By Otis Kirk
FAYETTEVILLE — Sam Pittman was the first coach at the podium on Wednesday and talked a wide variety of topics.
In doing his review from last season, Pittman noted Arkansas finished ranked in the Top 20 in the coaches poll and won four trophies.
“That was a big deal to our football team,” Pittman said of the trophies. “A big deal to have all three of our rivalry trophies and certainly the Outback Bowl Trophy. No one on our team had ever had one of those trophies. We were fortunate to have all three of them.”
Arkansas defeated Texas A&M 20-10 on Sept. 25 to win the Southwest Classic Trophy. The Hogs followed that up by defeating LSU 16-13 in overtime on Nov. 13 to bring home the Golden Boot Trophy. In the final game of the regular season on Nov. 26, the Razorbacks routed Missouri 34-17 capturing the Battle Line Trophy. The Razorbacks defeated Penn State 24-10 on New Year’s Day to win the Outback Bowl.
Another factor that made Pittman smile is the Razorbacks led the Power 5 in rushing in 2021. Arkansas rushed 588 times for 2,961 yards and 26 touchdowns.
“I think what that does is tell us what we’re trying to do with our football program,” Pittman said. “We want to be a physical team on both sides of the line of scrimmage. We want to win the line of scrimmage and be physical and tough. To do that is hard to do. I was an O-line coach for a long, long time and never was able to lead the Power 5 in rushing. But we were able to do that last year.”
Pittman also noted on April 22 the team was presented their bowl rings from the victory over Penn State.
“Some people asked why you handing out a ring for the Outback Bowl?’ Pittman said. “Because I wanted to. Because it’s something no one on our team had accomplished.”
Pittman also is pleased he’s able to keep his three coordinators once again. Kendal Briles (offense), Barry Odom (defense) and Scott Fountain (special teams) have been with Pittman since he came to Arkansas following the 2019 season.
“We are one of eight Power 5 teams to have a pair of coordinators returning for a third consecutive season,” Pittman said.
Arkansas will once again face a difficult schedule that includes Cincinnati, Missouri State, Brigham Young and Liberty in the non-conference.
“A challenging schedule again,” Pittman said. “I think this is the third year in row, well I’ve only been here three years, so I know it’s the third year in a row we’ve been awarded the toughest schedule in college football. All 12 of this year’s opponents made post-season play last year.”
Gone at wide receiver is Treylon Burks, who was a first-round pick of the Tennessee Titans. Burks led the team with 66 receptions for 1,104 yards and 11 touchdowns. Arkansas also graduated Tyson Morris and De’Vion Warren.
The returning receivers combined for 30 receptions in 2021. Warren Thompson returns after catching 19 passes for 304 yards and two touchdowns. Ketron Jackson added five catches for 97 yards and a touchdown. Quarterback Malik Hornsby worked some at wide receiver in the spring. The Hogs did add former Sooner Jaden Haselwood (39-399-6) and Toledo’s Matt Landers (20-514-5) in hopes of helping. They signed Isaiah Sategna, Quincey McAdoo and Sam M’Bake out of high school to help. Bryce Stephens added three receptions in 2021, but was still able to redshirt.
“The unsaid thing there was losing Treylon Burks,” Pittman said. “I don’t know you replace a guy one for one. I don’t think you can. So we’re going to have to do it by committee. I like a couple of the guys we’ve gotten in the portal in Matt Landers and Jaden Haselwood.
“But I think Ketron Jackson is going to have his best year. He’s ready to go. Warren Thompson is ready to go. Bryce Stephens has improved. I like who we signed of the freshman class. It’s still be determined if they can help us or not. Isaiah Sategna, Sam M’Bake and Quincey McAdoo. They have had good summers, but we’re going to have to do it by committee.”
One thing Pittman is pleased with is the physical aspects of the group under Kenny Guiton.
“I will say this,” Pittman said. “We look like a wide receiver group. We run like a wide receiver group. KJ has to get comfortable with where these guys are going to be. It has to get comfortable with their speed and how they run their routes and all those things.
“But I think we’re going to have to replace Burks by committee and that is certainly the No. 1 thing offensively that was concerning. We have used Malik at wide receiver. He’s fast and has good ball skills. We have to get him on the field. If he doesn’t beat out KJ in fall camp he needs to be on the field. He’s fast and up to 190 pounds now. He can withstand the hits. Another thing that helped us was getting Cade Fortin in at quarterback. That allows us a little bit to move Malik Hornsby out and look at him at wide out. He’s good enough player and certainly needs to be on the field.”
Arkansas will open the season on Saturday, Sept. 3, by hosting Cincinnati at 2:30 p.m. and televised on ESPN.