FAYETTEVILLE — Arkansas’ Sam Pittman addressed the kickoff situation with Vito Calvaruso heading to the transfer portal.
Calvaruso kicked off 74 times this season with 63 going for touchbacks. The sophomore left Arkansas because he wanted a chance to kick field goals and point after touchdowns. It appears that Cam Little or Sam Loy will be his replacement for the bowl game.
“Those will be the two guys,” Pittman said Tuesday. “There was probably about a two- to three-yard difference on average on Vito and Cam, so we feel very confident we can kick it out. But I hated to lose Vito. Really good. Very valuable to us on those kickoffs. I can remember against Mississippi State with the time, I said, ‘Scott we better pop this up, sky it and things of that nature.’ He said, ‘He’ll kick it out Coach.’ And I said, ‘Scott, you better be right,’ and he did. I was nervous about it.”
Pittman opted to give Little a scholarship out of high school and it has paid off tremendously for the Hogs.
“I’m glad he’s a freshman,” Pittman said. “I’m glad that he’s accountable. I don’t really question whether he’s going to make a field goal or not. I know he hasn’t made them all, but he made almost all of them, especially in key moments. He’s a really good pressure guy, under pressure. Out of high school, those guys that get scholarships, we’re not the only team that offers them, you know those guys that are the elite-elite. You certainly, if you look back from our field goal unit from my first year here to this year, it’s quite different. I think there’s probably two to three, maybe more, games that difference in Cam and that unit making those field goals had in winning and losing. So, we save normally three scholarships for specialists and it’s paying off for us.”
Little had the only kickoff not handled by Calvaruso. It was an onside kick near the end of the Alabama game that went out of bounds after traveling 17 yards. Little scored 100 points for the Hogs as a true freshman. He was 19 of 23 on field goals with a long of 51 and perfect on 43 point after touchdowns. Little has shown no signs of feeling pressure even as a true freshman. What makes him have such a calm, cool approach?
“I don’t know,” Pittman said. “I don’t. I wish I did. I think it’s just the guy’s makeup, you know? He doesn’t wear socks, so maybe that has something to do with it. I don’t know. I just know that he’s a cool customer and very confident. I really don’t know, I’m assuming that he makes a bunch of them and gets confidence. Our team believes in him, I can promise you that.”
So he kicks without socks?
“You know, he’s just got them little bitty socks that you can’t see them,” Pittman said. “I’d always get onto him about not pulling them up. He would say, ‘Coach I can’t,’ and I would say, ‘well put the ones you can.’ Then he started making all the field goals, and I said, ‘aw hell, you’re good.’ I don’t know.”
Reid Bauer averaged 43.2 yards on 53 punts with a long of 61 and 13 killed inside the opponent’s 20. Pittman shared his thougths on the kicking game as a whole.
“Georgia exposed us with some hanging guys back there,” Pittman said. “We weren’t counting them. I don’t want to go all into it, but I think we’ve done a lot better. Certainly we had two punts blocked, one early in the year and then one against Georgia. Then after that really not much problems. Bauer really had a good year punting the ball and T.J. Hammonds and those guys covering. We didn’t have a lot of return yards on us.
“Vito kicked everything out. Then Cam making his field goals. I think we’ve come along way. I think we finally found….and someone will figure out how to attack our punt as well. Obviously we never wanted to kick the ball to the field and people were forcing us to do that. We’re very comfortable doing that now because of our gunners, our cover guys. But I think Scott (Fountain) has done an outstanding job and I’m glad he’s here. More importantly the kids play awful hard on our special teams and that’s the sign of a good coach.”
Bauer proved to be able to do more than just punt. He faked a punt for 23 yards against LSU for a first down and then threw a 32-yard touchdown pass to Blake Kern on a fake field goal against Alabama.
“I love Bauer,” Pittman said. “I love it. I mean he ran the one against LSU and then got up and you know first down, and he got the crap knocked out of him on the sideline by the way. But I’ll say something about him. Like I said before he couldn’t hit the broadside of a barn throwing the ball. And he just stayed after practice and worked and worked and worked. I wouldn’t say he was Dan Marino on the touchdown against Alabama. But at least he got it to him, and Kern has got some long arms and big hands and went back there and got it. But Bauer has really done a good job. I’m really happy for him and to me he’s what Arkansas is all about, you.”
Arkansas and Penn State will meet on New Year’s Day at 11 a.m. (CT) in the Outback Bowl. The game will be televised on ESPN2.