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.
Hogs have much to do before BYU comes to town
Arkansas coach Sam Pittman is shown during a game against Kent State on Saturday, Sept. 9, 2023, in Fayetteville.
FAYETTEVILLE — The University of Arkansas football team has started 2-0 for a third consecutive season for the first time since 1998-2000.
But Razorbacks Coach Sam Pittman knows his team has plenty of work to do after beating Kent State 28-6 on Saturday at Reynolds Razorback Stadium, which followed a 56-13 victory over Western Carolina in Little Rock to open the season.
Western Carolina, which beat Samford 30-7 on Saturday, is an FCS team picked to finish fifth in the Southern Conference.
Kent State, picked to finish last in the Mid-American Conference East Division, opened with a 56-6 loss at Central Florida before playing at Arkansas.
“Right now, when you go through two teams, you really in all honesty don’t know what you have yet,” Pittman said. “So you’ve got to get them out there to figure out, who do you really have?
“And I know we’ve had a lot of practices and we had spring ball for some of them, but we really don’t know what we have in a game yet until we get them out there.
“We’ll find out who should play more reps than others as that continues to go down the line.”
Arkansas plays BYU (2-0) at 6:30 p.m. this Saturday at Reynolds Razorback Stadium in the return game of a home-and-home series.
The Razorbacks beat the Cougars 52-35 in Provo, Utah, last season in the teams’ first meeting.
BYU has beaten Sam Houston State 14-0 and Southern Utah 41-16.
“I’m trying to find more than 22 guys,” Pittman said of rotating players at some positions to build depth. “I know who we have as the starters. I’m trying to find out how many guys can we win with?
“We’ve had the greatest opportunity in America to do that with Western Carolina and Kent State, and we’re 2-0.”
Defensively the Razorbacks have forced six turnovers — five against Western Carolina — and scored two touchdowns with interception returns by linebackers Brad Spence in the opener and Antonio Grier against Kent State.
Arkansas ranks 14th nationally in scoring defense at 9.5 points allowed per game.
The Golden Flashes were the first opponent Arkansas held to fewer than 10 points since 2021 when the Razorbacks beat Arkansas-Pine Bluff 45-3.
“We’ve played teams like this in the past and they’ve scored more than six on us,” Pittman said. “I think we’ve done well.
“I think we’re playing hard and we’re still learning and trying to get better.”
The Razorbacks were held to 379 yards in total offense against Western Carolina and 308 against Kent State — which allowed 723 to Central Florida.
“You look around the country, it’s happened for years — you get surprised,” Pittman said. “In other words, you get surprised and you lose, and you get surprised and you win.
“Well, obviously, the second is a lot better than the first. I felt like we had a good week of practice, I did. I thought the distractions were to a minimum.
“But we didn’t come out like I thought we’d come out on a home opener, and that bothers me.”
Arkansas led Kent State 14-6 at halftime.
“But I love our kids, and I love the locker room, the culture,” Pittman said. “I think we’ll fix all this, I really do.”
BYU is playing as a Big 12 member for the first time this season.
“I think we’ll play a much better football game against — no disrespect — a much better football team coming in here next week,” Pittman said. “I think we’ll show and have a much better, passionate football team out there than we had today.”
Pittman made sure to credit Kent State and Kenni Burns, its first-year coach, for how the Golden Flashes responded after a 50-point loss to Central Florida.
Kent State opened on Aug. 31 — the Thursday night leading into Labor Day weekend — and with a couple of extra days to prepare for Arkansas, Burns said the team had some physical practices stressing improved tackling.
“To come back and play the way they did, I want to give them a lot of credit,” Pittman said. “They had a nice game plan of trying to control the clock, letting it run down.
“We had nine drives all day. They were very physical. I thought they out-physicaled us in the first half.
“But congratulations to them. I told Coach after the game the score was much closer than 28-6 I felt like, and that he did a wonderful job with his team.
“They’ll have a good football team if they continue to work through him. He’s a good football coach. We’ve got a lot to get better at.”
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