Razorback football report: Defensive TDs, Pittman and ESPNU

Arkansas safety Al Walcott returns an interception for a touchdown during a game against Florida International on Saturday, Nov. 18, 2023, in Fayetteville.

FAYETTEVILLE — The University of Arkansas posted its fifth defensive score and its sixth non-offensive touchdown of the season on Saturday with Alfahiym Walcott’s 33-yard interception return against Florida International.

Arkansas is tied with Michigan and Washington State for the NCAA lead with five defensive touchdowns and their six non-offensive touchdowns is believed to be tied with the Cougars for most in the country.

Arkansas State is among seven teams with four defensive scores, including Kentucky and Tennessee of the SEC. The Red Wolves had three defensive touchdowns and a kickoff return touchdown in their 77-31 thrashing of the Texas State Bobcats on Saturday.

Walcott joined linebackers Brad Spence and Antonio Grier and defensive back Lorando Johnson with his interception return touchdown. Additionally, cornerback Jaylon Braxton had a 33-yard strip and fumble return touchdown in the Hogs’ 39-36 overtime win at Florida.

Isaiah Sategna’s 88-yard punt return touchdown against BYU gives the Razorbacks six non-offensive touchdowns.

Walcott’s touchdown return was initially ruled a fumble recovery. However, since receiver Dean Patterson’s knee touched the grass as he was trying to secure the catch when Walcott snatched it away it had to be deemed an interception.

Pittman and ESPN

Comments Coach Sam Pittman made during his visit with the ESPNU broadcast team this week played out prominently during the broadcast and during Pittman’s postgame interview.

Analyst Rod Gilmore said Pittman had informed them he would not be fired this season based on a discussion he had with Athletic Director Hunter Yurachek the day after the Razorbacks dropped a 48-10 decision to Auburn to fall to 1-6 in the SEC and 0-6 against SEC West opposition.

Additionally, play by play announcer Brian Custer shed further light on their discussion with the fourth-year coach, saying, “Pittman even said, ‘I know on this program there’s some things that we need. We probably need some more vocal leaders, alphas in this locker room.’

“He said, ‘I need to get some strong offensive linemen up front.’ ”

Pittman mentioned last week the Razorbacks would probably need to tap into the transfer portal to bolster their offensive line, which has come under more scrutiny than any other position group this season.

4th down shock

FIU Coach Mike MacIntyre exposed his “let it all hang out” game plan early on by going for it on fourth-and-3 from his own 32 on the first possession of the game.

“I’m not going to lie, I was amazed,” Arkansas defensive end Landon Jackson said. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen that in a game before.”

Arkansas safety Alfahiym Walcott broke in front of tight end Rocky Beers on an out-breaking pass from Keyone Jenkins to snuff out the fourth-down pass.

“I guess that’s a bold move by their coach,” Jackson said. “I feel like he was really in a win-win situation. He didn’t have a whole lot to lose.

“He’s coming in here trying to make big-time plays happen, get momentum on his team’s side. Give him credit, but that’s something I’ve never seen.”

Said MacIntyre, “Our decision was we were going to be as aggressive as we could be, and thought we had a chance at getting it there. It was a fourth-and-3, and we were throwing it to our big tight end.

“They did a good job covering it. Looking back, since we didn’t make it, you wouldn’t have wanted to go for it, but our kids responded hard and kept fighting. You know, I love these young men and how hard they play and how they’re working. They just keep working at it.”

Laughing lockers

The Razorbacks celebrated a win in the home locker room at Reynolds Razorback Stadium for the first time since a 28-6 victory over Kent State on Sept. 9 in Week 2.

“Yeah, it was really nice having a win like that,” senior guard Brady Latham said. “The locker room after the win was awesome, really enjoyable.

“The key was to keep working. Coach [Sam] Pittman says this all the time, if things aren’t going your way, keep fighting and I thought that’s what we did tonight.”

The Razorbacks snapped a three-game home losing streak, having dropped games to BYU (38-31), Mississippi State (7-3) and Auburn (48-10) before knocking off the Panthers.

Mitchell time

FIU wideout Kris Miller turned in one of the best receiving performances against Arkansas in many years with his 6 receptions for 157 yards, including a 12-yard touchdown. The 6-1, 175-pound Mitchell also had an 80-yard catch and run to set up the Panthers’ first touchdown, a 1-yard run by quarterback Keyone Jenkins.

“He’s good,” Arkansas Coach Sam Pittman said. “I mean, we had a hard time covering him.”

Mitchell surpassed the 1,000-yard milestone by reaching 1,002 receiving yards on the year.

Pittman said he had discussions with defensive coordinator Travis Williams about trying to guard Mitchell in man coverage.

“We ended up getting some pressure on him, on the [quarterback Keyone Jenkins], but if you’re going to bring another [blitzer], you’ve got to go man,” Pittman said. “We knew he was really good going into the game, but he proved it. He’s a really fine player.”

Augustave praise

Freshman Isaiah Augustave broke a slew of tackles in reaching 101 rushing yards, his first 100-yard game as a Razorback and the second such effort by an Arkansas player in 2023.

“I thought he did good,” FIU Coach Mike MacIntyre said. “He hit and bounced outside and showed a little bit of speed. I thought he did some good things.”

Raheim Sanders had 103 rushing yards for the Razorbacks against Florida.

Little notes

Junior kicker Cam Little had one of his strangest days Saturday. Little missed two field goals in a game for the first time in his career but he also converted three or more field goals for the fourth time this season and the seventh time in his career.

Little made kicks from 31, 39 and 41 yards and missed from 34 and 48 yards.

The 34-yard miss on the first series of the second half was his first of less than 49 yards this season. He is now 20 of 24 (83.3%) on the season and 53 of 64 (82.8%) in his career.

“I tell you what, you’re really good when you miss a couple and people talk about you,” Coach Sam Pittman said. “And he is. … I think he’s not Superman. He’s close. He’s super. I’m not worried about it.”

Going late

The Arkansas-FIU game was the latest regular season date for a Razorback nonconference game since a 24-19 loss to SMU in Little Rock on Nov. 21, 1992.

Arkansas had been scheduled to play Louisiana-Monroe on Nov. 21, 2020, but that game was canceled due to the covid-19 pandemic, as SEC teams played a conference-only schedule.

The Razorbacks are scheduled to play Louisiana Tech on Nov. 23 next season in Fayetteville, which would make that the latest date for a nonconference regular season game in school history.