Arkansas Hopes to Extend Winning Streak in Baton Rouge Saturday Night

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Arkansas quarterback KJ Jefferson (1) drops back to pass against Georgia Southern during the first half of an NCAA college football game Saturday, Sept. 18, 2021, in Fayetteville, Ark. (AP Photo/Michael Woods)

FAYETTEVILLE — Arkansas hopes to win its third game in a row when they battle LSU Saturday night in Baton Rouge.

Arkansas (6-3, 2-3) has seen this be a season of streaks. They won four in a row to begin the season, dropped three in a row and now have won their past two games. LSU (4-5. 2-4) has already fired its coach, Ed Orgeron, though he’s coaching through the final game of the season. Sam Pittman expects a battle on Saturday night from an LSU team that played Alabama very close this past weekend.

“Obviously we have high respect for LSU and their football team,” Pittman said. “We’re looking forward to going over there and we know how loud and active the stadium is going to be and how well LSU has played and played last week. We know it’s going to be a huge opportunity for us, and we’re excited to go over there.”

Orgeron is also impressed with the job Pittman has done replacing Chad Morris at Arkansas.

“Well, I want to compliment Coach Pittman on the great job he’s done at Arkansas,” Pittman said. “I think he’s an outstanding man. He’s great for the league. He’s done a wonderful job there in the short time he’s been there. I respect him as a coach. It’s going to be a big challenge for our football team looking at the film.”

Pittman has been impressed with the way LSU has generated a pass rush this season particularly against No. 2 Alabama this past Saturday.

“Well, LSU has talent, and they were playing very inspired football,” Pittman said. “They did a few things differently in that game as far as their third down and blitz package. LSU is talented, they’re LSU. They were inspired to play and obviously played extremely well and had a chance to win it there at the end. Just a little bit of a difference with their aggressive play calling defensively, I felt like, from LSU.

“I feel like their offensive line is getting better each week, certainly with getting (Chasen) Hines back. He’s their right guard, I think he’s a really good player. They got the counter going against them.”

Considering the Hogs have won two in a row and LSU is struggling in the standings how hard is it to handle success and be prepared for what should be a tough test?

“Not hard because you’re playing LSU,” Pittman said. “And then you have Alabama after that, Missouri. I mean, it doesn’t seem to be too hard. And you might say, ‘Well, we were eighth in the country at one point, and then we lost at Georgia and Ole Miss and Auburn. Well, we lost to three really good football teams, now. We’ve beaten some really good football teams. But the losses were, you know, everybody who’s played Georgia’s lost to them. And most everybody that’s played Ole Miss, so it’s not like we lost to a team that wasn’t a good football team. So, I think we were prepared in each one of those games, and the other team just got us at that point. LSU’s a really good team, and so the rankings and where we’re at, I don’t think that has anything to do honestly with the mindset of our football team going to play LSU because we have high, high, high respect for LSU.”

Pittman and the Hogs are prepared for LSU to blitz frequently this weekend.

“I anticipate that they’ll use some of the things that they did against Alabama,” Pittman said. “But I think any great coach, which Coach Orgeron is, they’ll do something in the same look but different results. In other words, they may give us the same look and not pull the linebacker, they slide two out, or whatever the case may be. They’ll give us the same look pre-snap and do something different. All great coaches do that, and we’re ready for, obviously, what they did last week. We’ll see what their adjustments are and try to adjust off that. The guy who is handling the blitzes well is KJ (Jefferson). We’ve seen more total, all-out blitz over the last three games than you could get in an entire season. And KJ, and specifically Treylon (Burks), have hurt that. You have nobody in the middle of the field. So, if you win your one-on-one battle and the quarterback can get it to you, usually it turns into six points, and that’s what has been happening.”

Speaking of Jefferson, his first start was in Baton Rouge during the 2019 season against the eventual national champions. Pittman was at Georgia then, but has watched that game on film. He talked about what he saw from a true freshman making is first start against the eventual national champions. Anything about that start help him this weekend?

“I wouldn’t think so,” Pittman said. “I mean, they were the No. 1 team in the country and all those things. He hadn’t played much ball. I don’t know how he played that day, but I certainly hope he plays better than that. I think he’s probably had a few more reps since then. I don’t think so. You’d probably have to ask him that question. I’m not positive.”

Jefferson did answer that question.

“It did, it started me off playing in a hostile environment, loud stadiums,” Jefferson said. “Now when I go into a hostile environment, I’m already prepared for it because I’ve already been through it. It’s easy for me.”

Pittman was asked how much better quarterback Jefferson is now compared to then?

“As much as we’ve talked about him starting even last year versus Missouri and how he played in that,” Pittman said. “If you go back and look at that and we’ve certainly looked at Missouri already in the off week. We have to get ready for them for a Sunday night practice coming back from Alabama, so we did do that in the off week. Just looking at how he played a year ago to how he’s playing now is quite different, so I would assume it was even more so two years ago that he’s improved that much more since then. Yeah, I know he’s improved a lot since last year in his start against Missouri.” 

Since he played so well last year at Missouri what are the areas he has improved in since then?

“I think his confidence and how he sees the field,” Pittman said. “He’s throwing the ball better than what he did before. His reads seem natural for him. It’s like a guy that is pretty sure he knows the offense, or not for sure he knows the offense and he’s maybe half-a-second, a second behind. I feel like he’s just playing faster, and certainly smarter. All this experience that he’s getting has certainly helped him. An example is throwing that ball away in two-minute the other night. That was probably as important as all the passes he threw.”

Jefferson also offered up his thoughts on why he’s a better quarterback now than that night in Baton Rouge in 2019?

“The main thing is I’m more confident now, confident in my decision making and confident in my play,” Jefferson said. “That’s the main thing, going along being confident and making sure my guys have my back and I have their back.”

Jefferson knows he’s a facing a different LSU defense this year than the one in 2019. But the current LSU defense did limit Alabama to six-yards rushing.

“The thing that stands out the most to me is they have a lot of different fronts and a lot of blitzes they like to call,” Jefferson said. “They’re very successful with blitzing. Those guys up front, their D-line gets off blocks well. The back end they chase the ball, they cover guys. They’re pretty long on the back end as far as their corners and safeties. They’re pretty long guys and like to gets hands-on. We’ve got to come with our ‘A’ game. It’s the SEC. The Boot is involved, a trophy is involved, so we’ve got to put our best foot forward, prepare like it’s a championship game and go out there and play ball.”

Orgeron knows that Jefferson will put a lot of pressure on his defense Saturday night.

“When he took over he was young, but you could tell he was a great athlete, a  beast, like a big defensive end back there,” Orgeron said. “Big, physical guy. An athlete.  But now he’s operating better. He can throw the football. He can run the football. He’s a threat. He’s going to be a load to tackle. We have to gang tackle him. He’s a very, very impressive player.”

The kickoff is set for 6:30 p.m. on Saturday night and televised on the SEC Network.

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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