Matt Jones is the online sports director for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. A double graduate of the University of Arkansas, he is a member of the Football Writers Association of America and National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association, and voter for the Heisman Trophy.
What Sam Pittman said during radio show previewing LSU game
FAYETTEVILLE — After nearly a week and a half in quarantine, Arkansas coach Sam Pittman was back at work Wednesday.
On Wednesday night Pittman made his return to the Catfish Hole for his weekly radio show.
Isolated inside a bonus house at his home, Pittman was relegated to watching the Razorbacks on ESPN last weekend like most of his fans. He said Arkansas’ struggles in a 63-35 loss at No. 6 Florida boiled down to struggles on third down on both sides of the ball.
The Gators converted 9 of 12 on third down, while the Razorbacks converted 3 of 9. Florida also converted 1 of 2 fourth downs and Arkansas was unsuccessful on its only fourth-down try.
“On defense, you have to get off the field on third down,” Pittman said. “We were in third-and-manageable for us and we didn’t get off the field, especially in the first half. It was pretty obvious we couldn’t get off the field.”
The Razorbacks’ third-down defense had been respectable before the game against the Gators, and opponents are still only converting at a rate of 40.6%, the fourth-best clip in the SEC.
Pittman said his team simply ran into a great offense at Florida, led by quarterback Kyle Trask, who boosted his Heisman Trophy campaign with six touchdowns against the Razorbacks.
“The Florida skill is incredible — and I’m talking about the two-deep skill is incredible,” Pittman said. “When you can lose possibly the best player in football, (projected first-round NFL draft pick tight end Kyle) Pitts, and not skip a beat, you’re pretty talented.”
The third-down struggles on offense have persisted for Arkansas. The Razorbacks are converting on just 36.1% of their third downs, which ranks 11th in the SEC.
“We’re not the greatest on third down right now and I think that’s the thing where we’ve got to make another leap,” Pittman said. “We have to be able to convert third-and 8s, third-and-6s.
“Obviously it’s easy to say, ‘Well, stay out of third-and-8.’ Well, sometimes it’s hard to do….We still have to move the chains and we’ve really worked on that this week, along with getting off the field on third-and-8, and longer.”
Pittman said he has been happy with the way his team has improved in the run game in recent weeks, including 208 yards on 32 carries against the Gators.
The success in the run game has opened up the Razorbacks’ passing game. Against Tennessee, Arkansas had pass plays of 56 and 59 yards, and at Florida touchdown passes of 47 and 83 to Mike Woods.
“In our offense, you have to have the threat of linebackers moving up,” Pittman said. “When they move up we can throw over the top of them.”
Arkansas’ offense was dependent on big plays at Florida. The Razorbacks’ five touchdown plays totaled 236 yards, but their other 46 snaps totaled 222 yards.
“It’s hard to drive the ball 80 yards, four yards at a time,” Pittman said. “It’s hard in the SEC…so you don’t see people finish touchdown drives with 14-, 15-play drives anymore. You need that big shot, a 30-yard gain, sometimes a 75-yard gain.”
Pittman said the biggest plays often come when a team isn’t trying to make a big play. He singled out Trelon Smith’s 82-yard touchdown run at Florida as an example.
“It was a normal run, he broke out, the safeties came down and tried fit to his left,” Pittman said. “He cut right and there was nobody left. He outran the rest of them.
“You need those plays and we’re certainly harping on those this week.”
Pittman said he is happy for an 11 a.m. kickoff this week against LSU.
“I’m so happy it’s an early game,” he said. “I know fans may not like it, but we don’t like getting home at 3 a.m. either.”
It is the first early kickoff of the season for the Razorbacks, who have played at night the past three weeks and played during the afternoon in three of their first four games.
Arkansas’ players prepared for an early start time in the preseason with an 11 a.m. scrimmage that was meant to mimic a game day.
“We had a 7 o’clock pregame meal to prepare for this weekend,” Pittman said of the scrimmage in September. “I think our kids scrimmaged really well (that day) so hopefully that correlates to Saturday.”
Have a comment on this story? Join the discussion or start a new one on the Forums.