Bob Holt is a sports reporter for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. A graduate of the University of Missouri, he sits on the board of directors for the U.S. Basketball Writers Association, is a member of the Football Writers Association of America, and a voter for the Heisman Trophy and AP Top 25 basketball poll. He has been awarded Arkansas Sportswriter of the Year four times and has been inducted to the Arkansas Sportscasters and Sportswriters Hall of Fame.
Razorback football report: Pittman talks injuries, job security, 'Polar Express'
Arkansas coach Sam Pittman walks onto the field prior to a game against Auburn on Saturday, Nov. 11, 2023, in Fayetteville.
FAYETTEVILLE — University of Arkansas Coach Sam Pittman rated cornerbacks Jaylon Braxton and Jaheim Singletary, and offensive lineman Patrick Kutas as questionable for Saturday’s 6:30 p.m. game against Florida International.
Braxton suffered a shoulder injury late in the Hogs’ 48-10 loss to Auburn last Saturday after his diving interception early in the fourth quarter. The freshman from Frisco, Texas, posted takeaways in each of the last two games, with his first career interception stacked on a stripped fumble return for a 33-yard touchdown at Florida.
“Braxton’s got a shoulder sprain,” Pittman said. “We’re going to keep him out of contact all week and we’ll just see where that goes.”
Braxton has made five starts, including three in a row.
Singletary did not dress out last Saturday after suffering an injury in practice.
“It looked bad in practice,” Pittman said. “Stepped on a receiver’s foot. He also is going to move around a little bit today in indy.”
Singletary, a redshirt freshman transfer from Georgia, started three of the first four games at cornerback.
Kutas, a nine-game starter, suffered a high ankle sprain during the Hogs’ 39-36 overtime win at Florida on Nov. 4.
“I think those three guys will be very questionable but I think there is a chance,” Pittman said.
Tailback Raheim “Rocket” Sanders and linebacker Antonio Grier, who were tended to on the field last week, should be good to go, Pittman added.
Got to win
Coach Sam Pittman fielded several questions about his job security and his messages to the team and recruits during his Monday press conference.
One of them dealt with whether he addressed rumors over his job status with the team.
“Well, we’ve got a lot to fix,” Pittman said. “So I’m going to go today about what we did wrong and how we can fix it. Our kids probably hear and read the same thing that the recruits do. I’m not going to address it because I don’t think it’s as severe as y’all do.
“But if they ask me about it, then I’m going to explain about that, but I don’t have time really to explain about my job security, to be honest with you. We’ve got to beat FIU and that’s an honest answer.
“If I was worried about me personally, I think it would take away from what we’re trying to get done here. I’ve got a job to do, I get paid to do it. I need to do a better job, so I can’t really sit around worried about my job security or me. I think it’s a much bigger issue with the media than it is with myself.”
Coach Sam Pittman addressed a viral social media clip of a handful of players in the walk-on locker room watching “The Polar Express” during halftime of Saturday’s 48-10 loss to Auburn. The Razorbacks were trailing 27-3 at the time.
“We don’t have enough lockers in our main locker [room] to house all the kids, so some of them have to go in a separate locker,” Pittman said. “A young man, I’ve already addressed it with him, he made a mistake.
“[He] sent it to a friend, friend sent it to his brother, brother put it out on what have you. I’ve already addressed it and I think we’re fine there, but it was just a mistake that a young man made and I wish he wouldn’t have, but he came in, he was sorry for it, he was very remorseful for it, so we’re going to move on.”
Pittman said the Razorbacks have a team rule about not posting anything on social media after the team leaves for its hotel on Friday until after games on Saturday.
After all eight of Arkansas’ losses an opposing player has earned a conference honor.
The trend continued Monday when Auburn junior Keionte Scott was announced as SEC Special Teams Player of the Week after helping the Tigers beat the Razorbacks 48-10.
Scott had a 74-yard punt return in the first quarter to give Auburn a 14-0 lead.
Texas A&M senior Ainias Smith also was named SEC Special Teams Player of the Week after he scored on an 82-yard punt return in the Aggies’ 34-22 win over Arkansas on Sept. 30.
Scott had the first punt return for a touchdown for Auburn since Quan Bray’s 76-yarder against Louisiana Tech in 2014 and the first against an SEC team since Chris Davis’ 85-yarder against Tennessee in 2013.
Sam Pittman said “it hasn’t been difficult at all” to keep players from entering the transfer portal late in what’s become a tough season for the Razorbacks.
“Obviously we talk to our kids on a daily basis,” he said. “I know the defensive staff [Sunday] talked to every kid on the team [and] also with the recruits, because of all the noise that was going on.
“I don’t know why you’d leave the University of Arkansas. We treat our kids like they’re supposed to be treated. We expect them to get an education. And it’s a great place to get a degree. I wouldn’t have any idea why they’d want to leave.”
The ESPN documentary “True Character,” which details the 1998 Arkansas football team and centers on former Razorbacks Brandon Burlsworth and Clint Stoerner, will debut tonight at 8 p.m. on SEC Network.
The debut comes one day after the film got a private screening in Harrison, the home of Burlsworth.
The ESPN documentary, directed by David Beilinson, is part of its SEC Storied series. The Nov. 14 public screening will come on the 25th anniversary of the No. 10 Hogs’ 28-24 loss at No. 1 Tennessee. The setback included the “Stoernover” play, a fumble by Stoerner recovered by the Volunteers to start their game-winning drive after Stoerner tripped over Burlsworth’s right leg.
Arkansas safety Jayden Johnson received a late hit flag and ejection for targeting on a huge hit in the second quarter against Auburn.
Receiver Jay Fair caught a screen pass, got around an edge block and had taken a couple of steps out of bounds after a 17-yard gain when Johnson lowered his shoulder into the 5-10, 186-pounder and dropped him hard.
Fair stayed down for several seconds and looked a little wobbly as personnel on the Auburn sideline reacted in anger to the hit. But after the replay review confirmed Johnson’s targeting foul, he stayed in the game and caught a pass on the next snap and was dropped for a 1-yard loss by Alfahiym Walcott. Those were Fair’s only two catches of the game.
Because Johnson’s ejection took place in the first half he will be available for kickoff in Saturday’s 6:30 p.m. game against Florida International.
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