Arkansas Preparing For Mississippi State Quarterback K.J. Costello

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Mississippi State quarterback K.J. Costello (3) passes in the first half an NCAA college football game against LSU in Baton Rouge, La., Saturday, Sept. 26, 2020. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

FAYETTEVILLE — Last week, Sam Pittman and the University of Arkansas weren’t sure who they would see at quarterback for Georgia, but this week they know exactly who will face them.

In a surprising 44-34 win over LSU in Baton Rouge, Costello completed 36 of 60 passes for 623 yards, five touchdowns and two interceptions. Pittman knows the Hogs will have their hands full with Costello who may have found the perfect coach for him in Mike Leach.

“Costello, he was incredible,” Pittman said. “Could throw every throw, was very poised. Coach Leach, I mean, those guys did a great job of preparing that football team. (Running back) Kylin Hill is the guy that the offense runs around. He’s a really, really exceptional football player. They’re using him a little bit differently, not running him quite as much as he did last year. I anticipate them running him on Saturday. He’s catching the ball out of the backfield and doing a great job. They’ve got a lot of receivers that can make plays. K.J. Costello had his career game. I mean, it was unbelievable. And for him to be a transfer and then come in and do what he did was really outstanding.”

Hill is considered one of the elite running backs in the SEC. Against LSU, he only carried seven times for 34 yards, but caught eight passes for 158 and a touchdown. Pittman is concerned with Hill as both a running and receiving threat.

“Well, very difficult because if you’re in man coverage, most of the time your linebackers have them (RBs) man-to-man,” Pittman said. “That in itself can be a mismatch on him. So zone and if you zone cover him, you’re going to give up the short passing game and then you have to get him on the ground. That’s been very, very difficult for opponents. He can spin around, he can jump over the top of you, he can run by you, he can run through you. I just think the guy’s really a great football player. I really do. I love the way he plays and the effort that he gives.”

Pittman said the Hogs may change the way they practice some this week while preparing for Leach’s Air Raid offense.

“I think we’re going to have more skelly and basically in our coaching staff’s meeting today, I said, ‘Hey, let’s forget about this sheet of paper. What it says on paper what we’re supposed to be doing during this time,'” Pittman said. “This is a totally different football team than what we played last week, so we’re obviously going to spend more time on the passing game. But, with Kylin Hill, (and) they’ve got a really good offensive line, and I’m really impressed with this Cole Smith kid that they have at center. He does a great job for them. They can run the football. They’re huge up front. They can run the football, and of course, they have a great back there. But you’re going to have to stop the passing game, so we’re going to spend more time on that this week.”

Pittman talked about the group of receivers that Costello has to toss it to.

“Well, receiving wise, (Osirus) Mitchell is probably the guy,” Pittman said. “(Austin) Williams, (JaVonta) Payton,(Malik) Heath. Those are the guys. Mitchell is probably the one that sticks out right now the most to me. Had seven catches for 183 yards. But the bottom line is, if they catch you in man coverage, they’re going to run pick routes. They’re going to try to, at least last week they’d try to get the outside receiver, pick the inside receiver, get the outside receiver across the  middle of the field. Obviously, if you add in linebackers, there’s nobody in the middle of the field. So they’re almost trying to take you out of that. Then on the blitz. Against LSU, it was hard because there was nobody in the middle of the field, and they were dinking the ball down to whomever receiver coming on crossing routes, and the corner was behind because he had gotten shielded. He’d gotten picked through another man’s route.”

Mitchell’s receptions went for two touchdowns, Payton had six catches for 122 yards while Williams had seven catches for 57 yards and a touchdown. Heath was held to one reception for one yard.

While Costello was the headliner against LSU, the Bulldogs had seven sacks against the Tigers in the game. Pittman was asked if Arkansas may slow its offense down to try and control the clock more?

“No, I don’t think we need to slow down,” Pittman said. “This is what we do. I think we need to do what we do more effectively. Obviously they’ve got some very, very talented defensive linemen in (Kobe) Jones and (Tyrus) Wheat and their defense kind of goes through (Erroll) Thompson. He’s kind of been their leader. We didn’t protect bad against Georgia. Certainly it’s a concern because they move all over the place. They twist and move and it’s just part of their defensive coordinator’s philosophy. And they do it well. They’re not as big on the D-line — they’re huge on the O-line — but they’re not as big on the D-line as what we just played and they move quite a bit more. 

“So LSU got into a throwing game with them because they were behind. I don’t know if they threw it more than they normally would or not. There were a lot of opportunities for sacks there and they certainly went and got a bunch of them.”

Leach and Pittman are two of the four new head coaches in the SEC. Leach was the only one of the four to get a win in Week 1. Pittman has a lot of respect for Leach.

“I think he’s really smart,” Pittman said. “If you watch, he basically, I don’t know what he does, but it seemed to me like he checks the pass game like most people check the run game. He wants to find out whether you’re in man, whether you’re in zone, whether you’re in 3, whether you’re in 4, whether you’re in 2 and then goes to attack and knows how to attack it. He’s been doing this a long time. I met him first when he was at the University of Oklahoma. We had just gotten fired and they came in there and did a great job there. He’s an outstanding football coach and I’ve met him, but I don’t know him well. I have a lot of respect for him. He sure as heck had his team prepared and ready to play on Saturday.”

The game will kickoff at 6:30 p.m. Saturday night in Starkville and be televised on the SEC Alternate.

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