Tom Murphy is a reporter for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. A graduate of Louisiana Tech University, he is a member of the Football Writers Association of America, and voter for the Heisman Trophy and AP Top 25 football poll. Murphy was the 2017 Arkansas Sportswriter of the Year.
Razorback Report: Arkansas among nation's best in big runs
Arkansas quarterback KJ Jefferson (1) tries to run away from Alabama defensive back DeMarcco Hellams during a game Saturday, Nov. 20, 2021, in Tuscaloosa, Ala.
FAYETTEVILLE — The University of Arkansas added five runs of 10-plus yards — three of them by quarterback KJ Jefferson — in Saturday’s 42-35 loss at Alabama.
Dominique Johnson, Trelon Smith and Raheim Sanders had runs of 12, 13 and 14 yards, respectively, among the Razorbacks’ total of 110 rushing yards, their second-lowest output of the season behind their 75 rushing yards at Georgia.
Arkansas entered last week leading the nation with 87 runs of 10-plus yards, an average of 8.7 per game. The Hogs are now second in that category with 92 such runs, trailing Kent State by five and leading North Carolina and Syracuse by one.
“It probably says a little bit about the offensive line, that they’re doing a good job,” Coach Sam Pittman said. “It says a lot, I think, about the misdirection and KJ holding people on the backside. If you look at the Alabama game, him and the tight end on the backside held, too, back on the back end.
“So basically if you’re saying, ‘Hey, if we can hold these guys back here, it gives you a little bit bigger alleys and makes that Will or Mike linebacker, depending on your formation, it makes him have to run a little bit further.”
Pittman also credited offensive coordinator Kendal Briles’ ability to work various playmakers into the schemes.
“Just the diversity of how Kendal calls his plays and whom he uses and things,” Pittman said. “Once we get in a rhythm — we had five drives of over 75 yards — and once we get that first first down and we don’t sub, where they can’t either, it makes it difficult on our opponents at times.”
With 468 total yards at Alabama, Arkansas surpassed 400 total yards for the seventh time this season.
Arkansas remained in the College Football Playoff rankings on Tuesday at No. 25. The Razorbacks are in the poll for the third time this season and the fourth time in the history of the program.
Arkansas reached a high of No. 21 in last week’s rankings following a 16-13 win in overtime at LSU. The Razorbacks have been ranked 25th in each of their three other appearances, including a one-week stint in 2016.
At 7-4, Arkansas is the only four-loss team in the nation to make the rankings.
The Razorbacks will honor 29 seniors prior to kickoff on Friday, many of whom went through senior-day festivities last season and returned due to covid-19 eligibility allowances.
The big group: Montaric Brown, Ty Clary, Shane Clenin, Jon Conley, Myron Cunningham, Deon Edwards, Joe Foucha, Dorian Gerald, TJ Hammonds, Hayden Henry, Koilan Jackson, John Stephen Jones, Blake Kern, Sam Loy, Grant Morgan, Tyson Morris, Austin Nix, Nathan Parodi, Matthew Phillips, Bumper Pool, John Ridgeway, Jordan Silver, Trelon Smith, Markell Utsey, Drew Vest, De’Vion Warren, Tre Williams, Ryan Winkel, Jake Yurachek.
‘Bad’ie to the bone
Missouri tailback Tyler Badie is a throwback of sorts as the Tigers’ clear workhorse in an era where more offenses split reps among multiple running backs, like Arkansas.
Badie leads the SEC and ranks fourth nationally with 1,385 rushing yards. His 227 carries are 24 more than the Razorbacks’ top two running backs (Trelon Smith 110, Raheim Sanders 93) combined. The senior from New Orleans also leads Missouri with 53 receptions, 19 more than Tauskie Dove in second.
“Tyler Badie is tearing it up,” Arkansas Coach Sam Pittman said. “He’s not only their leading rusher, but leading pass receiver by a long ways.”
Arkansas safety Joe Foucha called Badie very explosive. “He’s a twitchy back,” Foucha said. “He runs behind his pads and he gets good yards, so the key thing is slowing him down and I feel that will slow the rest of their offense down.”
Added Hogs linebacker Hayden Henry, “We’re going to need to have eyes on him at all times.”
Asked about his success in 21 games at Arkansas, Coach Sam Pittman noted its hard to reflect during the season, but he reached way back into the memory bank as he answered.
“The season goes so fast and you get ready for teams every week so much that … there might be time to reflect [later], but then you go into recruiting and spring ball,” Pittman said. “That’s the greatest thing about coaching in college is that it never gets stale.
