PTN’s “Ask Mike” Segment 9-28-20

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Q: Let’s begin with our weekly COVID update.

A. Really good news. We’re a month into the college football season. SEC Football is underway. All 14 teams played. We don’t know the actual number but it looks like only a handful of Arkansas players sat out either for testing positive or by quarantine from contact tracing. Fans were at the games. The next test will be to see if there are any outbreaks this week as a result of fans being at those games. Just looking at the games on TV it looked like some SEC schools did a better job of enforcing social distancing and requiring masks than others.

If you look at the problems some high school teams are having with game cancellations you can see how well the SEC has handled this situation. A lot of people worked very hard to get us were we are. They deserve a lot of thanks from Arkansas fans and fans around the conference.

Q. Our first question this week is from Roadhog82 who wants to know: Which players/position groups exceeded your expectations and which ones have the most improvements to make?

A. I think it’s really hard to judge the offense because of just how good Georgia’s defense is. Even when Georgia made mistakes, and they didn’t make many, they were so fast that they quickly corrected and then limited big plays. Their D-Line was massive and athletic. Arkansas could not get any push against those guys. Rakeem Boyd simply had no running room. If there was a bright spot with that it was that Trelon Smith established himself as a second running back. He’s going to help this team. He averaged over six yards a carry. But Arkansas only had 77 yards rushing and 29 of that was from the two quarterbacks.

Feleipe Franks had two picks including a pick-six. Sam Pittman said there was some confusion on the pass routes. Said the receivers, including the tight ends, are going to have to be more disciplined moving forward. Frank’s numbers were good. He completed just over 50% of his passes for 200 yards and a touchdown. His scoring pass to Treylon Burks was clearly the highlight of the game for Arkansas. Burks is off to a great start. Seven catches for 102 yards and a touchdown against that defense? He’s gonna have a really good season.

As for the defense, considering how much time they spent on the field they did a wonderful job. I think we all saw that they wore down. The quarterback change by Georgia came at the right time. He was fresh. He ran the ball well. He threw it well. The Bulldogs offense got some help from their defense. But even after Arkansas got down big the defense continued to battle. The only negative observation Sam Pittman had about the defense was the comment that they have to get more guys ready to play. This was something that John Chavis was never able to do. I’ve got to believe that Barry Odom will get that done.

My final observation is that the special teams were a disaster. After all this hype about Scott Fountain being a full time coordinator, that situation was a real disappointment. The kickers did a fine job. But the punt coverage, punt protection and kickoff coverage was awful. That’s got to get corrected.

Q. DeltaBoy wants to know: What do you think about the defense now?

A. Obviously we saw a huge improvement. I would offer this bit of caution. Georgia started the wrong quarterback. Once Bennett came in Arkansas’ defense was not nearly as effective. The Hogs will likely face some better offenses ahead, starting this week when they go to Mississippi State. It looks like Arkansas had a couple of secondary guys sitting out. They’re getting at least one of hem back this week. Maybe two and they’ll need them.

Q. RiverValleyHog55 says: I think it is apparent the offense was non-functional overall as a unit. However, do you have an opinion as to why we didn’t see Trey Knox targeted much?

A. I wouldn’t read to much into that. Burks and Mike Woods were both getting open and Franks was going to them. It looked like Georgia’s press coverage got to him a bit. Knox will be fine. My guess is he’ll have a big game on Saturday. Arkansas is really gonna need to move the ball against Mississippi State because as LSU found out, Mike Leach will put up a lot of points on you. But typically his defenses give up a lot of points too.

Q. #1 stunna says: The trick plays were atrocious and not needed. What do you think?

A. Let me tell you what Sam Pittman said about that. Arkansas will continue to call trick plays. The problem is not that that weren’t needed because they were. The problem was that they didn’t work. I agree with him. T.J. Hammonds made a mistake trying to get around the penetration by Georgia’s defense by trying to loop around it. Just take the loss and go on to the next play. The same thing happened on the pick thrown by Burks. Burks has some skills throwing the ball but he’s not a quarterback. You throw that pass when you have a receiver wide open. If they are covered go ahead and run with the ball and take a loss if you have to. I’m sure these things will be discussed in the video room this week.

Q. ChitownHawg says: I thought we showed a lot of promise but some of our fans thought we were going to beat the # 4 team in the country. Geez.

A. No question there were some unrealistic expectations. I don’t have a problem with that as long as those fans don’t use that to turn on this team and this staff. This is not a quick fix. Especially this first season with a schedule that’s brutal.
You give this team a couple of non conference games to cut it’s teeth on and start with a good SEC team, not the best one or close to it, and we might be looking at a win. But there are no non conference games and as we know that the SEC office loaded an already tough Arkansas schedule with Georgia and Florida. It’s going to be a grind. In addition to the 7 ranked teams on that schedule, now there’s an 8th because Mississippi State in now 16th in the nation. But the key is getting better. Showing improvement. I think most fans will stick with this staff if we see that.

Q. BloodRedHog asks: What happened with special teams? That was an utter disaster for Coach Fountain.

A. Not an utter disaster. The kickers were fine. George Caratan averaged 48 yards on six punts. I’m not sure what was going on with using Sam Loy. He punted twice for an average of just 40 yards. A.J. Reed made his only field goal. Vito Calveruso put three of his kickoffs into the endzone. They were not returned. His free kick to Georgia after the safety went 70 yards.

The problem was in kickoff returns. Two of them that went for a total of 91 yards. That’s a disaster. There were 3 punt returns for 57 yards. That’s bad too. And there was one blocked punt where clearly there was a protection mistake since it came right up the middle.

