FAYETTEVILLE — Sam Pittman’s No. 21 Razorbacks are set to take on Penn State in the Outback Bowl on New Year’s Day in Tampa, Fla.
In between doing an in-home visit with Fayetteville wide receiver Isaiah Sategna and Duncanville (Texas) linebacker Jordan Crook on Sunday Pittman did a Zoom with reporters to discuss the bowl game. Arkansas will begin practices later this week.
“We’re going to start practice this week Friday and Saturday,” Pittman said. “And then Monday will be our prep day which means our kids won’t be in. Our coaches will. It’s the first day of the dead period. We’ll practice the rest of that week, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, be off that weekend. And then we’ll practice up to that Wednesday at noon. We’ll practice Wednesday morning the 23rd, let the kids off the 23rd, the 24th and 25th, and then the 26th is our travel day to Tampa.
“We’ll take a team picture in our suits like we said we would with our three trophies and get on a plane and fly out there and then we’ll basically, the game is on Saturday and we’ll have a Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday type regular week. The question was when will we start on Penn State? Probably not until the 20th. I think these first six practices will be just nothing about but ourself. I think if we start talking and practicing about Penn State earlier than that I think we could have negative when we get there. We’ll have a segment or two that week before Christmas and then we’ll rev up, certainly, full-fledged when we get down to Tampa.”
Pittman talked about how much hitting will be done in the practices since the Hogs are coming off a 12-game season that included eight SEC games plus Texas.
“We’ll do some hitting and some scrimmaging with the young kids,” Pittman said. “Friday, Saturday won’t be really physical on our older guys. We want to get timing of throwing and catching and things back and some conditioning with the older guys. Young guys will hit, obviously, throughout this process more than the older guys, and of course, until you get around 8-10 days out from the game. But we may look at some guys at different positions and different things like that, just try to use it a little bit more spring ball-ish but not with the physicality of it with the older guys. We want to take our good players to the party, you know.”
One pattern that has developed over time is players opting out of bowl games. Many want to make sure they are healthy when the NFL Draft rolls around. Pittman talked about if he expects that to happen.
“I think we’ll have everybody, but I really don’t know,” Pittman said. “We’ve got a lot of kids just because somebody else does it, I don’t think they look at that. The opt out deal became popular, there was a whole bunch more opting in, though. If you really look at it, nobody opts out for a playoff game because they don’t want to hurt the team. I feel like we’ve got a whole lot of kids on our team that wouldn’t opt out simply because they don’t want to hurt the team. So as of right now, I don’t have anyone that I know of that is willing to opt out of the game.”
While some teams might not be entering a bowl game with the right mental approach due to the season not going as expected, head coach fired or left for another job or whatever. Pittman doesn’t worry about that aspect of Arkansas who is going to its first bowl game since 2016.
“We’re in such a great spot here,” Pittman said. “We haven’t been to a bowl, you know what I mean. Sometimes you’re at a university and if you’re not in the college playoff it’s hard to get them fired up about going to a New Year’s Day bowl. It’s hard. But for us, I think it’s going to be very, very easy to get our kids excited about going to Tampa and playing on New Year’s Day in the Outback Bowl. So we’re really happy about that. It’s a nationally know bowl. Have you looked it up? It’s a really neat place we’re going to get to stay. A lot of events for the kids. But the bottom line is we’re going to win. I’m sure Penn State is as well. But it’s going to be a great game and we’ll go out there and we have coaches and the head coach and players that know that the only good bowl is when you win it. That’s what we’re trying to get done.”
Another positive thing for Arkansas is some players who were banged up late like running back Dominique Johnson and safety Malik Chavis should be fine for the bowl game.
“He’s fine,” Pittman said of Johnson. “You know, I don’t believe… I’m trying to think here. Saw Chavis. He’s back. He’ll be ready to go. I think besides the season-ending injuries we’ve had, I think everybody else… At least today. We’re not going to just run out there in t-shirts all 15 practices. But I think today we’re in pretty good shape.”
Arkansas and Penn State will kickoff at 11 a.m. (CT) and televised on ESPN2.