Tom Murphy is a sports reporter for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. A graduate of Louisiana Tech University, he is a member of the Football Writers Association of America and voter for the Heisman Trophy and AP Top 25 football poll. He was the 2017 Arkansas Sportswriter of the Year.
Pittman describes opposing offense as '4 corners'
Arkansas coach Sam Pittman is shown during a game against Kent State on Saturday, Sept. 9, 2023, in Fayetteville.
FAYETTEVILLE — Coach Sam Pittman’s reference to the Dean Smith “four corners” offense — which led to the creation of the shot clock in college basketball — was a logical start to a key discussion regarding the Arkansas Razorbacks.
Pittman was ready to talk at his weekly press conference on Monday about why a winning score of 28-6 against Kent State might have Razorback fans fretting as the Hogs (2-0) head into Saturday’s 6:30 p.m. game against salty BYU.
“I tell you what … how you can convince your team of ‘This is how we’re going to win?’ I guess it’s the old Dean Smith four corners, you know what I mean,” Pittman said to describe Kent State’s milk-the-play clock, ball-control offensive plan.
“Especially with the clock the way it is. What was the game, two hours and 45 minutes? Then you start pressing because you’re supposed to win by a bunch of margin. It didn’t go so well at first.”
Indeed, the Razorbacks’ sluggish start had fans feeling edgy after Kent State built a 3-0 lead. Antonio Grier’s 25-yard interception return for a touchdown turned things in the Hogs’ favor, but they never racked up a series of explosive plays nor stretched out their lead the way many envisioned.
Arkansas wound up with eight offensive possessions, minus one sequence that started with 18 seconds left in the first half.
The Razorbacks scored touchdowns on their fourth, sixth and seventh possessions, punted on their first three, were stopped on downs at their 32-yard line on their fifth and ran off the final 6:05 of the game on their last sequence with the game firmly in hand.
“We had two third downs where we drop the ball,” Pittman said, referencing the Hogs’ first two possessions. KJ Jefferson threw incomplete on a slant to Jaedon Wilson on third-and-3 on the first, then Wilson had a third-and-10 pass that would have moved the chains sail through his hands.
“We stay on the field,” Pittman said, had the third down catches been completed. “The game could be much different. Those things, we have to get better. But after I saw that, I actually thought we played better last week than we did this week up front. But I didn’t think we played too bad actually last week up front.”
BYU Coach Kalani Sitake provided some insight on what he saw from Arkansas the first two games.
“I still see the same talent, the same physical O-line, the presence at the line of scrimmage, very capable runners,” Sitake said.
“The game of football, there’s not as many plays as there has been. I’m looking at it and the game goes pretty quickly. So it’s about being efficient with the plays you have.
“I think every offense is probably going to be down a bit with not as many possessions, especially at the beginning of the year when you’re still trying to figure out the timing. And there may be some teams that are going to try to slow the clock down on purpose.”
Sitake noted in his team’s 41-16 win over Southern Utah last week circumstances dictated that quarterback Kedon Slovis and the passing game take over. The Cougars passed for 348 yards and ran for 46 yards on 23 carries.
“Looking at the film, Southern Utah had their mindset that they weren’t going to allow us to run the ball as much as we wanted to, and so they crowded the box, and that’s why the passing game was a lot more effective for us.,” Sitake said. “If they want to do one thing and take it away, then we’ve got the opportunity to do something else.”
The Razorbacks have faced similar schemes from Western Carolina and Kent State, with their safeties creeping down toward the line of scrimmage, but Arkansas has force fed its run game more than the Cougars. Pittman said he encouraged offensive coordinator Dan Enos to push the ground game last week.
“At some point Dan and I had a conversation about ‘We’re going to win the game and let’s see if we can establish and get our run game going,’ and we tried several different things,” Pittman said.
“We found out some things we can do and some things that we can’t do. How we could take the ball with the last six minutes and displace the line of scrimmage like we did and not do it at the beginning, we’ve got to figure all that stuff out.”
Sitake said the play count doesn’t worry him.
“It’s about how efficient they are from play to play and what I see is they’re a really talented team,” Sitake said of the Razorbacks. “That’s offense, defense and special teams. We’ll have to be on top of our best game to compete in this one and I feel really good about the preparation we’ve had so far and I feel good about the matchup.”
Pittman said he congratulated Kent State first-year Coach Kenni Burns for his team’s game plan and it’s improvement from Week 1’s 56-5 loss at Central Florida.
“The thought of using 40 seconds against a team that you’re a big underdog, that’s pretty smart now,” Pittman said. “Especially if you’ve got a frustrated team over on that other side like we were. We discussed that today in our staff meeting.
“If you decided to do that, how would you talk to your team about it? Would they believe you that this is your best way to win, or would they believe that you don’t think you can win? You know what I mean? There’s a fine line in between that. Ol’ boy ran the four corners offense to perfection.”
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