FAYETTEVILLE — The host on the SEC Teleconference pleased Sam Pittman when he announced that Arkansas would be hosting Mississippi State this weekend.
“I like how you said ‘the Hogs will host,’” Pittman said. “We haven’t hosted anybody for a long time, so we’re very excited to play in front of our fans and play a very, very good Mississippi State team. Well-coached, very aggressive team. But we’re excited to be back home. Have to get ready for an 11 a.m. start, but so grateful that we get to play in front of our fans.”
Was the recent four-game stretch the toughest one you’ve ever experienced as an assistant or head coach?
“You know, I think so,” Pittman said. “Obviously when we got our schedule my first year here in COVID, we got the pleasure of getting Florida and Georgia on the other side. That was a kick in the teeth, as well, because obviously they were the two top teams on the East.
“But this stretch here, especially with it being away and then the LSU game we didn’t get in until 7 a.m. in the morning. All of those factors matter. They really do. My biggest concern is, is our team playing hard? Do we still have the team? All those type things. Those are your biggest question marks, because if you play hard and you coach well, you’ve got a chance. It really doesn’t matter who you play, you’ve got a chance to go out there and win the game.
“My biggest concern in this whole stretch was can we keep the team? I believe we certainly have. I believe we’ve played and shown we certainly have. But the stretch itself, we knew it was going to be brutal. Going through that, we certainly came to the conclusion that it was.”
Getting back to the game up next, Pittman has described it as a game the team must win. He was told not a lot of coaches would say that.
“You’re right,” Pittman said laughing. “I say a lot of stuff that ain’t very smart. Because I think we’re a little bit better team when we’re real. The kids need to understand that and like anything, I’m sure they watch my press conference and things of that nature. A lot of times we say things to you that we want to get back to the kids without us saying it, to be perfectly honest with you.
“We use the media in some aspects at times. But our kids know what we need to get done. I mean, let’s make no mistake about it, we want to go to a bowl and we need to win.Again, I don’t want to get crucified because I’m sitting here and (some say) “Well, all he wants to do is go to bowls.’ That’s not… It’s reality. It ain’t what we wanted, but it’s reality. We want to get to a bowl game. To do that, we’ve got to win Saturday, in my opinion.”
Despite basically calling it a must-win game, Pittman feels his team will play loose this weekend.
“I think that being truthful with people as much as you possibly can, I think you’ll get a better result,” Pittman said. “I’m too damn old to beat around the bush a lot of times. Now, we do with y’all a little bit because some of it is we don’t even know the right answer, you know what I mean?
“I think you get more out of people by just being blunt and straight and ’this is what’s got to happen.’ I think our kids, some of that portrays a belief in the kids from the coach. That I can put that on them because that’s the expectation that we need. But I’m just saying out loud what other coaches might or might not.”
With KJ Jefferson facing a team from his home state Pittman feels he could have a very good game, but said Jefferson has been confident all season.
“I think KJ has always had a confidence,” Pittman said. “I think he’s in the same boat too. The new offense is for him as well. I think he is getting more comfortable in the offense, getting more comfortable with where his receivers are going to be. Getting more comfortable with running the football. I thought he ran the ball exceptionally well last Saturday in called runs and making things happen when it weren’t there.
“I do. I think he is having fun. I think he was maybe a little tight, maybe expecting to run the team. He’s got to play 100 percent for us to win. I think he is figured out he just needs to be himself and we’ll have a great opportunity to win. Yeah, I think some of that pressure in his head, I think he’s trying to have some fun now. He knows he is a good player. I think he’s trying to have a little bit more fun.”
Arkansas and Mississippi State will kickoff at 11 a.m. on Saturday with the game televised on ESPN.