Arkansas head coach Sam Pitman said Wednesday that his team is putting the final touches on its game plan and it prepares for the first eve season-opening Top 25 matchup at Reynolds Razorback Stadium.

The No. 19 Razorbacks will host No. 23 Cincinnati Saturday at 2:30 p.m. in a game that is going to be nationally televised by ESPN.

“Excited to play a really good — really good — Cincinnati team,” Pittman said. “I have all the respect in the world for (Bearcats head) Coach (Luke) Fickell and his football program. We’ll take a healthy team in there. We’ve been very fortunate through camp and awful happy that the game’s at home. 

“Looking forward to a big crowd here and looking forward to playing a fine Cincinnati team.”

That crowd will include a large contingent of Arkansas 2023 commits and targets.

“It’s very important, especially with our fans,” Pittman said. “.I think our stadium will be as entertaining, as loud, as whatever you want to call it, on Saturday afternoon as anywhere in the country. Let’s face it: the state is excited about the football team. We’re excited to show the state our team. 

“With that said, that goes a long way in recruiting, whether you go to a place that’s half full or you have one that’s going to be full like ours and loud. We have one of the most special things in the world in our hog call. I mean, it’s powerful, it’s moving, it’s a lot of things. 

“To have that stadium full and calling the hogs, it certainly helps us recruit. We’re excited about having the brand of guys we have coming in here for this weekend.”

Pittman expects Arkansas to enter the game relatively healthy with wide receiver Jadon Haselwood and offensive Brady Latham – both starters who missed practice last week due to injuries – appearing ready to go.

“I think we’re healthy,” Pittman said. “Obviously there’s a guy a two that hasn’t practiced all fall. But the guys that have been dinged up a little bit, I feel real good about them being able to play. So I feel pretty good about all that. Haselwood’s looked good this week, so I think we’ll be fine injury-wise.”

The Razorback head coach is looking to improve his team’s starts, something that plagued in last year’s season-opening win over Rice and the Outback Bowl win over Penn State.

“Well, I hope so,” Pittman said. “Obviously there’s some concern there from how we’ve practiced in the past for slow starts against Rice last year and against Penn State in the bowl game coming off a layoff. Certainly it wasn’t the case necessarily on defense, but on offense it was. 

“So we’re trying to do some different things. Part of it is to stay consistent with fast starts in practice. Part of it is how we’re trying to attack indy the first period of practice.

“We certainly made a press towards that coming off of any water breaks and those things, trying to get into a fast pace and good quality reps. So we know what our weaknesses are from a year ago, and we’re trying to attack them, and hopefully it works.”

Arkansas’ Wednesday practice was its 23rd of the preseason with just two left before taking on the Bearcats and thus not much left on the checklist before playing.

“I think at this point in time, you’re looking at practice 23, 24 and 25,” Pittman said  before the workout. “And it’s different than what might be a regular week. So your practice schedule, we chose to go pretty heavy on Monday and Tuesday and then we’re starting to wind down a little bit. Today we’re going to go in spiders and tomorrow as well.”

Film study has been a big part of prep per Pittman.

“I want to make sure we know exactly who our opponent is, so in our meetings we’re going to start with Cincinnati film,” Pittman said. “I learned as an assistant that a lot of times you’re going over the tape so much from practice that you don’t get to the opponent as much as you’d like to, so we’re starting our individual meetings by understanding exactly who we are playing.

“But other than that, I think we’re pretty sound in our special teams game. And I think we’re pretty sound offensively and defensively. We’ve had obviously had four practices on Cincinnati and maybe four days of a period of practice was strictly for Cincinnati.”

Arkansas shifted around its practice schedule this past weekend because of being banged up in several positions.

“We know it’s going to be a really physical game,” Pittman said. “So part of my concern was getting back healthy.”

Arkansas did not tackle much in practice, which has become the norm in college football. But Pittman feels like his team is ready for real football.

“We had a long talk about it to be honest with you…as a staff,” Pittman said. “ And you know, I’m old school in a lot of ways I guess, because I’m old. But it never was a conversation of whether you’re going to tackle to the ground in a scrimmage before until the last two or three years, and maybe five years.

“We feel like what we did is the best for our program, and our kids to keep us as healthy…we’re very physical in practice. So we felt like it was the best thing for us to keep our kids healthy as possible, and the opportunity to win the game with having our guys ready to play and tackle in individual. 

“So it certainly has changed. I don’t know who’s changed that way with us. But that’s what we believe in and we feel like we’ll tackle well.”

Arkansas players selected quarterback KJ Jefferson, safety Jalen Catalon, linebacker Bumper Pool and offensive lineman as its four captains earlier this week.

“I loved it,” Pittman said. “Whenever we have a tally of the votes and they bring it to me and I have the biggest grin and biggest smile. Basically the two guys — to say I’m most proud, that’s not right. Look, I think everybody in the land that knows anything about Arkansas football knew that KJ Jefferson and Jalen Catalon were going to get voted captain. 

“The other two were…we have so many guys that could fill that void. I mean we do. (Simeon) Blair’s one of them and certainly Ricky Stromberg and all that.

“But when I saw Dalton Wagner on there, you guys, I don’t know if you see how the team looks at the guy, but to come back for his, you know, super senior year and get elected captain. And when I introduced him to the team as one, I mean, he was grateful. 

“And Bumper Pool to tell me it was the highest award that he’s ever gotten as a football player. Really cool. And so you’re looking at two super seniors that came back, were elected captain by their team.

“You know, I’m not a big video guy of all that kind of stuff. Because, you know, I knew there was some guys, ‘Man, I wish I would have got it,’ you know what I’m saying?… I thought that was really cool, and I’m really happy for those guys. They’re gonna be captains of the 2022 team for life. That’s really cool.” 

Pittman enters his third year as a head coach, all at Arkansas, and was asked his favorite part of Saturdays.

“I like to win and go in the locker room and see those kids,” Pittman said. “I’m telling you, that’s a great question, it’s priceless. Nothing in the world can buy it. There ain’t enough money in the world can buy it. But when we win, and I get to go in there and beat on our coaches and see their face and then see the kids’ face of hard work and when we win, that’s why you coach. It’s incredible. I love that. 

“I (also) love Fridays when I talk to the team. You asked specifically I think on gameday. And I love Saturdays before we go out. It’s 30 seconds, 35 seconds. But you can feel it. You can feel it, what’s getting ready to happen and the excitement with the kids. Those are the special moments. Obviously, when you win and you’re around those kids, it’s incredible.”

Pittman said he is preaching to his team about getting rest from now until kickoff until Saturday.

“We have,” Pittman said. “Absolutely, we have that and rehabbing and hydrating. Those things are going to be big. I’m not a big science guy, I don’t know all the fancy stuff. But they did tell me that you have to hydrate several days before your activity, whatever it might be. 

“So, we’ve certainly pushed that. Our nutritionist and our strength staff have done a really good job of getting them in the cold tubs. Now, we’re just working on the mental aspect of them as well. They’ve got to lock in. 

“It’s a big, big deal. College Football, playing at the University of Arkansas. Huge, huge deal. And we want to take that anxiety out of them the best we can in all aspects.”