FAYETTEVILLE — Sam Pittman and James Franklin held a joint news conference today as Saturday’s Outback Bowl grows nearer.

Penn State, even with some opt outs, figures to have a very good defense and Pittman is pleased to have Kendal Briles calling the plays.

“I think Kendal has done a nice job,” Pittman said. “Went back to Feleipe Franks from last year. Obviously Feleipe played a lot of ball. For him, he had never been in that system. I think Briles is a really good teacher, really good communicator. Certainly he (KJ Jefferson) has gotten better throughout this year with his throwing ability and the long ball. He’s gotten better there. You guys remember we opened up scrimmages last year in the spring simply because I felt like we needed to put pressure on him with people in the stands to perform, him and Malik (Hornsby) for that matter. I think Kendall has done a really nice job.”

Pittman reiterated how proud he is to be the head football coach at Arkansas. That’s a school he has loved since he a youngster himself.

“For me, I can explain it when we’re coming in on the bus to the home games, you see people walking across there,” Pittman said. “I was one of those people trying to get into the game, trying to get a glimpse of the coach on the bus, the players on the bus. They didn’t have the Hog Walk back then. Just trying to get in the stadium, feel the atmosphere. I feel that every single home game. Very surreal, very honoring. I’m honored that I’m the head coach at Arkansas. But, yeah, I mean, I feel it all the time. I was a fan. I went to
camp, football camp there. Lou Holtz was the coach.”

It was at this point that Franklin asked Pittman if he got rejected as a recruit at Arkansas like he did at Penn State?

“I got recruited none,” Pittman said laughing. “I don’t think it ever got to the rejection part.”

Junior wide receiver Treylon Burks was Arkansas’ go-to guy all season and he opted out of the Outback Bowl. Pittman was asked about that.

“Well, he’s from the state,” Pittman said. “He’s our go-to guy. He was our big-play guy. Any time we
got zero coverage or man coverage, everybody in the place knew we was going to throw him the ball. A lot of times he’d go make the play and a lot of times he’d score on it. I understand his situation and things of that nature. But losing him, we lost a lot of offense. We also lost a very good leader.

“But can’t really replace him. It’s going to take a lot of people to replace one Burks. The great thing about that is we knew before we ever started bowl practice that he was not going to play in the bowl, so that’s allowed us these four weeks in and out of four different weeks to plan and prepare for that. The guys, like coach said, our guys, the ones getting ready to play are looking forward to the opportunity. They’re young, but yet we recruited them for a reason. Hopefully they can make plays like Burks did.”

Many bowls have been canceled, but the Outback Bowl appears set to happen. Pittman talked about the things Arkansas is trying to do to avoid an outbreak on his team.

“I mean, the kids see it,” Pittman said. “They see this bowl locked out, this bowl locked out. There’s not a lot you have to say other than what we’re doing, wearing our masks in the building, all that kind of stuff. We’ve got to this far without losing guys to COVID. I know there’s new variants and all that right now. I think anytime you have a coaching staff and a team that wants to play the game, it’s not always that way, but it makes it easier to get the game going. I think Penn State wants to play, and we want to play, so….”

Pittman was asked the key to mixing preparing for the bowl game with the fun without being distracted with other aspects than the game.

“I have no experience at it, so… It’s pretty balanced to me,” Pittman said lauging. “Done a gazillion of them as a head coach. We’re practicing in the morning. Your day has objectives in it, and it has things that you need to get accomplished. Practice is first and foremost. We’re doing it early in meetings. The rest of
the day they can go out on their own. As long as they can plan their day, and I want it to have success, the whole day, I think the fun and the practice and the meetings and all that can be put together. That’s what we’re trying to do. It’s good that we’re starting practice in the morning because that way they have to be
in a little better shape coming home, earlier curfew, things of that nature.”

Pittman did get wide receiver Tyson Morris back on Tuesday and practiced today. Pittman was pleased that Morris got to Tampa.

“Well, we needed him back,” Pittman said. “His legs looked fresher than the other guys today. He hadn’t
practiced for a few days.”

While all college teams want to be in the playoffs, Pittman is excited to be in the Outback Bowl this season.

“We lobbied for it,” Pittman said. “We did. We wanted to come here. We made no bones about it. We wanted to come to Tampa and the Outback Bowl. We didn’t know the opponent. We may have tried to lobby
somewhere else (laughter). We wanted to come here. We wanted to play on New Year’s Day. It’s a big deal for us, for our program. So we lobbied for it.”

The two teams will kickoff at 11 a.m. (CT) on Saturday and the game televised on ESPN2.