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 previewing Texas A&M
Arkansas football coach Sam Pittman (left) speaks with Chuck Barrett during "Sam Pittman Live" on Wednesday, Aug. 25, 2021, at Catfish Hole in Fayetteville.
FAYETTEVILLE — Arkansas coach Sam Pittman announced this week that former walk-on receiver Warren Thompson was placed on scholarship.
Speaking during his weekly radio show Wednesday night at the Catfish Hole restaurant, Pittman said Thompson earned his financial aid well before his 60-yard touchdown reception during the third quarter of last weekend’s 45-10 victory over Georgia Southern.
“He got a scholarship right before school started,” Pittman said. “I told him in fall camp, ‘I will not give you a scholarship until you toughen up and block somebody.’ I knew he could catch and knew he could run routes, but that’s half of it. He started blocking better and he knocked a couple of guys down at practice, and I called him into my office.
“I wanted to give him a scholarship. That’s the beauty of being a head coach; you understand people’s financial background and different things. You want to help them, but you want them to earn it.”
Pittman indicated Thompson is one of multiple good blockers in the Razorbacks’ receiving corps. Pittman said the group’s blocking improved after the Texas game, when some field goals were the result of receivers missing blocks downfield on plays that would have otherwise been touchdowns.
“A good blocker has to be a willing blocker,” Pittman said. “He has to want to do that to begin with. (Receivers coach Kenny) Guiton has done a nice job and the kids have done a nice job, because they understand it’s a huge part of the game.”
Outside blocking was key to the Razorbacks’ longest play against Georgia Southern, a 91-yard touchdown reception by Treylon Burks, who caught the ball at the line of scrimmage. Pittman said tight end Blake Kern and receiver Tyson Morris made the key blocks to spring Burks.
“The blocking made the difference,” Pittman said. “If they miss the block, it’s a 2-yard gain.”
Pittman said the offense’s best play this year was the result of blocking receivers — a 30-yard touchdown run by Raheim “Rocket” Sanders during the win over Texas.
“Tyson Morris made the block,” Pittman said, “and when Rocket went by him you would have thought (Morris) scored the touchdown because of how excited he was. That’s when you’ve got the team.”
Blocking, primarily along the line of scrimmage, will be the key to Saturday’s matchup between the No. 16 Razorbacks and No. 7 Texas A&M in Arlington, Texas.
“I think that’s going to be the tale of the game, to be honest with you,” Pittman said. “Who can whip who?
“You’re going to lose a few battles on both sides of the ball, but it’s going to be about who can sustain it for 60 minutes, and who can make a play when you’ve got to make a play. I like how our guys have played all year, so I don’t know why we would be concerned about that Saturday.”
The Aggies (3-0) feature one of the nation’s best defensive lines. And although Texas A&M had to replace four offensive line starters from a year ago, Pittman is well aware of the Aggies’ potential in that area.
“I know they’ve got some good offensive linemen because they beat me when I was trying to recruit them over to Georgia,” Pittman said. “They’re not as experienced up there, but a lot of talent.”
Pittman’s own offensive line has question marks entering the game. Center Ricky Stromberg (knee) and tackle Dalton Wagner (back) left the Georgia Southern game with injuries and neither practiced through the first two days this week.
Pittman did not address either injury, but addressed the offensive line’s solid play without them in the second half of the Georgia Southern game, when only left tackle Myron Cunningham played in the same position that he started the game.
Starting right guard Beaux Limmer played left guard; starting left guard Brady Latham moved to right tackle; and Ty Clary and Luke Jones played center and right guard, respectively. Clary also spent time playing guard and tackle.
“I don’t think the fans noticed any difference and that’s the key,” Pittman said. “You have to be ready.”
Cunningham, who along with defensive tackle Isaiah Nichols was one of two players featured on Wednesday’s show, said various offensive-line groupings are confident.
“Whether or not…Brady has played a lot at right tackle or Ty at center or whatever, I have tremendous confidence in them whenever they step out on the field with me,” Cunningham said.
The offensive line played well throughout the Georgia Southern game, Pittman said. He said the happiest moment was when the Razorbacks’ second-team defense forced the Eagles’ final punt, and Arkansas’ second-team offense kept the ball for the game’s final 5:37.
“We’ve been able to milk the 40-second clock and stay on the football field,” Pittman said.
Arkansas’ offense averaged 12 yards per play on first down Saturday, inflated a bit because the long touchdown passes to Burks and Thompson — as well as a 47-yard pass to Morris on the Razorbacks’ first offensive snap — came on that down.
Burks’ and Morris’ catches came one play following a punt, but Thompson’s was set up because of the previous play, a pass from KJ Jefferson to De'Vion Warren on third-and-5.
“We’re so cognizant of first down,” Pittman said. “Our offense knows if we can get the first first down, we can get in octane, we can start rolling. I say if we can win first down we can stay on the field, and we’ve proven that much better this year.”
First downs have also been key on defense, Pittman said. Opponents are converting on just 27.7% of their third downs against Arkansas. The Razorbacks' third-down defense rate is third best in the SEC and 14th nationally.
“Our defense right now is getting teams behind the chains early, which for us would be three yards or less on first down,” Pittman said. “We’re getting a better pass rush and that’s making it more difficult…for them to stay on the field for their offense.”
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