FAYETTEVILLE — The University of Arkansas is set to open the 2020 season on Saturday when Georgia comes to Reynolds Razorback Stadium.
Sam Pittman was the offensive line coach at Arkansas from 2013-15 and then at Georgia 2016-19. Now he’s the head coach of the Razorbacks and is about 48 hours away from his initial game with the Hogs. He talked about his sleep changing this week as the game nears.
“You know until two nights ago,” Pittman said. “Two nights ago, I woke up real, real early and I haven’t slept as well as what I did earlier. Obviously that happened as an assistant coach. It didn’t happen on a Tuesday night. It happened more towards Thursday, Friday. Just anxious. You know obviously I’d be lying if I didn’t tell you I’m nervous about this thing, that thing. But I’m just anxious to get our football team out there. I’m proud of them and want to get them out there and see where we are to this point.”
The Razorbacks will enter the game missing a few players according to Pittman. COVID-19 has forced cancelations of many games across the country already this season.
“I feel good about our numbers,” Pittman said. “And yes, there will be some guys that won’t be able to play. But I feel good about our numbers and where we are right now with COVID. Now, we still have a few test results that are not back yet from our Wednesday tests. And we tested this morning. So we won’t get those back until probably about noon tomorrow.
“But as of right now, I feel real good about our players’ health and safety, who have contacted COVID and about our numbers going into the game.”
Pittman talked to the media prior to Thursday’s practice, but he thinks the team is prepared for Saturday.
“We’re confident that we’re ready to go,” Pittman said. “We’ve had a good seven practices counting today. I’m already counting that one, but we’ve had a good series of practices at this point. Heading into the Georgia week I think we have confidence. We’re fairly healthy as a football team. We’re just really excited about going and playing.”
Arkansas is a huge underdog to the Bulldogs. However, so was South Carolina last season and they went into Athens and pulled out a stunning 20-17 overtime win.
“Well, they had (Javon) Kinlaw on the D-line, which was, we couldn’t block him, No. 1,” Pittman said. “They came in there with the belief that could beat us. They were a physical football team. That day they out-physicaled us. Right before half they intercepted a pass and they took it back to the house on us and we just were mistake prone. They were the better team that day. You know it just proves that if you have guys that play hard and you don’t turn the ball over and you believe in your coaching staff then you have an opportunity to win and that’s what they did. They did have that big play that went back for seven right before the half.”
Some head coaches stay very involved in the play calling, but Pittman leaves that to Kendal Briles on offense and Barry Odom on defense. The three do talk during the week about certain aspects of the game.
“I’m involved in both the offense and the defense as far as game planning,” Pittman said. “For Barry and them, it’s more of what I know that will hurt an opponent. ‘What do you think about this? What do you think about that? What do you think about multiple fronts? What do you think about this blitz, that blitz, this situation?’
“Same way with offense. We have our offense, but it’s, ‘what formations do you want to try to attack these guys with,’ and things of that nature. So, I watch as much tape as they do on the opponent, and I have my notes, and I’ll go down there and talk to them about it. In no way, shape or form do they have to put that in, but I’ll talk to them about what I see on both sides of the ball. And on game day, it’ll be situational. It’ll be, ‘Hey Barry, what do you think here? What are you going to do here? Kendal, you have two downs.’ Things of that nature. ‘Hey, I need you to run it here.’ Time management wise, whatever it may be, but I’m not going to tell them a play to run on either side of the ball.”
Pittman has said repeatedly this is his dream job. He was asked if it has hit him he’s 48 hours away from being the head coach at the UA in a game and being against the school he just came from?
“Well, looking across, you know, we’ve scrimmaged before and they’d be on the other side, so that may not be too big of a deal,” Pittman said. “I haven’t really had time to reflect about what Saturday might be or that I’m the head coach at Arkansas or anything like that. We’ve been so busy. I’m very honored to be the head coach at Arkansas, but I really haven’t reflected on that. I don’t know if there’s time to do that right now. I think maybe after the season we’ll be able to look back on it and see how successful were or unsuccessful. Certainly, we feel like we’re going to have great success, and that’s the goal.”
The game will be televised on the SEC Network with the kickoff set for 3 p.m.