FAYETTEVILLE — Arkansas will host FIU on Saturday night in Razorback Stadium and it appears some key players will be missing due to injuries which one would expect in Week 11 of season.
Starting right tackle Patrick Kutas didn’t dress for the Auburn game. His status for FIU is also in doubt according to Sam Pittman.
“Well, my hope, obviously, is that he’ll be available,” Pittman said. “My feeling is that he probably won’t, to be perfectly honest with you. He’s moving so much better than he did last week, so we’re going to keep that hope alive. He’s obviously getting his rehab work done. He is moving at practice, doing some things, doing some indy. We’ll just have to wait and see, but he’s much further this week than he was a week ago.”
He was replaced by Ty’kieast Crawford in the starting lineup last week. Pittman then expanded on the status of some other players.
“Jashaud (Stewart) probably won’t play,” Pittman said. “(Jaylon) Braxton, he’s practiced, been in green, I don’t know if he’ll be healthy enough to play or not. And who else?
“(Jaheim) Singletary has practiced as well. I don’t think he’s full speed yet but he’s practiced. He’ll probably be more game time, what he does in warmups and all that. But Braxton, Braxton’s probably the furthest — him and Stew are probably the furthest away. I don’t think Stew will be ready to play but I believe Braxton might have a chance to.”
Stewart is a defensive end who has battled injuries much of the season. Stewart has played in just five games. He has seven tackles, two solo, a pair for loss, 0.5 sack and a couple of quarterback hurries. Pittman talked about the difficult year for Stewart who is from Jonesboro.
“I hate it,” Pittman said. “What a great kid. A kid from Arkansas. Loves the Hogs. It just seems like one nagging injury after another. It’s been hamstrings, groin pulls, things of that nature. But it’s a little bit happened last year as well. We’ve been working on his flexibility and things of that nature, but he’s strung tight now. And we know that and we’ve tried to work with some massage folks and stretching and all that stuff and it’s been unfortunate for him.”
There’s several seniors who can have another year of eligibility if they choose to do so due to the COVID season in 2020. NCAA rules are that anyone in school in 2020 and prior to that can have one extra season. Pittman was asked if he has talked to those players about returning and if the conversations change due to no bowl this season?
“No, I don’t think so,” Pittman said. “You know I mess with them when I walk by them, you know, ‘What number do you want to change to next year? Do you like your number? You know like Hudson Clark, I’m messing with him all the time like does he like Gatorade or water at practice. Just messing with him.
“But no not really. I think all those things are still probably the Monday after the Missouri game. There’ll be a lot of things happen that day I’m assuming as far as you know we want to find out who’s going to go in the portal and who’s going to stay and all that kind of stuff. That usually starts happening on Monday. And we understand there will be kids that go in the portal and there’ll be kids that go into the portal on every team. And we’ll see what happens on that day, but we’ll probably save it until then.”
Pittman also said he feels good about a number of those guys taking advantage of the extra season.
“I do,” Pittman said. “I really do. I think we’ll have a high number of those guys. You know, with the way the season’s been, obviously everybody is disappointed and of course the season’s not over. We have two very important games. But I think with how it’s gone the team for the most part, the kids want to be here and they don’t want to leave out on (a bad note). I think they’ve had some success and they want to go back and prove that we can have it again. So I think a high majority of those guys could come back.”
One such player who could have another year is quarterback KJ Jefferson. Pittman talked about Jefferson and that possibility.
“”He sure hasn’t… We haven’t spoke about that either with him,” Pittman said. “I think probably going into the season, we thought definitely this would be his last year. But I don’t know where he stands right now. Again, the portal doesn’t open up for a week or eight days after our game or whatever it is, so we’ll have plenty of time to sit down and talk about it. But I don’t think… Used to, the senior walk really meant something and it does to the guys that definitely know, but I don’t know that the guys that are out there walking are necessarily not going to do it again next year, obviously with the COVID plus-one.”
The 2023 season hasn’t gone like Arkansas or Jefferson wanted. He has completed 173-of-266 passes for 1,918 yards, 16 touchdowns and eight interceptions. He also has rushed 144 times for 342 yards and two touchdowns. Pittman talked about how Jefferson has handled the season,
“Well, I’m sure it’s been disappointing to him,” Pittman said. “I mean, if his actions in practice and his leadership on the team are indicative of how he feels, he feels good. The problem has been, all year, that we’ve really never got into a rhythm, a consistent rhythm, either running the football or giving him time to throw the ball. So I’m sure that’s been very frustrating to him. Been frustrating, to be honest with you, for all of us. But he’s been good with it.
“He’s gotten hit, he’s played through the hits. The other day, he was bleeding on his left hand and did not want to come out, did not ask to come out. So I think that tells you a little bit about what he feels about the program and where he wants to finish strong and things of that nature. So I’ve been really proud of him because usually you can tell a lot about a person when they’re going through tougher times than whenever everything’s going real well for them. So I’ve been real proud of him for that.”
Last year about this time Pittman warned reporters to buckle up when it came to the transfer portal and players anticipated to enter it. Feeling the same way this season?
“Man, even when I was buckling you up, I wasn’t ready for that express train,” Pittman said. “I knew there was going to be a lot. I don’t know… I don’t see anything like a year ago, but if it is, we’ll adjust. But I don’t see anything like that. The first thing we’re going to try to do is look at the plus-ones that obviously can help the team and things of that nature and talk to them and see if we can get that going.
“We’ll have… There’s always, and you know it, there’s always that one or two guys where you’re going, ‘Man, I didn’t see that coming.’ But otherwise, I think we pretty much know. At this point in time in the season, you can kind of tell by mannerisms and things of that nature who may go into the portal and who may not. There will be a surprise, I’m sure, like every squad has.”
Arkansas and FIU will kickoff at 6:30 p.m. in Razorback Stadium. The game will be broadcast on ESPNU.