Photo: Walt Beazley, ArkansasRazorbacks.com
Wednesday’s a big day for the Razorbacks on two fronts. First, it’s college football’s National Signing Day, when the fruits of an enormous amount of labor by Arkansas’ coaching staff will be harvested. Secondly, Mike Anderson’s Hogs head to Florida to face the Gators in a 6 p.m., SEC Network-televised contest that provides a challenging opportunity to extend a two-game winning streak.
National Signing Day
If you are recruiting junkie, National Signing Day is just like Christmas for a kid. The Anticipation often exceeds the arrival. It’s a day you anticipate all year long but are a little sad once it arrives, even though you received a bunch of new gifts.
Part and parcel is the inevitable comparison competition, with your buddies down the road. It’s almost as fun to see what Ole Miss, Mississippi State and Auburn received or didn’t receive.
Sometimes that comparison is a bit disheartening, particularly when considering the hauls of rich kids like Alabama, Florida, Georgia and LSU.
Wasn’t life so much more fun when you just viewed everyone the same? The realization that you’re middle class or lower middle class stings a bit. But, it can also put that chip on your team’s shoulder that can give your team an inspirational edge when going up against the big boys.
Doing more with less is practically built into the fabric of the Razorbacks athletics program. And, it’s not an identity the Hogs or their fans should run away from or be down about. It just makes it that much sweeter when the Razorbacks do topple the big dogs.
If you have the time and inclination, you can get your fill of recruiting news on Wednesday. The SEC Network begins airing recruiting coverage at 9 a.m. with its SEC NOW Signing Day Special. It will look over the entirety of the SEC during the four-hour broadcast, but expect the coverage time to be slanted toward Alabama, Auburn, Georgia, Florida, LSU and Tennessee. That is the central core of the network’s audience.
If you are only interested in just Razorbacks recruiting coverage, the WatchESNP app or website is the place you want to be. At 10 a.m. a two-hour recruiting show streams from the Fred W. Smith Football Center. Alex Perlman and Razorback great Quinn Grovey will give details on the Razorbacks signees as well as interview members of the Razorback coaching staff about the recruiting class.
Razorback coach Bret Bielema’s recruiting news conference will stream live on the WatchESNP app and website at 2 p.m.
For those who have to work or go to class but still want to get the lowdown on the recruiting class from the source, Arkansas will be hosting two events featuring the Razorbacks coaching staff. The first will be at Bud Walton Arena at 7 p.m. Wednesday. General admission tickets to the event are $25, but children under 12 and UA students will be admitted free. Concessions will be on sale and doors open at 5:30 p.m. Tickets can be purchased in advance at NWARazorbacksclub.org.
A similar event will be held in North Little Rock on Thursday at Verizon Arena with doors opening at 5:15 p.m. and the program beginning at 6:45 p.m. Reserved seats, which include a buffet dinner, are $65. General admission seats are $25. Both can be purchased at Central Arkansas First Security Bank locations or online at LRRazorbackclub.com.
Until the recruits sign on the dotted line and the Razorbacks get a copy of the letter of intent in hand, Arkansas’ coaches will be sweating it. Situations are fluid right up to the time the recruits sign. Hopefully no recruit’s parent kidnaps a letter of intent, like Alex Collins’ mom did a few years ago.
The Razorbacks received four commitments over the weekend from offensive tackle Paul Ramirez (6-4, 310) of San Bernardino Valley Community College, outside linebacker Dee Walker (6-2, 210) of Moultrie, Ga., Safety Micah Smith (6-0, 196) of Marshall, Texas, and cornerback Joseph Putu (6-2, 190) of North Dakota State Community College.
The Hogs also got good news when linebacker De‘Jon Harris (6-0, 230) remained committed to the Hogs after visiting Alabama over the weekend. Reportedly the relationship Harris developed with the Razorbacks, who have been recruiting him for more than a year, kept the temptation of flipping to Alabama at bay. Alabama just began recruiting Harris in December, but Harris told a recruiting reporter that Coach Nick Saban personally admitted Alabama should have recruited him earlier.
