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 his radio show following Texas win
Arkansas football coach Sam Pittman speaks Wednesday, Aug. 25, 2021, during Pittman's weekly talkshow "Sam Pittman Live" at Catfish Hole Restaurant in Fayetteville. (NWA Democrat-Gazette/Andy Shupe)
FAYETTEVILLE — Arkansas coach Sam Pittman said Wednesday his team knew it would beat Texas last Saturday.
“We felt like we had a better football team as long as we went out there and played physical,” Pittman said during his radio show at Catfish Hole. “We were prepared. We were confident. We knew if we’d go out there and be physical, we’d win the game. It wasn’t a real close game.”
The Razorbacks defeated the Longhorns 40-21. Texas was ranked No. 15 at the time and was favored to win by a touchdown.
Arkansas’ defense suffocated the Longhorns, holding Texas scoreless in the first half and to only 136 yards on offense through three quarters. By then the game was out of reach.
Pittman said defensive coordinator Barry Odom felt good implementing some schemes from the Razorbacks’ game against Alabama last season when the Crimson Tide’s offense was coordinated by Steve Sarkisian, who is now the Texas head coach.
“We played Alabama last year and our defense played fairly well,” Pittman said of the Razorbacks’ 52-3 loss to the Crimson Tide last December. “I know it’s hard to think when they scored so many points on us, but (we) had some success. Barry felt like that was the way he wanted to go, with a three-man front, and we put a couple of wrinkles on it, too.
“The kids believed in him, they believed in us, and whatever we design up there, they’re going to go execute.”
Pittman received a hero’s welcome for his radio show, which was his first scheduled public appearance since the victory that pushed the Razorbacks into the AP Top 25 poll for the first time in five years. Arkansas is ranked No. 20 ahead of its game against Georgia Southern on Saturday at 3 p.m. in Fayetteville.
“I’m glad we’re ranked,” Pittman said. “It’s my job to make our kids understand the only way we’re ranked is because of how we practice…and prepare. I’d rather be ranked than not be ranked.
“If we don’t win games they know we’re not ranked anymore. I’m using it as a positive.”
Pittman is also using the ranking as a precaution.
“We showed the team on Tuesday three different recent games where teams had such a great win, and then the next week they got beat by an unranked opponent,” Pittman said. “They got my subliminal pretty good about what can happen if you get lazy. You’ve got to do what got you there.”
Pittman spoke like a coach whose program matured a lot in a week’s time. He said the sold-out crowd of 74,531 helped Arkansas take a step in its development.
“To be an elite program, our kids need to experience everything,” Pittman said. “They need to have the experience of a full, packed Hog Walk and a packed stadium. It’s our obligation to make sure we have a product people want to come see.”
Pittman said he told his players before the game that people who fill a stadium “don’t come to see you play, they come to see you win.”
Pittman said he has done more interviews than usual, but it has been an otherwise “pretty normal” week as the Razorbacks prepare for Georgia Southern. He said he was not happy with his team’s practice Tuesday, but thought Wednesday’s workout was better.
“The great thing about this team is we have 20 seniors…and any time you have that many older guys on a team that are mature, they can run the team,” Pittman said. “(Coaches are) going to run the team a lot at practice on what we’re going to do, what we’re going to call, all those things. Everything off that field, at times on the field and certainly during the games, the kids run the team. I mean that’s just how it is.
“When they’re in the locker room, they’re running the team. When they’re out on Dickson Street, they run the team. We’re not there. They have to handle the football team and these guys have done a really good job.”
Preparing for the Georgia Southern option offense presents “a big-time challenge because they’re different than anybody we’ve played thus far this year,” Pittman said.
The Razorbacks began installing some defensive sets for this game during the preseason. Pittman said he switched his practice routine Wednesday and ran the second teamers against the first teamers so backup quarterback Malik Hornsby — thought to be the team’s fastest player — could run against the starting defense.
“I know (Georgia Southern quarterback Justin) Tomlin is good, but he can’t be faster than Malik Hornsby,” Pittman said. “We’ll see, I guess. They really did a good job of fitting that up today.”
Pittman was proud of the Razorbacks’ 333 yards on 47 carries (7.1-yard average) against Texas. He said Arkansas “could be a really good running football team” with continued work.
It starts, Pittman said, with the threat of quarterback KJ Jefferson running the ball. Jefferson ran 10 times for 73 yards against the Longhorns and through two weeks has the second-highest grade for a running quarterback nationally, according to Pro Football Focus.
Pittman likened Jefferson to a horse, in particular a clydesdale because of his size. He said Jefferson gave Texas problems aligning its defense.
“He’s a big 255-pound guy who can run,” Pittman said. “It opened up the middle of the field a little bit because they were on the edge waiting on KJ to keep the ball.”
Four different running backs — Trelon Smith, AJ Green, Dominique Johnson and Raheim “Rocket” Sanders — rushed for a touchdown against Texas. Pittman indicated he liked the play of Green, especially on a 30-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter when a Texas safety took a good angle but was beat to the corner of the end zone.
“I think it might have surprised him how fast AJ ran by him,” Pittman said. “He can run 10.3 (seconds in the 100 meters). That’s fast for a 200-pound kid.”
In one of the most lighthearted moments of the night, Pittman recalled a conversation with Green after the Texas game.
“I saw him Monday and asked him, ‘How many carries did you have?’” Pittman said. “He said six. I said, ‘How many touchdowns did you have?’ He said one. I said, ‘Well what the hell happened on the other five?’
“He’s really fast.”
Pittman continued to praise the play of his offensive line, in particular center Ricky Stromberg and tackles Dalton Wagner and Myron Cunningham — the three positions where Pittman said good line play starts.
He was pleased with the play of all six linemen who played against Texas, including backup right guard Beaux Limmer who rotated with Ty Clary.
“They’re gelling pretty good,” Pittman said.
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