Bob Holt is a reporter for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. A graduate of the University of Missouri, he is a member of the Football Writers Association of America, and a voter for the Heisman Trophy and AP Top 25 basketball poll. Holt has been awarded Arkansas Sportswriter of the Year four times and has been inducted to the Arkansas Sportscasters and Sportswriters Hall of Fame.
Razorback Report: Snaps up for 'Pooh'
Arkansas linebacker Chris Paul (27) celebrates a tackle during a game against South Carolina on Saturday, Sept. 10, 2022, in Fayetteville.
FAYETTEVILLE — University of Arkansas linebacker Christoper “Pooh” Paul, the redshirt freshman whose reps have gone up, graded well by Pro Football Focus in last week’s win over South Carolina with 5 tackles, including 1.5 for 8 yards in losses and a half sack. He also recovered a Spencer Rattler fumble forced by Jayden Johnson on the second-to-last play of the game.
“I just take it one day at a time,” Paul said regarding a potential increase in playing time. “I take it as a way to get better. I’ve got two great guys in front of me in Drew Sanders and Bumper Pool, and I just feed off their energy and learn as much as I can from the two vets that have played in the SEC.”
When apprised of Paul’s high grade from Pro Football Focus, Coach Sam Pittman said, ‘Well, that’s awesome” before chuckling.
“I’ll have to look at those one of these days,” he added. “I haven’t yet. I’m 60. But let’s say I did. I think I agree with them. I think he played really well. He got more reps this week than he did the previous week.”
Paul has complemented Pool and Sanders, the starters, when the Hogs have gone to a 4-3 or 3-3 look up front.
“He’s a good player,” Pittman said. “A physical guy. He knows what he’s doing better now than what he ever has. He’s playing mistake-free football. … When he gets a lot of his reps is when we’re in that three-linebacker look when Drew’s on the field as a rush/jack/buck, whatever you want to call him. We’re getting a little more comfortable with that set because of the play of Pooh.”
South Carolina attacked the Razorbacks with a selection of deep balls, though the Gamecocks connected on only a couple of them last Saturday.
Where the Gamecocks really made hay was completing short throws and turning them into huge gainers, such as Antwane Wells’ 38-yard score early in the second half and several other shallow crossing or stick routes that broke big as part of their 376 passing yards during the Hogs’ 44-30 win.
“They were running some vert[ical] routes, with four verts on us, and [the middle of the field] was open,” Coach Sam Pittman said.
“We’ve got to drive on the ball better. We’ve got to be in position in the safety position. We can’t be too deep. You know, if there’s no threats in our area, we’ve got to break on the ball.
“We just, we have to play better back there. And a lot of places. But … we had problems with the middle of the field, whether it be two in the middle of the field or one. And we’ve got to fix that, which I certainly think we will.”
The Razorbacks will face a big challenge in Missouri State on Saturday as Coach Bobby Petrino can exploit the middle of the field with the best of them.
“They know they’ll have a challenge facing his offense, just because that’s what he’s known for,” said Fayetteville High School Coach Casey Dick, Petrino’s first starting quarterback at Arkansas, at the Hawgs Illustrated sports club this week.
Missouri State quarterback Jason Shelley’s five touchdown passes last week were the most for a Bears quarterback since Oct. 15, 2016. Three of the other four quarterbacks with five-TD games at MSU’s Plaster Stadium ultimately reached the NFL: Sean Payton (Eastern Illinois, 1986), Carson Wentz (North Dakota State, 2014) and Easton Stick (North Dakota State, 2018).
Sam Pittman will be looking for a new director of player development to replace Fernando Velasco, who made the transition with him from Georgia along with special teams coordinator Scott Fountain and strength and conditioning coaches Jamil Walker and Edd Ellis.
“It is with a humble and grateful heart that I am writing to let you know that today is my last day at the University of Arkansas,” Velasco posted on social media Thursday. “I have enjoyed working here the past 3 years and for having the honor of developing the young men on this team.”
Velasco, a center at Georgia who played 83 NFL games for four teams, has accepted the director of player development position with the Atlanta Falcons, he announced.
FBS x 26
Missouri State has 26 players with FBS experience with multiple transfers from Power 5 schools, including ex-Arkansas receiver Jordan Jones. A signee out of Smackover in 2016, Jones had 38 catches for 592 yards and 4 touchdowns in 22 games at Arkansas.
The Bears’ roster features 48 total transfers out of schools from coast to coast.
“He’s done a great job with improving his talent level at Missouri State,” Arkansas Coach Sam Pittman said. “And we know that they know the experience of playing D-1 ball, and it’ll be a challenge for us.”
Arkansas and Missouri State are both off to 2-0 starts and ranked in the top 10 of their respective polls.
The Razorbacks will play a game at Reynolds Razorback Stadium for the first time as a top-10 team since the 2012 squad thumped Jacksonville State 49-24 in the season-opener. Arkansas has dropped its past two games as a top-10 team, falling 34-31 to Louisiana-Monroe while ranked No. 8 on Sept. 8, 2012, and losing 37-0 at No. 2 Georgia as the No. 8 team last Oct. 1.
Arkansas is 2-0 for the second consecutive year under Coach Sam Pittman but just the fourth time since Missouri State Coach Bobby Petrino last roamed the Razorback sideline in 2011.
The Bears had not been 2-0 since 2016.
Missouri State Coach Bobby Petrino has surrounded himself with familiar faces.
His son Nick is his offensive coordinator, son-in-law Ryan Beard is his defensive coordinator, son-in-law LD Scott coaches the defensive line, former Louisville player and Arkansas assistant Reggie Johnson works with the linebackers and former Arkansas All-SEC safety Tramain Thomas handles the defensive backs.
Arkansas leads the SEC and ranks eighth nationally with 259.5 rushing yards per game. The Razorbacks are sixth in the SEC and 51st nationally in total offense (452 ypg), 102nd in the FBS in passing offense (192.5 ypg) and 45th in scoring (37.5 points per game).
On the other side of the ball, Arkansas is 103rd in total defense (427.0), 19th against the run (76.5), 129th in passing yards allowed (350.5) and 81st in scoring defense (27.0).
The Razorbacks lead the SEC and rank third in the country with 4.5 sacks per game after racking up six against South Carolina, and they top the SEC and are 18th in the country with 8.5 tackles for loss per game.
The Razorbacks have nine sacks through two games to rank third in the country and on a pace to record 54 in the regular season. Arkansas’ single-season sack record is 40 in 1998.
The Razorbacks have posted more than 30 sacks in a season only 11 times in school history.
Missouri State posted a school-record 30 sacks last season, eclipsing the previous record of 27 achieved in Coach Bobby Petrino’s first year in 2020-21, a season that was split between fall and spring seasons due to covid.
Andrew Parker, a former Razorback, started at linebacker for Appalachian State and had two tackles in its 17-14 upset at No. 6 Texas A&M last Saturday.
“Good for him, and good for App State and for those kids,” Arkansas Coach Sam Pittman said. “ I’m going to catch heck for saying that from A&M.
“I wasn’t rooting for App State, but good for him. I hope he played well. I haven’t looked at the game yet, but good for him.”
A senior, Parker had 24 tackles in 29 games for the Razorbacks from 2018-21.
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