FAYETTEVILLE — No. 16 Arkansas will be back home at Reynolds Razorback Stadium on Saturday morning at 11 a.m. to host South Carolina.
The Razorbacks defeated No. 23 Cincinnati 33-26 last Saturday to impressively open the season. South Carolina also won taking a 35-14 win over Georgia State. Sam Pittman knows the Hogs will have their hands full again this week again a talented South Carolina squad.
“Well, South Carolina has a really good team,” Pittman said. “A hard-playing team, really good in all three phases. Coach (Shane) Beamer’s done an excellent job there and they’re playing with a lot of passion. So, we’re excited that it’s home. I think our crowd has proven that we have a good home field advantage. We need them here. 11 o’clock game, I know a year ago we went to Georgia and it was one of the loudest places I’d ever been in. Certainly their players had a lot to do with the success they had that day, but the crowd did as well. It bothered us. Certainly hope that we can get that same next Saturday that we had the first game of the year.”
Senior tight end Trey Knox caught six passes for 75 yards and two touchdowns. Did that surprise Pittman?
“Nah, not really,” Pittman said. “He’s an older guy. He’s been practicing extremely well. It’s important to him. I was happy for him that he had some big plays, but not really as a surprise. I think as we continue to throw the ball more to wideouts and things, I think he’ll even become more productive. But, not really. What’d he catch, six balls and a couple of touchdowns. I thought he’d have a good game. I’m just glad that he did and he was able to score some touchdowns for us.”
Whether it’s Reid Bauer or Max Fletcher punting for the Hogs Pittman is concerned with protecting them and not getting any blocked. Beamer’s father Frank was known for the ability of his teams to block punts. Pittman has Scott Fountain working hard this week to prevent any blocked punts on Saturday.
“Yeah, it is,” Pittman said. “I mean, they know exactly what we do, as well, because he and Scott worked side by side together at Georgia. Scott was the special teams analyst and Coach Beamer was the special teams coordinator. So we know a lot of the things they’re doing and they know a lot about what we’re doing. Georgia State was not necessarily schematics. They just missed blocks. One was in their shield and one was on the backside of a zone type protection, really their split didn’t allow them to make that block or he false stepped or whatever. But it wasn’t necessarily schematics, it was they just got beat. So we have to emphasize them. Any time you have a team coming in that had that much success on special teams, you better be ready for it because they’ve got juice over there for special teams. We’ve got to be really well prepared, which we will be.”
KJ Jefferson completed 18 of 26 passes for 223 yards and three touchdowns while rushing 18 times for 62 yards and a touchdown. A tight end, two running backs and three wide receivers caught passes for Jefferson. Matt Landers and Ketron Jackson also noted for their blocking down field.
“We really have emphasized that big-time at practice,” Pittman said. “We even have perimeter drills and just things about blocking and strain. If we’re going to tell the defense they’ve got to run to the ball, we’ve got to continue to play hard on offense and all those type things.
“Both of them were really big. I mean, Trey just ran right down the sideline. He was close too. He needs to run a little bit more into the field. But he just ran down the sideline because Ketron had him locked down pretty good. Same with KJ, he made a guy miss, and then once he did that Matt had it handled pretty good out there.”
While Pittman feels the Gamecocks reflect Beamer and also even his father who was a legend at Virginia Tech. Beamer knows Arkansas is Pittman.
“In regards to reflecting Sam, I think a couple things,” Beamer said. “One, big, physical offensive line. You watch some of the plays from the Cincinnati game, if you’re watching it from the end zone copy that we as coaches do, there’s times on offense where if you just pause the video, you literally can’t see anyone on the front seven from Cincinnati because they’ve got two double teams that are covering up the two defensive tackles and then their 6-9 offensive tackle has completely covered up the guy on the edge. The offensive guard is up on the linebacker.
“So they’re just big and physical. They want to maul you. That, to me, is a reflection of Sam and his offensive lines over the years. Then they just play really, really hard. You can tell they believe in what they’re doing and the effort that they play with shows it on defense and offense and special teams.”
Beamer has ties to wide receiver Jadon Haselwood and is obviously impressed with Jefferson.
“Yeah, I mentioned Jadon Haselwood at the beginning of the call.” Beamer said. “He and I were together at Oklahoma, so I know what he’s about. He’s just such a competitor. And you know, when that ball is in the air, he believes that he’s the only guy that should come down with it. And he competes, his run blocking, the passing game. And both those receivers, he and Matt Landers both, I was with Matt at Georgia, and they’ve got size and length. And then as far as the quarterback, I think he’s certainly dynamic. Got size, and he made some throws on Saturday against Cincinnati. And the thing that just is impressive about him is he’s able to, you know, because of his size, people have a hard time getting him down. People bounce off of him in the pocket when they try to sack him, and then he’s able to get himself out of trouble but then keep his eyes downfield and throw the ball downfield. He’s not always just looking to run, and our defensive backs have got to do a great job of staying in coverage and understanding that that until the play is over, you’ve got to play the pass and the run. I do think he’s improved and he’s a major, major weapon for them. There’s no doubt about it.”
The Hogs were eight of 16 on third down on both offense and defense. Pittman talked about that.
“Well, we have to be better than that on defense and offense,” Pittman said. “50 percent offensively is not that bad depending on the distance. We certainly made some key third downs and a lot of them were catches. Trey had a nice one, Warren Thompson had a really nice one and of course KJ had some nice runs in there. I thought the offensive staff did a good job with their short-yardage type game plan.
“We’ve got to be better on defense getting off the field, but you’re right, it was spurty and even to the fact that I think they had three first downs in the first drive and they converted before Nudie was able to pick the pass. So we certainly are aware of that. We’re working on it. We’d like to be, certainly, much lower than that and a little higher. If you’re in the 60s, you’re clicking along pretty good on offense. So we’re striving to clean up the details of why we didn’t make the first down. That’s really what we’ve been doing this entire week… We do have good players. We just have to clean the details up to be more successful.”
The kickoff is set for 11 a.m. and game televised on ESPN.