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 report: Practice adjusted to begin A&M week
Arkansas head coach Sam Pittman signals to his team, Friday, Aug. 4, 2023, during the Razorbacks’ first practice of fall camp at the Fred W. Smith Football Center in Fayetteville.
FAYETTEVILLE — Arkansas coach Sam Pittman and his staff adjusted their practice plan Monday in an effort to curb some of the pre-snap penalties that hounded the Razorbacks in their last couple of losses.
Arkansas worked in super-loud practice conditions to prepare for last week’s first road game. The Razorbacks wound up with six false starts in the 34-31 loss at LSU.
Because Arkansas was struggling to get lined up and communicate play calls in, Pittman wound up using all three of his timeouts in the first 16 minutes of the second half, including two during the team’s first possession of the second half.
“We’ve got to get lined up faster, and we’ve got to get set faster,” Pittman said. “We’ve got to get the call in faster. … Yeah, I mean, we have to, because I didn’t have any [timeouts] left.
“We’re not going to have music the first part of practice. We’re just going to have it during two-minute today so we can really coach the urgency. … And we haven’t had that problem in the past, so it had to have something to do with noise.
“We will get that back Tuesday and Wednesday, but today we’re just going to try to emphasize the speed of getting our plays in and getting them called and getting them run.”
Texas A&M Coach Jimbo Fisher draws a very complimentary comparison to Arkansas quarterback KJ Jefferson — 2010 Heisman Trophy winner Cam Newton.
“Offensively, it starts with KJ Jefferson,” Fisher said Monday. “He reminds me of Cam Newton so much. He’s 6-foot-5, 250-255 pounds or whatever. He’s a giant. I don’t know what they weigh him at, but he’s big, he’s strong and fast. He’s throwing the ball excellent, making great decisions. He’s hard to get on the ground.”
Jefferson is actually 6-3, 247 pounds on the Arkansas roster, a couple of inches shorter than Newton, whose listed size was 6-5, 245 pounds.
Newton won the Heisman Trophy while guiding Auburn to the 2010 BCS Championship, passing for 2,854 yards and 30 touchdowns and rushing for 1,473 yards and 20 touchdowns.
Arkansas defensive back Malik Chavis, who has missed all four games with a hand injury, could be back in action this week, Pittman said on Monday.
For Texas A&M, quarterback Connor Weigman is questionable after suffering an ankle sprain late in the first half of last week’s 27-10 win over Auburn. Max Johnson replaced him and completed 7 of 11 passes for 123 yards and 2 touchdowns.
“It’s a little sprain. He’s got a little swelling and hopefully it’ll come down,” Fisher said of Weigman. “When you get an ankle sprain or something like that, I mean, one day you could not be on it, the next day you could be running.”
Aggies receiver Noah Thomas, who missed last week’s game due to a family matter, is also ready for a return to action, Fisher said. Thomas has 10 receptions for 112 yards and 4 touchdowns.
Left tackle battle
Redshirt freshman Andrew Chamblee has started all four games at left tackle, but he got 17 snaps at LSU while redshirt sophomore Devon Manuel played 54 off the bench.
Manuel was the first-team left tackle to open camp, but he lost the job while missing a couple of weeks due to a variety of injuries. He’s also been limited in practice since the season started.
“There’s still a major battle there,” Pittman said of the left tackle spot. “Devon has not yet put in a full week of practice healthy or with the strain that he needs because of his injuries.
“So until that happens, I don’t know that we can do anything differently than what we’re doing now trying to get them both ready to play.”
Pittman said Manuel got the majority of snaps at LSU because the coaches believed it gave Arkansas the best chance to win.
“That has nothing negative to do with Andrew,” Pittman said. “That’s what we thought.”
Manuel’s overall blocking grade at LSU was 62.6, according to Pro Football Focus, and Chamblee’s was 52.6.
Fayetteville is home
Arkansas technically will play its fourth home game on Saturday in Arlington, Texas, against Texas A&M. But it will be the second home game not played at Reynolds Razorback Stadium in Fayetteville.
The Razorbacks opened the season in Little Rock with a 56-13 victory over Western Carolina.
“Well, if you look, you’ve got Little Rock and you’ve got Dallas, and they’re both home games,” Pittman said. “They’re not home, so obviously I’d like to play in our stadium as much as we possibly can.”
Arkansas has two more games scheduled in Little Rock — against Arkansas-Pine Bluff in 2024 and against Arkansas State in 2025.
The Arkansas-Texas A&M game is contractually scheduled to be played in Arlington through next year’s game. After that, the teams are expected to play home games at their campus stadiums.
Jayden Daniels odds to win the Heisman Trophy improved but LSU’s chances to win the College Football Playoff decreased, per BetOnline.ag, after the Tigers slipped past Arkansas 34-31 last week.
LSU had been given 28 to 1 odds last week to take the title, but they dropped to 40 to 1 after the upset scare against the Razorbacks.
Daniels was also at 28 to 1 to win the Heisman Trophy last week, but those odds improved to 18 to 1, making him the seventh favorite, after his four-touchdown game against Arkansas.
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