FAYETTEVILLE — The media reminds everyone Arkansas hasn’t won an SEC game since Oct. 18, 2017 when they beat Ole Miss 38-37 in Oxford.
The current SEC losing streak is at 20, but don’t expect Sam Pittman to remind the Razorbacks of anything related to the past or the defensive shortcomings in those losses.
“(We’ve) never mentioned it,” Pittman said Thursday. “It doesn’t have anything to do with us. It’s a whole different new team. New staff. A lot of new players. We’re trying to set our own goals in what we get done. So, no we never have mentioned it.”
The Razorbacks opened the 2020 season with a 37-10 loss to Georgia and will head to Starkville this weekend to face Mississippi State. This was a game many speculated Arkansas might break the losing streak, but when the Bulldogs went to Baton Rouge and defeated LSU that has quieted some of that optimism, but not from the Hogs. Pittman has emphasized to the players don’t let a bad play or mistake linger on in your mind.
“Yeah, you know we’ve talked about that even way before this week,” Pittman said. “It’s just something that one negative can’t turn out to be two. We have to flush it and let it go. This is the SEC. People are going to make plays on you on – on offense, defense, special teams. Our big deal we talk about is adjustments. Trust the coaches. We’ll try to adjust to what we see.
“Be truthful with us when you come off (the field). If you got beat, if you got physically whipped, let us know. It’s not going to be any yell fest. We’re not trying to chase ghosts. We’re not ‘Well, I thought I saw this, I thought I saw that.’ We talk more about as fast as we can get this thing adjusted, the better off we can be and and the better off we can stop them. Let’s not wait until the end of the game or halftime to make an adjustment.”
To help try and break the losing streak this week, Pittman would love to get senior running back Rakeem Boyd going. He was held to 21 yards on 11 carries and caught four passes for eight yards. In two previous years at Arkansas, Boyd has rushed 307 times for 1,867 yards and 10 touchdowns while catching 42 passes for 325 yards. Pittman hopes to get Boyd going this weekend.
“Yeah, and Nate that’s a great question,” Pittman said. “We need to. That’s the big thing. We can’t be one dimensional. We need to get him rolling. We’ve worked very, very hard … and we did obviously in our pre-season camp. We have really emphasized that part of it. We’ve got to get him going, and it’s all about – to me it’s communication, making sure we don’t have any breakdowns, things of that nature. I think we just have to be more consistent and more aware of movement than what possibly we were last Saturday.”
Trelon Smith had a little more success against Georgia. He rushed six times for 38 yards and caught three passes for 13 more yards.
“There wasn’t a whole lot of running room in there. Again, Rakeem caught the ball well and there wasn’t a whole lot of space there. He blocked well. Obviously we’ve got to find ways to get him yards. I thought Trelon came in, he ran hard, he ran well.
“Obviously at some point in the game, they had substituted some on their D-line as well and we had a little more success running the ball. But the bottom line is we’ve got to say the course, keep running hard and good things will happen for us.”
Pittman was asked if Kendal Briles is working to get the offense more balanced and performing better this week and going forward?
“No more than before,” Pittman said. “He’s a good football coach and has been since I hired him. At some point players have to go out there and function as well. Again, I think we played one of the best defenses in the country. So hopefully our performance on offense will get better and I believe it will.”
With senior defensive end Dorian Gerald still out with a foot injury and uncertain if he can play on Saturday the Hogs are glad to get sophomore Mataio Soli back after he missed last week’s game. In addition sophomore Zach Williams played well in relief of Gerald. Williams finished with seven tackles, three solo, 1.5 tackles for loss and a sack.
“A lot,” Pittman said regarding getting Soli back. “We needed him back regardless of Dorian’s status, but we needed him back. He’s looked good. Obviously, he was out a few days, a couple of weeks. Excuse me, 10 days. And so we were concerned about his conditioning, but not so much anymore. I think he’ll be fine.
“Zach played well, I thought, the other day. No matter what happens with Dorian, he has earned more playing time, so we’re expecting him to go out there and play well for us.”
With the Hogs facing the Air Raid offense Pittman said the team will travel a lot of defensive backs.
“Well, it’s big,” Pittman said of defensive backs. “We need as many as we can take. We’re going to take 14-15 guys that are from nickel to safety to corner to the game. I mean, we’re going to roll in there three deep, and we need to. That’s a big deal getting those guys back. We’ve got a majority of our secondary back – not a majority, but a few secondary guys back last week on Tuesday, and certainly we’re planning on being able to take everybody this week.”
Among the players back this week are Devon Bush and Jarques McClellion. The two are cornerbacks who should have a big role this week.
“The guys have looked good, the two DBs,” Pittman said. “They’ve done a good job.”
Last Saturday, Arkansas started Myron Cunninghan and Noah Gatlin at the tackles, Beaux Limmer and Brady Latham at the guards and Ricky Stromberg at center. Pittman talked about starting the game group again this week.
“Well, as of right now we are,” Pittman said. “I think we’re comfortable with 7-8 guys. Starting-wise, I think it’ll be very similar to what we saw last week. We are trying to get some continuity. The problem was injuries, and of course the virus and things of that nature. It was very hard at times to get that, but we’ve been good this week. I think we’ll be able to play the guys that’s played side-by-side and who started last week.”
Senior center Ty Clary is now back and brings plenty of experience including 27 starts. He also can play guard.
“Well, he had missed quite a bit of practice this year, and he’s back now,” Pittman said. “He was back last week late in the week, and so he’s doing a good job. I expect him to play this week. I really have no doubt that he’ll play this week.”
Arkansas will leave for Starkville on Friday and Pittman talked about the travel cautions during COVID-19.
“Yeah, you have to add buses,” Pittman said. “I’m not positive how many. I don’t know if we have seven or something like that.
“There’s so many things, like seating, seating charts. We’re going to stay away from each other in the rooms. Each man is going to have his own room. Seating charts on the buses, seating charts when we go to the movies, seating charts when we get on the plane. Obviously we hope that we don’t have any positives when we get to that point, but you can’t test five minutes before you get on the plane. So obviously there’s a test today and whatever the results are, we get back tomorrow. But we certainly have to stay in our bubble tonight, but there’s so many things going into it, how you seat at your meal, how you get your food at the meal, a lot of those things we had last week, but the travel part of it with the plane and buses and things of that nature, we’re ready for it. But certainly we had to spend quite a bit of time getting the seating down for that.”
Arkansas and Mississippi State will kickoff at 6:30 p.m. Saturday night in Davis Wade Stadium. The game will be televised on the SEC Network Alternate.