Another busy week last week in Arkansas sports news and our Mike Irwin is here to answer your questions about Razorbacks athletics in his latest edition of “Ask Mike”. Make sure to submit your questions on Hogville.net and he will answer those in our weekly segment. Below are this week’s with his reponses.
Q. redleg says: I’ve always thought TJ Hammonds had the ability to make plays on special teams. Why hasn’t he been given the chance to be Arkansas’ punt returner or kickoff return man?
A. Hammonds fell out of favor with the previous staff and was going to transfer before he decided to stay under Sam Pittman. He continued to play running back. Had a little over 100 yards rushing and 60 plus yards in catches. Why is he not used as a punt or kickoff returner? I’m not aware of Pittman ever having been asked that question. I can only assume because the coaches do see him in that role.
Q. robs4516 observes: Arkansas always seems to have trouble getting elite linebackers. Do you feel we have any on the roster now, aside from Morgan and Pool? Do you see anyone getting significant playing time behind them?
A. When you mention elite, I assume you mean five star recruits. Arkansas doesn’t sign five stars at virtually any position. Usually it’s a mix of three and four stars. But elite on the field? Last year Arkansas had the number one and number two tacklers in the SEC for a good part of the season in Grant Morgan and Bumper Pool.
Two years ago Scoota Harris was at the top of the league in tackles. In 2018 Harris played alongside Dre Greenlaw who is now playing linebacker for the 49’ers. In 2019 Greenlaw made a critical goal line tackle that gave the 49’s the number one seed in the playoffs and they went on to make it to the Super Bowl.
Then there was Martrell Spaight who was first team all SEC in 2014. He played for the Redskins in 2015-2017. In 2018 he played for the Dolphins and the Jaguars before retiring for medical reasons. So if you want to talk about a position at Arkansas that doesn’t have elite players I would not start at linebacker. As far as this fall, if they remain uninjured I’d say Morgan and Pool will play most of the time. There a no five-star recruits playing behind them. We’ll have to see, as the season develops this fall, who is likely to step in when they are gone.
Q. Swine American says: I want to thank Coach Pittman for “opening up” the stands so we, the fans, got to look at a couple of spring practice scrimmages. Do you see him doing it again in the fall for an early practice as well?
A. No. At that point they are preparing for the season. They don’t want any word of mouth stuff getting back to their opponents. Fans like to argue on social media. Some of them would likely brag about what they saw, like, “We’re gonna beat your team because I saw this and this and this and we’re awesome.”
So no way does that happen next August. It may not happen next spring. There was a pretty strong rumor that Pittman opened those two scrimmages as a way of getting recruits on campus since official on-campus visits are still not permitted because of NCAA COVID restrictions. I asked him about next spring after the second scrimmage and he indicated that he might let the media in and permit us shoot the early part of a scrimmage and maybe watch the rest. But if any of us made public what we saw after the video period ended, that would be the end of us watching scrimmages.
Q. BloodRedHog asks: How would you assess the basketball team’s potential next year with the recent transfers Coach Muss has brought in? Have we had a coach before that was this successful in the transfer market?
A. Eric Musselman rules the transfer portal. He certainly has cleaned up with grad transfers who are immediately eligible. My guess is he will continue to look for grad transfers. We saw the value of that. Guys like Jalen Tate and Justin Smith are one and done’s but with a load of experience. I’d take those type one and done’s over freshmen any day of the week.
The potential for next year is off the charts. That doesn’t mean all of these guys will work out. But on paper he’s added two Moses Moody type guard/forwards that come in with a combined average of 36 points per game. His replacement for Tate may end up being one of the most exciting players to watch in years for Razorback fans. Chris Lykes is 5-7 but he’s like Devo Davis with a jet pack strapped ot his waist. He can shoot from two and three point range. He’s unbelievable at distributing the basketball and he can attack a tight collapsing defense like wind blowing through the tall grass and he’s also a top defender.
Muss also brings in a highly rated 6-10 JUCO forward to give this team more size inside and he’s got a Justin Smith type forward in Arkansas-Little Rock transfer Kamani Johnson. Add all of this up and Arkansas could end up as the top scoring team in the country next season. But remember you asked about potential. We’ll have to wait and see if all of these guys deliver the goods.
Q. austin.hogfan asks: What do you think we will really learn from the spring scrimmage on Saturday? What I would like to see is if we have a solid backup QB, a physical running attack, pass rushers and ability to play man pass defense.
A. That’s a good list. I would add that we need to see if they’ve got a solid starting quarterback. K. J. Jefferson needs to step up. I would also like to see more of the freshman QB who is working with the three offense. Lucas Coley is a player. To me it’s just a matter of time until he moves up.
