Razorback report: Duo fit for Mississippi State game

Arkansas wide receiver Treylon Burks (16) pulls in a 39-yard touchdown reception during the second quarter of the Razorbacks' 45-3 win on Saturday, Oct. 23, 2021, at War Memorial Stadium in Little Rock. .(Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Thomas Metthe)

FAYETTEVILLE — University of Arkansas Coach Sam Pittman said he thought injured offensive skill players Treylon Burks and Trey Knox were in much better physical shape heading into Saturday’s 3 p.m. game against Mississippi State than they were before last week’s open date.

Burks, the Razorbacks’ top pass catcher, has been playing through a foot injury he suffered during camp almost the whole season, and he also had other issues crop up in recent weeks, Pittman indicated earlier this week.

“I think he’s looked really good,” Pittman said of Burks. “We’re still limiting some of his reps to this point. He basically didn’t do anything the week before.

“You talk about injuries and sometimes I address them, sometimes I don’t. There’s a lot of different reasons for that: Opponents, I don’t want to hurt the kid in the draft, there’s a lot of reasons that you don’t comment on injuries. However, I think he’s back healthy now and ready to go. I think he’ll be just fine.”

During his weekly news conference on Monday, Pittman said “he did some other things” outside the foot injury be he did not elaborate, and added the foot issue “has been kind of a nagging deal ever since fall camp.”

Knox suffered what looked like an ankle issue in the second half of the Razorbacks’ 52-51 loss at Ole Miss on Sept. 9 and played sparingly the following week against Auburn before sitting out the Razorbacks’ 45-3 win over Arkansas-Pine Bluff on Oct. 23.

KJ is OK

Arkansas quarterback KJ Jefferson has had a good week of practice thus far and is healthier than when the Razorbacks were finishing the grind of eight games in eight weeks.

Jefferson had a slight knee issue he fought through after his 411 total yards against Ole Miss on Oct. 9.

“I’ll tell you this, Monday was as good a day as he’s had,” Coach Sam Pittman said. “Really in the 9-on-9 part of it, he really stepped up around the rush game and made some great throws.

“On Sunday, in the two-minute drill he made a nice throw for a touchdown. I think he’s playing with a lot of confidence.”

Run-pass balance

Arkansas Coach Sam Pittman said Arkansas’ offensive numbers of 249 rushing yards and 216.2 passing yards per game are a by-product of the team’s strengths.

“We’re running the ball more than we did last year,” he said. “And we’re doing it because we’re having more success. We’re fairly close to 50-50, but at the same time we’re just doing whatever we can to score points, and we’re going to be a little higher this year running the ball because obviously we’re doing it at a better rate.

“If you look at us, analytics would not be necessarily the play call but the results of the the play. In other words, we have two running options and a pass on most all our runs that are called. It could be skewed a little bit, but we’re a little higher run this year than normal.”

Bulldogs’ spot

Mississippi State wound up at No. 17 in the initial College Football Playoff committee rankings of the season on Tuesday night, a fact lost on Bulldogs Coach Mike Leach until he started receiving texts about it following practice.

“Sure, we’re happy and stuff,” Leach said. “I didn’t know until later at night. People texted me. It’s fun for now, but obviously we’ve got to play well and go up there and compete this weekend.”

Arkansas Coach Sam Pittman, whose team had Tuesday off to allow players to vote, said he watched the CFP rankings show.

“I watched it last night hoping that we would have an opportunity to get in the top 25,” Pittman said. “Obviously, we haven’t won enough games, haven’t won enough power-ranking games to get that done, like Mississippi State.

“I saw that they were 17th. I think they deserve it. They beat three ranked teams. I believe three of the teams that were in the rankings last night. So even though we have identical records, they’ve beaten a few better teams than we have.”

Stephens in slot

Freshman Bryce Stephens took advantage of a good week of practice last week to move up in the wide receiver pecking order.

Sam Pittman said Stephens’ play earned him a promotion to the backup spot at the slot position, behind star Treylon Burks.

“He’s starting to understand the offense,” Pittman said. “He’s starting to play a little bit faster. I don’t think he’s where he is going to be because I still think he’s thinking too much out there. ‘What do I do? Is this right?’ You know, playing a little bit slower than he’s going to.”

Welcome to NWA

Coach Mike Leach will be making his first visit to Fayetteville when Mississippi State rolls into town this weekend.

The veteran head coach is a California native and BYU graduate who was the head coach at Texas Tech and Washington State. He talked to Arkansas officials about the Razorbacks’ opening in December 2019 while at Washington State at an undisclosed location somewhere around Couer d’Alene, Idaho.

During his stint at Kentucky with Coach Hal Mumme, the Wildcats dropped a 27-20 decision to Arkansas in Little Rock on Oct. 3, 1998, as part of the Razorbacks’ eight-game winning streak to open the season.

“I’ve never even been to Fayetteville,” Leach said on Wednesday’s SEC teleconference. “I’ve always wanted to see it. I’ve been kind of on the Missouri side near Fayetteville and it’s real pretty there and everything. I’m sure it’s a nice spot.”

Braves connection

Arkansas Coach Sam Pittman had an inside connection to the Atlanta Braves’ World Series clinching 7-0 victory at the Houston Astros on Tuesday night.

“A good friend of mine, Jeff Grant, is a huge Braves fan and has his box and all that,” Pittman said. “I texted him this morning, congratulating him, and he sent me back a video that he was in Houston last night watching the game.

“So we would go to Braves games when I was employed there at the University of Georgia, and really enjoyed it, so congratulations to them.”


Sam Pittman was asked on Wednesday about a couple of controversial calls in the Razorbacks’ 38-23 loss to Auburn on Oct. 16 and whether he had heard back from the SEC office on them.

The first was a non-fumble caused by defensive end Jashaud Stewart, who grabbed tailback Jarquez Hunter on a third-and-1 play in the first quarter and was in the process of bringing him to the ground when the ball came free. Arkansas linebacker Grant Morgan fell on the loose ball at the Auburn 16 with the Tigers leading 7-3, but the officials ruled Hunter had been in the grasp and the fumble didn’t count.

The other came on a pass interference call against cornerback Hudson Clark on a third-and-6 pass thrown well out of bounds by Bo Nix from the Arkansas 30 early in the fourth quarter with Auburn ahead 28-23. Without the penalty, Auburn would have faced a 47-yard field goal. Because of it, the Tigers were able to run four more plays before Anders Carlson made a 29-yard field goal to extend the lead.

“We actually received that information on the pass interference that it was outside the box,” Pittman said. “There’s a box out there that runs I think 5 yards and the ball hit outside of that. Usually that’s something they go on for being an uncatchable pass, which the ball was definitely outside of that.”

Though replays seemed to indicate Hunter was starting to loose possession of the ball just as Stewart began to make his tackle, the Razorbacks got no relief on that play.

“And then the same explanation that I gave you before on the fumble,” Pittman said. “Any time you pick a guy up, then that basically makes him down, is the explanation that we received on that.”