FAYETTEVILLE — Arkansas hasn’t beaten Alabama since Sept. 23, 2006, and Sam Pittman is hoping that streak can end on Saturday in Tuscaloosa.
The No. 21 Razorbacks are the underdogs against No. 2 Alabama, but Pittman is used to his team being in that position in SEC games.
“We’re excited to head to Alabama and play in a CBS national game,” Pittman said. “We know they have an outstanding team. A lot of talent everywhere on all levels on defense. Certainly, defensively, Will Anderson is as good a player as anybody has on their team. He’s going to be a major concern of ours. The number one thing you try to do is not let a difference-maker make a difference. In his case, it’s very, very difficult. It’s been fun to watch how different teams have tried to approach that problem. None of them having too much success. Obviously, Henry To’o To’o going over there is a very good player. They’re just deep everywhere on defense.
“Offensively, big, physical offensive line. A few of the guys over there that start for them I tried to recruit and lost the battle when I was at Georgia. Obviously, everybody knows about Bryce Young, and Jameson Williams is certainly as good as anybody in the country. Fast. I think he’s the record holder in the 300-hurdles, maybe in the nation and certainly in the state of Missouri. Of course, you get to Coach (Nick) Saban, who obviously is the best coach in the nation and has been for a long time. Very, very big challenge for us. We’re excited it’s going to be an afternoon game and excited to go to Alabama.”
Alabama was beaten by Texas A&M, a team the Hogs beat, and had close wins against Florida and LSU. Some feel they are not as good and intimidating this season, but Pittman is having none of that talk.
“No. No, no, no. Very, very talented,” Pittman said. “They have elite skill. Big offensive and defensive linemen. They have an elite pass rusher. More than one. I mean, they’re Alabama. When you turn on the film, they’re what you expect to see. You have to go down there and play a really, really good football game and see what happens.
“LSU played them close because LSU’s got a lot of talent and they’re playing hard now and physical. And that’s how you beat Alabama. Not many people can. You’re going to have to get into a fist fight and see if you can come out ahead. You’re going to have to hang onto the ball. You have to play a really, really good game to have a chance, especially on the road against Alabama.”
When Pittman was an offensive line coach at Arkansas the Tide beat them 52-0 his first year. The next year the Hogs narrowly lost 14-13. Pittman talked about the differences in the games.
“Well we have a chance,” Pittman said. “I mean, the No. 1 thing – and I know it might be considered coach speak or whatever – the No. 1 thing you have to do to go beat a team is believe you can do it. If you’ve got a whole plane full of guys that are going, ‘Man, when’s this game over,’ you don’t have a chance. We all probably in high school or … we’ve all been on that team that goes, ‘Mmm, wish wouldn’t have drawn this team.’ That’s the No. 1 thing. I go back to look at my first year here in 2013 and we got beat 50-0 I think or something like that by Alabama. Then the next year we got beat by a point. Now, things happen and different things during the game like all that, but the No. 1 difference, to me, was we had a team full of guys that believed that they could win. I think success of our program that we’ve had – however you view it, whether it’s been a lot or a little bit or some or none – our kids, it’s helped them confidence wise going in there, ‘Hey, we’ve beaten some pretty good teams this year.’ We know how good Alabama is, but it gives us confidence that we can go in there and play well.”
LSU stifled the Arkansas offense much of the first half by blitzing frequently. Does Pittman feel Alabama will do the same thing?
“That’s not truly their style,” Pittman said. “Bama’s Bama. You know they’ve been beating people for a long time doing what they do. Certainly they will look at what LSU did against us – obviously. They have some true Zero stuff. Coach had it over at Georgia. Mel (Tucker) brought it in as well when he was there. But it’s a different style than what LSU was doing, basically. We tried to run some screens off of that and we just missed the linebackers. I mean, we had a screen out to, I believe it was (Treylon) Burks, and I mean, if we make two blocks out there, it’s gone, but we didn’t. And so our blocking in space has to get a lot better, whether that be an O-lineman trying to pin a man-cover linebacker or whether that be out on the edge. We had gotten better, but we did not play well on the edge. And you’ve got to give LSU credit too for that, but we didn’t play as well as we’d like to.”
Pittman’s two seasons at Arkansas have seen the Hogs face Alabama later in the year than previously. Do you feel there’s any advantage to that?
“I don’t know what the good would be,” Pittman said. “Let me think on that one. It’s just the schedule. I mean, it is what it is, is the next one on the, you know, Kyle (Parkinson) and I were riding over here and since our first three games I think once we get back in here against Missouri, it’s you know, our second one, we’ve been in here since September, whatever and you know, this one’s a road game regardless, you know, I understand that but I’m just honestly I’m relieved it’s not a night game to where because we you know, we have a Friday game the next week. And let me say this, we’re preparing to go win. I mean, that’s what we’re doing. And the name is is Alabama and that’s strong and powerful. We understand that but the name last week was LSU and we play good teams in this league. We’ll be excited about going over there. And then we’ll worry on the way back home about, we already know what we’re doing next week. But you know what time we come in and all that we know but it’ll be a short week, especially with Thanksgiving but we need to go get this one if we can and play well.”
Arkansas has played the majority of its games close with the one exception being a 37-0 loss to Georgia in Athens. Pittman feels despite the one-sided loss that game may have helped Arkansas face the Tide.
“I certainly hope so,” Pittman said. “We’re planning on it to help us. Hopefully we learned some things from that game. It’s a little bit different circumstances because we were No. 8 in the country at the time. Undefeated. Two undefeated teams and all that stuff. Now we’re kind of veterans of playing a lot of really good teams. We’re not just coming off the unbelievable win against the No. 7 team in the country against A&M. We have a little bit more veteran about us. We understand what we did wrong there at Georgia. And part of that is we have to start faster. We talked to the team about it yesterday, if something happens to us and we get in an unfortunate situation, we have to bond together and stop their run and then go on one of our own. I think it will [help], I really do. I think it will. I think the atmosphere we had at Georgia will help us with this atmosphere that we’re getting ready to get at Alabama as well.”
Saturday’s game will kickoff at 2:30 p.m. and televised on CBS.