Sam Pittman Expresses No Regret in Decision to Play LSU Despite Shortage on D-Linemen, Running Backs

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FAYETTEVILLE — Arkansas was missing two starters and some key reserves on the defensive line as well as senior running back Rakeem Boyd due to COVID and contact tracing.

LSU prevailed 27-24 on a late 13-yard touchdown pass from TJ Finley to Jaray Jenkins with 3:59 remaining in the game. The Tigers then held off a late Arkansas charge that resulted in a blocked field goal that would have tied the game. Despite the loss, Arkansas head coach Sam Pittman was pleased with the team and the effort. Senior defensive tackle Jonathan Marshall was the lone starter at that position playing and went almost the entire distance.

“Well, he’s wonderful,” Pittman said. “The guy plays his tail off. He’s a fighter. Nobody said a word. He didn’t say a word. He didn’t say, ‘hey where’s so and so, so and so, so and so’ He said, ‘hey, let’s go coach these guys will be fine.’

“I love my staff there wasn’t one bit of negativism over…. the bottom line is we had the numbers to play and that’s the spirit of the game. They don’t ask you who you have to play? They say do you have this amount of numbers and this amount of numbers and we did. And we went to play and nobody said a word about it. To be honest with you we should have played today and that’s what we did.”

Marshall finished the game with four tackles, including three solo, one for loss, a pass breakup and two quarterback hurries. Was this the most snaps you ever played in a game?

“I haven’t played that much I don’t think,” Marshall said. “That was my first time playing that many snaps to be honest with you. It was a good experience for me to step up and be a leader for the people on the D-line. So, that was a good thing for me.”

How many times did you come off during the game?

“I told my coach I wanted to stay out there with the young bucks to give them their experience,” Marshall said. “So, everybody else, they were stepping up. It’s a next man up team, you know? So, we did what we had to do to be able to play.”

Pittman obviously was disappointed the Hogs lost and missed some opportunities they had to win.

“On the game, LSU had the ball the whole time,” Pittman said. “They probably looked out there and saw some new faces on the D-line and felt like they could possibly have a good running game on us which they did. They rushed for 150 yards. They controlled the football game. They controlled it. We had big plays on offense, but we had a couple of long drives. Did a nice job catching the football, but we just didn’t have a lot of consistency during the game. We couldn’t hand the ball off to the tailback and run the ball very well. The bottom line is probably they could run it and we couldn’t. That’s probably the difference in the football game.”

Feleipe Franks led Arkansas’ rushing game with 14 carries for 43 yards and a touchdown. T.J. Hammonds had one carry that went for 29 yards while Trelon Smith, who got the start, rushed 11 times for 28 yards.

Arkansas lost talented safety Jalen Catalon with 6:50 remaining in the game when it was called for targeting on a smashing it over the middle. The call kept LSU’s winning drive alive. Pittman was asked about the call following the game.

“Well, I saw, I thought he tried to avoid the hit,” Pittman said. “He was coming in with his shoulder. Their receiver went lower as he was going toward the ground. I felt like he was trying to avoid the contact, but I can see what they saw as well. But, certainly,  it looked to me he was trying to get his head out of there. Trying to avoid the receiver’s helmet as well.”

Despite having to leave the game early, Catalon had 16 tackles, including five solo and 1.5 tackles for loss. Pittman has to be diplomatic about it due to SEC rules on critizing officials, but the SEC Network’s Matt Stinchcomb saw it like most others in the stadium did.

“I don’t see that,” Stinchcomb said. “I don’t know how that call can possibly be confirmed. I  also don’t know how you can play defense if you are not able to make a play that looks like that. He turned his entire body sideways. I didn’t even see any head or neck contact.”

Franks finished the game 17 of 26 passing for 339 yards and one touchdown with an interception. One area where the Hogs suffered was on third-down conversions. Arkansas was 0 of 10 on third down while LSU was 12 of 23 thus making more than the Hogs even attempted. Pittman was asked since working on third-down converstions was a focus during practice this week if he was disappointed?

“Well, whether we had focus on it or didn’t I would imagine we would be disappointed in third down,” Pittman said. “We have to just keep working on it. Anytime you lose by three there’s so many points in the game that can go one way or the other. We had an opportunity to go up eight and we couldn’t convert that third down that specific one. Then we got a field goal and went up four. Certainly if we had went up eight then we would have put a lot of pressure on them. We couldn’t do it. It was that way a lot of big plays. A lot of them came on first and second down. However, we did convert the fourth and three to keep the game alive to give us an opportunity to tie it though. We’ll just keep working at it. You have to give LSU’s defense credit. They had a nice game plan and they did a nice job.”

LSU dominated the time of possession 41 minutes, 43 seconds to 18:17 for the Razorbacks.

“I’d say it was huge,” Pittman said. “I mean, they let the clock run down. They looked (to the sideline) every play. They let the clock run down. They had a really good game plan. They didn’t care. The problem was they were winning first down, you know. When you win first down and you’ve got second and 3 and second and 4, you can sit there and you can milk the clock all day. That’s what they did. They were doing a really good job on their first down and we weren’t. We didn’t have a lot of success on defense on first down. That was their game plan and we can blame whoever we want to blame. When the offense has the ball they need to go score. When the defense is out there, they need to get off the field.”

Arkansas faced a fourth and three with 1:24 remaining in the game. Pittman opted to attempt a field goal with AJ Reed that would have tied the game, but it was blocked. Following the game, a reporter asked Pittman how much thought he gave to going for a first down there?

“Fourth and three, 45-yard field goal down three,” Pittman said. “What would you have said if we had went for it and didn’t make it? Kick a field goal? To me there wouldn’t a question of what you do. We were gonna tie the game up. We didn’t think they had enough time. They weren’t a prolific throwing the football team. They only had a timeout left as well. You know if it was closer we might have tried it. I have confidence in Reed and I thought we could protect it. I thought we would. There was no doubt in my mind we would make it and we probably would have, but we had it tipped.”

Junior wide receiver had another outstanding game for the Razorbacks. Woods caught four passes for 140 yards with a long of 50.

“Well, he’s a competitor you know,” Pittman said. “He really has good hands. It takes a good receiver to win against a good corner, a good press corner. Mike’s big and he’s long and so he’s able to do that. So really proud of him. He works awful hard, the game means a lot to him and he wants the ball. He just continues to get better. He’s a go-to guy.”

Arkansas (3-5) is slated to be at Missouri next Saturday for an 11 a.m. kickoff on the SEC Network. LSU (3-3) is scheduled to be at Texas A&M.

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