Former Razorback basketball coach Nolan Richardson used to repeat a saying he picked up from his grandmother when times were tough for his Hogs.
“All sickness isn’t death,” he would say.
Current Razorback football coach Sam Pittman related a similar diagnosis concerning his Razorbacks Monday in his press conference that acts as a post-mortem for the previous game and a look forward to the upcoming contest.
Next up for the Razorbacks
Opponent: at Ole Miss
When: 11 a.m. Saturday, Oct. 9
Where: Oxford, Miss.
Oct. 16 – Auburn
Oct. 23 — UAPB, in Little Rock
Nov. 6 — Mississippi State
Nov. 13 — at LSU
Nov. 20 — at Alabama
Nov. 26 — Missouri
His No. 13 Hogs (4-1, 1-1 SEC) are in the process of burying their 37-0 loss to No. 2 Georgia. Flushing it, as the head Hog and his players would say, while making preparations for a Top 25 showdown with No. 17 Ole Miss at 11 a.m. Saturday at Oxford in an ESPN-televised affair.
Certainly, Pittman remains concerned about being overwhelmed by the Bulldogs, but he is not panicking about his Hogs being overwhelmed by the Bulldogs, who have yet to surrender a point in SEC play this year.
However, he does plan to target the lack of discipline the squad displayed in collecting four false starts, an illegal snap and two ineligible receiver downfield penalties against the Bulldogs on offense and then three offsides penalties on defense, two of which Georgia declined because Arkansas had more costly flags called on the same plays.
“We’ve got to correct the situation,” Pittman said. “We’ve got to cut the penalties out. We’ve got to do better, and we’ve got to coach better. But if I go totally off and start having meetings with the players and all this stuff, I think I’m sending a message that I’m panicking, and I’m not. Because we’ve got a good football team, and we got our butt kicked by a really good football team. We don’t like it, and we’re not accepting it, but I’ll be damned if Georgia’s going to make us lose this Ole Miss game.”
Pittman and his staff plan on instructing the Razorbacks, improving areas that where out of whack at Athens, hopefully before they get to Oxford this week and face an Ole Miss squad that felt embarrassed last year, losing, 33-21, to the Hogs at Razorback Stadium.
The Rebels, an early six-point favorite, are gunning for the Razorbacks. All-star quarterback Matt Corall made that clear when he called out the Hogs as far back as SEC Media Days in July. Evidently the Rebels’ seven-turnover performance last year in Fayetteville still sticks in his craw, and he is aiming to carve up the Hogs this Saturday in Oxford for some payback.
Barry Odom’s umbrella zone coverage scheme so impressed the Rebels last year that head coach Lane Kiffin had his defensive staff adopt a similar defense for this season.
“I think they’re second in the country in pass defense,” Kiffin said of the Hogs’ defense during his teleconference Monday. “This is the scheme we struggled with a year ago, and we basically switched to it for our defense because it’s really good.”
Razorback linebacker Grant Morgan locked up the victory for the Hogs last season with the Hogs’ fifth interception of Corral with three minutes left in the game. Morgan returned the interception 23 yards for a touchdown to cap the victory.
Despite the Rebels’ 42-21 loss to No. 1 Alabama last week, Corall is still in the Heisman Trophy hunt. He’s accounted for 16 TDs — six rushing and 10 passing — this year. Corall has completed 87 of 125 passes for 1,210 yards, incredibly without an interception. The Rebels are also averaging 5.4 yards per carry in the running game.
“Of course, everyone knows about Matt Corral and all the wonderful things he’s doing and all the respect he’s getting,” Pittman said. “They have a really good group of running backs. They’re rushing the ball about 250 per game. Great wide receivers. They have a veteran group on offense.”
Pittman’s also been impressed with the Rebels’ defensive improvement.
“On defense, the portal has been really good to Ole Miss,” Pittman said. “(Safety) Otis Reese transferred in from Georgia, and (linebacker) Chance Campbell went from I believe Maryland. Both of those kids are their leading tacklers. And they brought in some nice pass rushers from a couple junior colleges. Their defense is playing extremely well, physical, runs to the ball.”
Pittman isn’t sweating being under-Hogs once again, but he does want to reinforce his Razorbacks’ confidence in themselves at a pivotal crossroads for this season.
“Look, we’ve been underdogs in 14 of our 16 games, including Saturday,” Pittman said. “We’ve never been favored to win an SEC game. We’re doing things right. We just have to do them better.”
However, Pittman isn’t just standing pat after the number the Bulldogs did on his offense. Pittman indicated there might be a shake-up at the guard spots along the offensive line this week. Young tackles Ty’Kieast Crawford (6-5, 350), a transfer from Charlotte, and redshirt freshman Jalen St. John (6-5, 330) will work some at guard this week as well as their normal tackle spots.
“We’re going to get some guys to challenge inside at the guard spot, to see if we can’t get a little heavier, a little more physical in there,” Pittman said. “We’ll give St. John and Crawford some chances to go in there and play a little bit. We’re not firing people because of that game, but we’re always looking to try to get better.”
Despite blowout losses, Arkansas and Ole Miss stuck in the Top 25 this week; however, that might not be the case with a loss this week.
“I think that says everybody has that much respect for Alabama and Georgia,” Pittman said of Arkansas and Ole Miss staying in the Top 20. “I think that’s what it says mostly. Both of us were on the road in very intimidating, hostile environments.”
The Razorbacks reach the midpoint of their season against the Rebels. How they bounce back after that bruising loss to Georgia will set the course for the rest of the season.