Hopefully that relationship will hold steady until Wednesday. An out-of-state recruit who would turn down Alabama to come to Fayetteville is my kind of Razorback. With the Razorbacks’ need at linebacker, Harris would likely see the field more quickly at Arkansas than Alabama.
One Arkansas commitment that did make his flip official over the weekend was Moultrie, Ga., wide receiver Kiel Pollard, who now is headed to South Carolina. The lure of early playing time with the Gamecocks apparently was too much for him to turn down with Arkansas returning such a deep corps of receivers.
One last observation: the fact that Arkansas is brining in two junior college offensive linemen this year might give another clue why former Razorbacks offensive line coach Sam Pittman jumped to Georgia.
Had Pittman stayed with the Hogs, he would have had the chore of rebuilding the offensive line with the loss of seniors Sebastian Tretola, Mitch Smothers and junior Denver Kirkland, who is entering the NFL Draft early.
With Arkansas signing Northwest Mississippi Community College offensive tackle Terrance Malone (6-4, 320) in December and expecting Ramirez to sign Wednesday, it appears Arkansas feels it needs some immediate help up front.
You have to do what you have to do to compete, but if Pittman was the recruiter he was touted to be, why is Arkansas coming up short at the position of his responsibility going into Year 4? Maybe Pittman did not want to deal with that pressure?
Now, it also could be that Arkansas didn’t make enough inroads with enough quality high school recruits to get them on campus for visits, so Arkansas shifted focus to go the junior college route. But that falls on Pittman as well.
Either way it’s now new Arkansas offensive line coach Kurt Anderson’s job to put together an SEC-caliber offensive line to lead the way for a new starting quarterback and new starting tailback. That’s a big opportunity and a big responsibility for an up-and-coming coach.
Razorback Hoops Hits the Road
Manny Watkins / Photo: Walt Beazley, ArkansasRazorbacks.com
Mike Anderson’s Razorback basketball team did a great job of bouncing back from a tough three-game losing streak last week, ambushing No. 5 Texas A&M, 74-71, and knocking off Texas Tech, 75-68, in overtime at Bud Walton Arena.
However, there really is no time for them to take a breath with three of their next four games on the road. The toughest of the four most likely is Wednesday at Florida (14-7, 5-3).
Coach Mike White’s Gators are coming off a strong showing last Saturday when they blew out No. 11 West Virginia, 71-88, at the O’Connell Center, a venue where it has been historically tough for the Razorbacks to win.
If the Hogs (11-10, 4-4) play well, it should be an entertaining game. Both squads like to get up and down the floor and put points on scoreboard.
They key, of course, will be whether the Razorbacks’ brand of pressure defense bothers the Gators, who are battling to stay in NCAA Tournament contention.
We won’t know that until Wednesday, but it’s safe to say the Razorbacks must play better than they did Saturday against Texas Tech if they hope to win. For a half the Red Raiders really stymied the Razorbacks’ offense with Dusty Hannahs scoring 21 of the Hogs’ 29 first-half points. It made for a remarkable half for Hannahs, but it has to be a concern for the Razorbacks, who have played their best basketball this season when they spread the ball around.
Obviously, winning is the important thing, and however it happens is great, but Arkansas had a scoreless stretch of 5:29 in the first half of the game that could have buried them. Anderson called it a Texas A&M hangover, and the Hogs’ did look sluggish.
That can’t be the case starting Wednesday. Sluggish play over the next four games could leave the Razorbacks in a hole they can’t crawl out of. Arkansas’ only home game over the next two weeks is at 7 p.m. Saturday when Tennessee visits.
The Razorbacks then take a tour of Mississippi with dates at Mississippi State on Feb. 9 at 8 p.m. and then on to Ole Miss on on Feb. 13 at 1 p.m.
Any of the four games are winnable, but it’s going to take better offensive balance and more cohesive defense than what the Hogs relied on against Texas Tech to get the job done.
This is the time of the season when good basketball teams crank up their intensity, consistency and performance. At this juncture, the Hogs still have a shot at making the NIT. Hopefully, we will be able to say the same after this four-game stretch.