Sam Pittman, Mike Leach Preparing for Saturday’s Game In Starkville

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FAYETTEVILLE — Both Arkansas’ Sam Pittman and Mississippi State’s Mike Leach participated in the SEC Teleconference on Wednesday.

Pittman indicated he has been impressed with the Monday and Tuesday practices this week which are the most physical.

“Our football team has had two really good practices to this point, and they have a great attitude,” Pittman said. “I liked the way that we ran to the ball on defense. We’re excited to go to Mississippi State. Man, did they look good on film. They had an outstanding game against LSU. They have a great running back, great quarterback, great wideouts. I love their center Cole Smith. I think he’s a good player. Defensively, they got seven sacks. Certainly, they had a wonderful game and we’re looking forward to going out there and competing.”

The Hogs will go up against the Air Raid offense of Leach and Mississippi State. How do you contain it?

“Well, you have to get them on the ground,” Pittman said. “I think they’ll take some underneath throws. They’ll take whatever you give them, basically. You have to tackle them. I don’t know that you can contest every throw and things of that nature because they’ll run some rub routes and things of that nature to get guys open. Once they get guys open we have to get them on the ground. We have to disrupt the quarterback.”

One player that Pittman is counting on to have a good game this week is safety Jalen Catalon.

“Catalon played well,” Pittman said. “He missed a few tackles in the second half. Certainly we’re working on our tackling, we have all year. But he made some big hits, and he is a leader back there. And for a redshirt freshman he’s a fine player and we’re awfully happy he’s on our team. Obviously he has a different set of challenges this week because he’s going to have to be all over the field because of the Air Raid.”

Due to COVID, it appears there could be some parity in the SEC this season. Mississippi State beat LSU, Vanderbilt played Texas A&M extremely close and the Hogs led Georgia at halftime. Does Pittman see parity this season?

“I don’t really know,” Pittman said. “I think there’s a lot of good teams. I think there would be parity regardless of whether it was a COVID situation or not. I think there’s a lot of good teams in the SEC. But, you know, the game is four quarters and we have to figure out how to finish a football game. We haven’t won many games in the SEC, any, for a while, so we have to learn how to win, and hopefully that’ll come sooner than later.”

Senior defensive end Dorian Gerald suffered a foot injury against Georgia. Sophomore Zach Williams came in to play for him.

“Dorian did not practice yesterday, so we’ll wait and see there,” Pittman said. “Zach, he played some ball last year for us. I thought he played hard. Obviously, he got a sack. So that’ll do something for his confidence. We’re certainly going to need him for pressure on Costello on Saturday.”

Senior defensive tackle Jonathan Marshall played well in the opener and Pittman likes what he brings to the team.

“He’s quiet, but he’s a hard-working guy,” Pittman said. “He has the respect of the team because they voted him a team captain, but much respect from us, our coaching staff and myself personally. He’s a hard-working guy. He’s one that if everybody on the team worked like he did, you’d have a fine football team. Just much respect. He’s a college graduate already, and just very, very proud of him. He handles himself off the field like he’s supposed to handle himself. (You get) very high representation for the Arkansas Razorbacks from him.”

Against Georgia, quarterback Feleipe Franks had to spend a lot of time getting players lined up in the right spot. Pittman has said that can’t happen again this week.

“It was much better,” Pittman said. “I know that’s part of the quarterback’s job, but it’s hard to look downfield, see what’s going on, see pre-snap reads as a quarterback when you’re looking at your own team trying to get them lined up. And so that has been a big emphasis, paying attention to the signals, getting lined up fast. So we’ve done a better job of that this week. We need to take that off the quarterback. You have a position, you should play your position. Get lined up, get set, get ready to go so the quarterback can be the quarterback.”

Franks and the offensive line will have their hands full on Saturday. Mississippi State sacked the LSU quarterback seven times with six different players. Leach was pleased with his defensive players.

“I don’t know if there’s any key,” Leach said. “I thought we played hard. I did think we tried to keep them off balance with pressure coming from a bunch of different directions. I’m just glad some of them got home because LSU’s really explosive.”

Senior running back Rakeem Boyd could never untracked against Georgia. But Pittman looks for him to have a good game this week.

” He’s been fine, Pittman said. “I mean, he blocked really well at the game. Obviously we knew against Georgia it was going to be tough running the ball and it was. You know, he had 11 carries for 21 yards. It was some tough sledding going on in there. But there’s other things where he can help our football team. He understands that. He was a very good blocker in pass protection and he led the entire game on the sidelines. Certainly he wants to do better for the football team and himself than 20 yards, but it was what it was and you have to move on and keep working. The O-line’s got to get better. A lot of things go into that.  Certainly if he’ll stay the same as he has been he’ll end up having a good year.”

Arkansas and Mississippi State will kickoff at 6:30 Saturday night and televised on the SEC Alternate.

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