FAYETTEVILLE — No. 19 Arkansas is the underdog against No. 2 Alabama on Saturday and Sam Pittman is hoping his defense can force some turnovers.
In four games, the Razorbacks have two interceptions and three fumble recoveries. However, all those came in the first two games. Cornerback Dwight McGlothern had an interception against both Cincinnati and South Carolina. linebacker Chris “Pooh” Paul, cornerback Hudson Clark and defensive end Jordan Domineck have each recovered a fumble. Pittman talked about forcing turnovers.
“We work on it every day,” Pittman said. “You’re right, we haven’t gotten any turnovers. Not many all year. We’re very aware of it. We do strip tackling and we have ball security where one side is holding on the other side is trying to get it out. For whatever reason, we just haven’t gotten it out of there. Part of that is we have to get better at tackling. Obviously when you tackle them, you have a chance to strip it a little bit better.
“And tackling has a lot to do within in the box, but outside the box is where we’re noticeable. We’ve just got to close the area down. We’ve got to cover closer so we can get a guy — if he catches it — on the ground. I think we did get better, but we’ve got a long way to go with that.”
Arkansas did get nickel back Myles Slusher back for the Texas A&M game. Slusher was injured against Cincinnati and hadn’t played since that time. He had five tackles on Saturday. Pittman feels his return will help the defense continue to improve.
“He’s a big deal on our defense,” Pittman said. “I mean, he’s a good player. That nickel spot in our defense is probably, you get outside the core, it’s probably the most important position that we have. Because it’s a run position and a pass position, I mean, at the point of attack. And a cover position.
“Yeah, I was really pleased with the way he played. I don’t want to use ‘surprise’ as a word, but I was pleased that he played so well having been out. I was concerned about his conditioning as well, and some things, but he played the entire game, and played well.”
Defensive tackle Eric Gregory had three tackles, two for loss and a sack against the Aggies. Isaiah Nichols added a couple of tackles and Terry Hampton had one. Pittman talked about the play of the interior defensive line against the Aggies.
“I think overall they made more plays,” Pittman said. “I think they’re grading points were higher than what they’ve been. Consistently, I’d say that was probably maybe their second-best game that they had played. But as far as making big plays, they made more negative-yardage plays in there, some sacks and … they’re playing hard. They’re playing well. I’m happy with those guys and they made some good positive plays.”
A possible boost on defense is junior linebacker Drew Sanders. He transferred to Arkansas from Alabama at midterm. He has been a big factor on defense for the Hogs this fall. He has 31 tackles, 16 solo, 6.5 for loss, 5.5 sacks, two pass breakups, a pair of quarterback hurries and couple of forced fumbles. Will Pittman lean on Sanders for some info on the Alabama players and schemes?
“I don’t know,” Pittman said. “That probably would be a good question for him. But I would assume for him it would be somewhat some familiarity with what Alabama is doing. There’s got to be something in there. We’ll try to downplay that as much, because just about shedding blocks and tackling and doing his assignment.
“Obviously it’s different because you know people. In high school you probably knew each other too if they placed close rivalry games and things. He’s probably been somewhat through that. Nothing like this week, but he’s a mature guy. I assume it won’t affect him too much.”
Arkansas and Alabama will kickoff at 2:30 p.m. on Saturday and televised on CBS.