Q. SexyBeast77 wants to know: Do you think soon we will mostly stop recruiting freshman and our basketball team will be mostly a new team of Transfer All-Stars every year?
A. I think will vary year to year based on need. In 2020 Muss signed four four-star freshmen, the top four in the state. In 2021 he’s bringing in just one freshman but in 2022 he’s looking at several more four-star Arkansas kids and some really good out of state players.
Q. HotlantaHog says: There’s lots of enthusiasm about Arkansas basketball for next year, even some folks predicting a possible Final Four run. What’s your sense of how good the team is likely to be?
A. I’ve pretty much covered that but let me point out something about potential. This is the time of year that fans can sit back and let their imaginations go wild. Arkansas is coming off a Elite Eight appearance. Eric Musselman is cleaning up in recruiting. Why not think Final Four? Since Arkansas played Baylor closer than any other team in the tournament, dream about a national championship. That may be a stretch but who cares? Have fun with this and that potential might end up being fully realized.
Q. Inhogswetrust says: With the Hogs taking the series this weekend against Ole Miss on the road this team looks very good. What Hog team in the past do they might remind you of?
A. They don’t remind me of any Hog team of the past. No Arkansas baseball team has ever opened up like this. They’re 26-5 and 9-3 in the SEC the toughest conference in the country. They lead the SEC West. Tied for the overall lead with Tennessee and the schedule they’ve played has been brutal. Take a look at this:
They’ve beaten number 3 Texas. They swept number 4 Mississippi State at Mississippi State when they were number 3 at the time. They beat number 6 Ole Miss two of three on the road when Ole Miss was number 3.
They beat number 8 Texas Tech, Number 12 TCU and they took two of three from number 14 Louisiana Tech on the road.
This is insane. Every one of those wins against ranked teams were either on the road or at a neutral site. That’s scary good except for the fact that nothing comes easy with these guys. They won most of those games by coming from behind in the late innings. They blew an 11 run lead against Ole Miss and just when it looked like they had thrown that game away they scored three runs against the Rebels closer in the 8th. One more in the 9th and Kevin Kopps, who was out of gas pitching for the second time in two days, the fifth time over the last two weekends, struck out three straight batters to end it after giving up a walk and a single to open the inning. I was reading social media after the game and one fans posted, I love what you guys are doing but you scare me to death. Could you win a few games without any drama? Please.
Q. Dr. Strangepork says: With the diamond Hogs taking the series at Ole Miss, my question concerns opening up Baum and Bogle for fans. Clearly there isn’t an issue with the virus across the Mississippi River. Who makes this call and why are they not making it?
A. Just like in Mississippi, crowd mandates from the state here in Arkansas have ended. Seating has been increased at Baum-Walker and Bogle since the mandate ended but the University of Arkansas had decided not to open up fully. As it stands right now they are planning for full crowds for football this fall. If the COVID numbers continue to drop it is possible the University will make another adjustment.
Q. TL Slaten on Facebook asks: What’s the holdup on Muss’ contract? Pay the man. Back up a truck full of cash in his driveway and unload it as a bonus and double his contract.
A. I think we’ll learn something soon. If he were looking at another job we’d know by now. As for the bonus money and doubling his salary, that might be a stretch. There is still a COVID shortfall and the athletic department needs live gate money. I think that’s the main reason why baseball tickets went up dramatically. The same thing will likely happen with football and basketball next year.
I understand your enthusiasm and Muss does deserve a big raise. But if Hunter Yurachek doubles his contract would season ticket holders in Bud Walton be willing to have ticket prices double next winter?
There was a lot of complaining on social media about those baseball ticket prices. Winning is going to cost you more to go to games in all sports. If your coaches are successful you have to pay to keep them.
Q. Eddy Lynn says: Arizona basketball website posted on Twitter that Arizona must not be interested in Musselman otherwise he would not still be recruiting hard at Arkansas. You posted a funny response to that. Tell us more about that.
A. I don’t know how funny it was. I simply pointed out that their might be another possibility. Like Musselman might not be interested in that job. It’s amazing to me when these job searches take place that some people in he media make statements without doing their homework. Sean Miller was fired for a reason. He was a part of that FBI wiretap sting where three coaches, Miller, Bill Self at Kansas and Will Wade at LSU were overheard in discussions with a sports agent about paying recruits. So that job might now be as big as these people thought. Also if they’d checked with people who know Musselman they’d learn that he has not expressed any interest in leaving Arkansas. If they did their homework they’d know that Arkansas is not a stepping stone school. Four different coaches have won national championships here and none of them ever left to take a job at another university. Frank Broyles, Nolan Richardson, John Mc Donnell and Lance Harter each had other job offers. Each stayed. So, do your homework.