Matt Jones is the editor of the Hawgs Sports Network. He is a member of the Football Writers Association of America and National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association, and voter for the Heisman Trophy. He has a bachelor's and master's degree in journalism from the University of Arkansas.
What Sam Pittman said during radio show previewing Florida game
Arkansas coach Sam Pittman (left) and radio announcer Chuck Barrett are shown during Pittman's radio show Wednesday, Sept. 9, 2020, in Fayetteville.
FAYETTEVILLE — Despite being quarantined, Arkansas football coach Sam Pittman found a way to be part of his weekly radio show Wednesday night.
Calling in from his home in east Fayetteville, Pittman was shown on a projector via Zoom to those in attendance at the Catfish Hole on the west side of town.
It was the latest way Pittman has participated in his usual game-week duties — minus attending practice — since his positive diagnosis for covid-19 early in the week. He said he has made an effort to take as much responsibility as possible off Barry Odom, who is serving as the team’s interim head coach while also preparing a defensive game plan for the Razorbacks’ game at No. 6 Florida.
In addition to the radio show, Pittman has participated in all routine media interviews in the week leading up to the game, and has continued to meet with his team and staff virtually. He said he feels fine, save for some body aches.
“I tried to take as much head-coaching responsibilities for Barry this week, just so he could get the defense ready,” Pittman said. “I didn’t want to take a whole lot away from that. So he hasn’t spent much time this week as the head coach.”
Pittman said he will interact with the team until Friday, then turn things over to Odom on game day.
“We’ve got quality guys who can handle a football team, especially ours, because our (team) is easy. They’re hungry,” Pittman said. “It was an easy transition. Barry and I talk every morning and then I talk to the rest of the staff and those things.
“Once I talk to them on Friday afternoon, that’s it. I don’t have a big enough ego to pipe in a recorded ‘rah-rah’ speech. I’m not that important at that point. At that point, Barry needs to talk to the team, the coaches need to get the players ready and they need to go out and play.
“Barry and I will have a conversation about how aggressive we want to be in the game, but that’s a lot of feel, too, during the game, like going for it on fourth down...or not at other points. We’ll have a conversation, but like I’ve told him, ‘At some point you’re just going to have to go with your heart. You’ve done this before.’ I’m very confident in him and our staff.”
Odom, the defensive coordinator, will move to the field from his usual spot in the press box. Michael Scherer, a defensive quality control assistant who played for Odom at Missouri, will replace Odom in the press box and serve as the Razorbacks’ 10th assistant coach for the game at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium.
“The difference is Barry will be on the sidelines, but he’s done that before, so that’s not unusual for him,” Pittman said. “He’d prefer to call the defense from upstairs, but obviously you can’t do that as a head coach. You’ve got to make in-game decisions and they have to be fast at times, so he’ll come down on the sideline and Scherer will go up and help him with his eyes up there.”
Pittman said his biggest disappointment is not being able to make the trip to The Swamp, where he has coached three times in his career, most recently a 30-10 loss by Arkansas in 2013.
He was particularly looking forward to making the trip this year with quarterback Feleipe Franks, a former Florida starting quarterback who will make his seventh start for the Razorbacks.
“I wanted to be there with him,” Pittman said. “He’s put us on the map and given us a chance to win ball games. I’m not saying we don’t have other quarterbacks who could do that; I’m saying we’ve played him and he has given us the chance to win ball games, and we have.
“I hope he doesn’t have much pressure. I don’t think he does. Obviously he’s going to have some extra pressure, but we’ve been pretty low key, (offensive coordinator Kendal) Briles has, with him.”
Pittman praised the recent play of Franks, who he indicated played through a leg injury last week against Tennessee.
“What you don’t see on that (statistics) piece of paper is toughness and leadership,” Pittman said. “He got hurt early in that game, never came out, was making all kinds of throws and was pulling the ball down and running it. He got sacked a couple of times and got right up. The guy, he’s incredible.”
Pittman said Franks and the Razorbacks’ offense must contend with an aggressive Florida defense that leads the SEC in tackles for loss per game. The Gators’ top pass rusher, Brenton Cox, is a player who Pittman is familiar with. Cox began his career at Georgia while Pittman was the Bulldogs’ offensive line coach.
“They can rush the passer,” Pittman said. “They have speed on the edge.
“Their back end is very aggressive, so hopefully we can get behind them. They’re very aggressive in the run game. They obviously have a lot of speed. They’re playing better than they have all year right now on defense.”
Pittman said the Gators’ speed will also present a challenge in special teams, an area of concern for the Razorbacks early in the season, but where Pittman said the team has gotten better.
“I wish that we have some positive punt returns, positive kickoff returns — which we did last week, we had a nice kickoff return from De’Vion Warren,” Pittman said. “(Florida) has Kadarius Toney, and he is dynamic at returning kickoffs, returning punts. We have to be aware of him. We either need to kick it away from him or kick it high as a kite and hope we can get down there and cover him, because he’s really a dynamic return man.”
Pittman said he plans to watch the game from his guest house, where he is quarantining away from his wife, who tested negative for the virus. He said his bulldog, Lucy, will likely watch the game with him.
“I think it’ll be me and ol’ Lucy, and Lucy don’t talk much,” Pittman said, “so it’ll kind of be boring out here, I think, until the game comes on.”
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