FAYETTEVILLE — Sam Pittman knows when the Hogs take the field on Saturday against Auburn they will be in for a tremendous challenge.
Auburn (3-4, 1-3) has a losing record, but each of the losses have come against ranked teams. Auburn lost to Penn State 41-12, LSU 21-17, Georgia 42-10 and Ole Miss 48-34. They enter the Arkansas game after a bye week with a three-game losing streak. Pittman talked about the Tigers losing to ranked teams.
“Yeah, you know, in all honesty, you don’t really look at a team’s record,” Pittman said. “You just look at the team on film and Auburn’s very scary. I think they’re very talented on both sides of the ball. A lot of times it depends on when you get those teams — if you get them early in the season or you get them on the back end or whatever. You can make a run and you get these top-10 teams later in the year, things of that nature.
“But we look at the team and their team is scary because they’ve got a lot of talent and they play extremely hard. Being on the road, too, makes it even that much harder because Jordan-Hare is a tough place to play and I’ve been in there several, several times. We don’t really look at the record, but we do look at the team and I think they’re a really good football team.”
Auburn has a strong running game. Tank Bigsby has carried 99 times for 524 yards and six touchdowns while catching 15 passes for 97 yards. Backup Jarquez Hunter rushed 49 times for 239 yards and four touchdowns. He has nine receptions for 185 yards and two touchdowns. Quarterback Robby Ashford completed 67 of 140 passes for 1,014 yards, four touchdowns and five interceptions. Ashford is second on the team in rushing with 74 carries for 310 yards and three touchdowns.
“They’re running the ball really well,” Pittman said. “Obviously the biggest concern is Bigsby and Hunter. They’re really good players. And then you go back to Ashford. You know we haven’t seen a whole lot of running quarterbacks this year and with him being a dual threat quarterback, that creates a lot of problems for us. They’re big and physical up front. They look like an SEC team. Their receivers are tall. Those are the things. They run the ball extremely well, have great tailbacks with their quarterback being a dual threat, that certainly creates a new problem that we haven’t had for a while (Jalen Milroe).”
Pittman said Wednesday the bye week helped Arkansas get some players, particularly on defense and in the secondary, healthy.
“Well, we’re certainly excited to go to Auburn,” Pittman said. “A really fine FB team, well coached, and they play extremely hard. We used the bye week trying to get healthy. We feel like we’re about as healthy as we’ve been since the beginning of the year and we’re looking forward to a great crowd there at Auburn and a fine football team.”
Pittman went into more detail about his secondary returnees including Myles Slusher, Jayden Johnson and Malik Chavis. He also mentioned true freshman Quincey McAdoo who recently switched from wide receiver to defensive back.
“I believe so,” Pittman said. “I think we’ll be again as healthy as we’ve been all year. I think we’re going to have everybody who’s not out of the season, I think we’ll have them back. Slush has been fine. He’s been healthy, full speed and knocking the rust off a little bit.
“The guy I like back there who’s doing a good job is McAdoo. We moved him over. I think he’s playing well over there on that side of the ball. Jayden seems to be back 100 percent. Had to knock a little rust off because he hadn’t played in a while, but other than that, they’ve had a really good week.”
McAdoo was a very talented two-way performer from Clarendon who not only was a standout at wide receiver, but also in the secondary. Is he close to being ready to contribute?
“I hope so,” Pittman said. “Very talented. He played defensive back in high school as well as wide receiver. His hand seems to be healing up, as well, and he looks like a natural over there. Has really taken to… It’s always a little different when somebody asks to move over versus you moving them. He saw an opportunity there and he’s taken full advantage of it. I like him a lot over there.”
It’s no secret Auburn head coach Bryan Harsin is on the hot seat. He seems very likely to be fired at the end of the season if he makes it that long. Pittman was asked what he would say to his team if he knew he was going to get fired?
“I think if we allow what people say to affect the team — which it’s hard not to — then you could have problems,” Pittman said. “I think coach Harsin, I watched his press conference, he’s doing a great job at answering questions. And certainly his team’s playing hard. It doesn’t seem like they’re affected by all the noise. I think it would make the job maybe twice as hard. I mean, it’d make it much more difficult if they’re hearing all this outside noise. And they’re still kids. They’re listening to things of that nature. But, as far as that goes, I think they’re doing an outstanding job and I think coach Harsin’s a really, really fine football coach.”
The pressure Pittman wants to put on Auburn has nothing to do with Harsin’s job status. It is linebacker Drew Sanders and his teammates getting to Ashford which is easier said than done though he has been sacked 10 times this season already.
“I think we have to be better at that,” Pittman said. “Certainly we have to be willing to play man coverage more and get after it. The problem with Ashford, and (T.J.) Finley for that matter, is they’re very good runners. If you don’t have somebody spying the quarterback, then you could have major problems if you can’t get him on the ground. We’ve got to be good at both those things.
“But Drew Sanders, I think he’s still leading maybe the SEC in sacks and things of that nature. He’s a good player for us. We have to get him involved. We have to get our best pass rushers on the field in those down and distance situations and third down. But I think sacks not only are momentum changers, they’re also good for situations. In other words, they’re going to lose seven, eight yards and things of that nature. We need to continue to get more. We’re not where we want to be, to answer your question.”
The kickoff for Saturday is set for 11 a.m. and televised on the SEC Network.