, but we knew he was capable of playing good football and he was ready mentally. He didn’t pout, he didn’t sulk around. He said, ‘Hey man, (when) I get my chance, I’m going to go in there and prove that I belong on this field.’ I think the kids proved it even a little bit more than what we did by just talking about it.”
Arkansas has two redshirt freshmen starting the offensive guards. Brady Latham on the left side and Beaux Limmer at right guard. Pittman talked about the offensive guards.
“I think they are playing better,” Pittman said. “They are young so they probably should get better each week. You have (Ty) Clary, (Shane) Clenin, (Dalton) Wagner and some of those guys, Luke Jones, that are obviously getting better and those things at practice. I’ve been really pleased with Latham and Limmer. I think they are really coming on. They’re playing better because they work extremely hard in practice. I’m pleased with the progress we’re making up front. We’ve got a long way to go, but I think we have a little bit of depth and the kids are really practicing hard. But I’ve been pleased with Latham and Limmer.”
While Arkansas beat Mississippi State they also led Georgia 7-5 at halftime before losing the game. How has the defense played so well when many were the same players that gave up large chunks of yardage last season and in 2018?
“They’re playing about like I thought they would,” Pittman said. “Barry (Odom) and his staff have done an outstanding job of motivating them and getting them to play hard and running to the ball and understanding what the opponent is going to do. I’m awful proud of them, I’ll say that.
“We’re well aware that we didn’t have the best defense in the world last year. But from what we’ve seen since we’ve been here, we’re getting in games about what we expected to get.”
In injury news concerning Auburn, it appears that All-SEC linebacker K.J. Britt will undergo surgery to repair torn ligaments in his right thumb on Friday according to the Montgomery Advertiser.
“I don’t know – obviously K.J. Britt in my opinion is one heck of a football player,” Pittman said. “That would be very disappointing for Auburn and for us. We want their good players to play and things of that nature. But if not I’m sure they have guys, you know (Wesley) Steiner is his backup, so I’m sure he’ll be ready to play but that’s sad news. It really is because K.J. is a really good player and a really good person.”
Arkansas and Auburn will still kickoff at 3 p.m. Saturday in Jordan-Hare Stadium. But the game will now be televised on ESPN after originally slated for the SEC Network.