Typically what happens with something like this is more starting position players are placed on the coverage unit. As we have zoom interviews with coach Pittman will be able to pass along how these issues are being addressed. But both Pittman and Grant Morgan, who is on those coverage units, said they’ll get it corrected.

Q. Roadhog82 wants to know: Do you think our problems on offense were more due to Georgia’s defense, or do you expect to see more of the same problems going forward?

A. I suspect that Georgia’s defense had a lot to do with it. By all accounts the O-line is bigger and stronger this season so there’s no reason for Rakeem Boyd to be bottled up week to week. Most defenses they face this season do not have Georgia’s size and speed. I expect the passing game to look better as well. I think the receivers as a group are more consistent that what we saw. I think Franks is better than we saw.

Q. Wild Boarnado says: Auburn Player (#23) ran an interception back for a touchdown, then proceeded to celebrate, hugging and yelling, face to face with unmasked fans in the end zone. Is there anything we can do about this before our Razorbacks visit them on October 3rd? Just wanting to help keep our players healthy.

A. I didn’t see that but it sounds like it’s a problem for Auburn’s players, not their opponents. No Arkansas player is going to celebrate with Auburn fans. They won’t get near them. If for some reason an Auburn fan tried to get close to an opposing player I’m pretty sure hey would be ejected. So if there’s an issue here Gus Malzahn is the one that needs to complain because it’s his players that could be affected. Also I’m pretty sure than conference officials monitored mask wearing. If there were violations they need to step in. We’ll keep an eye on that.

Q: austin.hogfan says: This week against the air raid offense I hope we never need to punt or it’ll be a long night. Seems like our run game getting over 250 yards is our only real chance to stay close and under 50 points. Agree?

A. I do agree. I remember a game against Texas Tech in Fayetteville with Patrick Mahomes at quarterback. The difference in that game, Arkansas punted more than Tech. Against the Air Raid, especially when Mike Leach is directing it, you need to make every possession count and you need to keep his offense on the bench as much as possible. You do that with a running game. In another game against Texas Tech the year before Arkansas used Alex Collins to dominate time of possession. In the entire second half Tech had the ball exactly three times. Of course Arkansas won. But sometimes that’s easier said than done. A key stat in the LSU-Mississippi State game was LSU’s running game. The Tigers rushed 38 times in that game. You know what thet got them? Eighty yards. That’s two yards a carry. So while Mississippi State doesn’t have a great secondary their run stop defense was unreal in that game. Arkansas has a huge challenge coming up.

Q. PorkSoda asks: What player on offense and defense stood out to you as making the biggest impact on the game?

A. Offense is a no brainer. Treylon Burks. He went toe to toe with that defense and didn’t blink. Seven catches for 102 yards and a touchdown.
On the defensive side I’d have to go with Jalen Catalon. He had nine tackles and forced a fumble. Those two guys were the big reason why Arkansas had a lead until six minutes to go in the 3rd quarter.

Q. NWA Hog says: My evaluation of this season will come down to one question: Do I see a better team at the end of the season than I did at the beginning? I haven’t been able to say that the last four years. What do you think?

A. I think you’ve got the right idea. I read a comment on the Internet yesterday where a guy was making the point that there are no more excuses. This team has to play a lot better and start winning games. That would be great but as a fan what are you gonna do, throw up your hands and say that’s it? If Pittman can’t turn this around in one year even against a brutal schedule then I’m outta here? Given the circumstances I like your approach. Let’s see how much they improve because, as you pointed out, the last few years this team has gotten worse, not better, as the season progressed and that’s been true since Sam Pittman left here for Georgia.

Q. SamBuckhart says: Really enjoyed the first half. Do you look for running game to do well against Bulldogs? #cowbells cause covid.

A. To have a chance in this game Arkansas will likely need an effective running game but as I’ve already pointed out they’ll have to run the ball a lot better than LSU did against Mississippi State. Arkansas actually averaged almost 3 yards a carry against Georgia. LSU only averaged 2 yards a carry against Mississippi State. We’re just getting started. Maybe LSU has a really bad running game and a really bad defense. They lost key players and key coaches off last year’s team. Also if you study Mike Leach’s history, his teams have a history of pulling off big upsets but they’re often inconsistent. We’ll have to hope that Mississippi State shows some of that inconsistency this Saturday.

Q. #hammerdown says: Our D-line looked better against Georgia than it has in years. Which player stood out to you the most? Also our O-line did a better job of pass blocking than they did at run blocking. What has to change in the coming weeks for us to get better push in the run game (other than not playing Georgia again).

A. Actually the linebackers probably stood out the most. Grant Morgan and Bumper Pool had a combined 23 tackles. On the D-line Dorian Gerald had a really good game. He had 4 tackles, a sack and a lost yardage tackle. As far as the O-line, that part about not playing Georgia again will probably be the biggest change for those guys. I still think they’ve improved from a year ago. Hopefully they’ll show that from here on out.

Q. Twinky275 is back with another question: With other potential and actual game upsets Saturday, what could the SEC look like at the end of the season in terms of producing a playoff team? Could this totally flip what the powers that be wanted? Could we see Tennessee and Mississippi state in Atlanta?

A. The four teams the SEC office protected through scheduling were Alabama, Georgia, Florida and LSU. I really think LSU is due a down year. They lost too much off that national championship team including coaches and players. Those other three teams each won handily. Alabama got a big lead against Missouri and just sort of coasted after that. Georgia clearly started the wrong quarterback. Stetson Bennett ended up with a quarterback rating of 93 against Arkansas. With their defense they’re a definite playoff contender plus they could get J.T. Daniels back at any time. Florida went on the road and beat Ole Miss 51-35 so they’re off to a good start. I think it’s Alabama-Georgia in the SEC Championship game with the winner going to the playoffs. Tennessee and Mississippi State in Atlanta? No.

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