“You know I taught high school and every now and then, I’ll be honest with you, I didn’t want to go into that health class, especially on the weight loss section or the tobacco use. Those weren’t good for me. But this keeps you fresh.”
Sam Pittman had some fun talking about Reid Bauer’s jump-pass 32-yard touchdown to Blake Kern on a fake field goal last week.
“Well, when we put it in, he couldn’t hit the broad side of a barn,” Pittman said. “That first day, he was throwing them over there, over here, over here.”
Pittman said he and special teams coordinator Scott Fountain came up with the pass concept, which played off Bauer’s 23-yard run with a fake field goal at LSU the week before.
“We were in there and Fountain said, ‘the same fake’s here,’ and I said, ‘Well, I don’t want to run the same fake. Let’s run Kern at the guy he blocked last week and then run him inside and see if Bauer can throw.’”
Pittman laughed a second, thinking about the play, on which Kern had to reach behind himself with one hand to make the gadget play work.
“It was terrible,” he said. “So I’ll give Fountain and Bauer credit, man. They went over there all week. They kept asking me all week, ‘If it’s there, will you run it?’ I said, ‘Oh yeah, I’ll run it, but I ain’t gonna run it if you can’t throw it.’”
Pittman bragged on Bauer’s punting at Alabama, in which the redshirt junior from Magnolia, Texas, averaged 44.5 yards on six punts.
“Man, did he have a game or what?” Pittman said. “He punted extremely well. Our gunners, T.J. Hammonds and those guys, got down there. The hang time on one of them, we netted 50 and T.J. was standing right there, had to fair catch it. Punted us 50 yards out of our own end zone late in the game.”
The Razorbacks don’t have any official prospects on campus for Friday’s game, but there will still be a considerable number on hand for the Battle Line Rivalry.
“We have several guys coming in,” Coach Sam Pittman said. “We’ll have a big weekend the week after this and the week after that. But I think we’ll have, just as the crowd will be, we anticipate a bunch, a big number.
“Obviously in some cases they’re still playing and then some cases Thanksgiving and they’re not able to come. But I think the numbers we have projected to come are pretty high.”
Arkansas and Missouri had played on the Friday of Thanksgiving week for six consecutive years, each season since the inaugural Battle Line Rivalry in 2014, until the coronavirus chaos of 2020.
The teams were scheduled to play on Saturday, Nov. 29 at Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City, Mo., last year, but that venue was nixed when revised SEC schedules were released in late summer. The venue was changed to Columbia, Mo., but the game was postponed a week after the Razorbacks had roster problems, particularly on the defensive line, due to covid-19 testing and quarantining.
Missouri beat the Razorbacks 50-48 the following Saturday in one of the SEC’s more entertaining shootouts of the season.
The forecast for Friday’s 2:30 p.m. kickoff in Fayetteville is for a high temperature around 55 degrees following an overnight low of 24. The day is expected to feature mostly sunny skies, a 2% chance for rain, and winds between 10-15 mph out of the southwest.
The Razorbacks allowed an eye-popping 13 pass plays of 20-plus yards to Alabama, amounting to 414 yards on quarterback Bryce Young’s school-record total of 569 passing yards. Ten of the pass plays went for 25-plus yards, including touchdowns of 79, 32 and 40 yards to speedster Jameson Williams, the transfer from Ohio State.
Missouri associate head coach and defensive backs coach Charlie Harbison can match the well-traveled path of Arkansas head Coach Sam Pittman.
Harbison is working at his fifth SEC stop, following two stints at Alabama (1998-2000, 2003-06) and stops at LSU (2001-02) under Nick Saban, Mississippi State (2007-08) and Auburn (2013-14).
A graduate of Gardner-Webb, Harbison spent playing time with the Buffalo Bills and the Boston/New Orleans Breakers of the USFL. He has coached in the Arena League and the World League of American Football, had two stints at Gardner-Webb and spent a season with the Arizona Cardinals (2018) in the NFL before joining Eli Drinkwitz’s staff at Appalachian State in 2019.
Harbison has spent 20-plus years of coaching experience in the Atlantic Coast Conference and the SEC, including two stints at Clemson (1995-97, 2009-12).
The CBS Sports crew selected to broadcast Saturday’s game consists of Noah Eagle on play by play, former UCLA Coach Rick Heuheisel and former Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray as analysts and Jenny Dell as sideline reporter.
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