HOGS travel extra DBs to MSU
FAYETTEVILLE - Arkansas will travel more defensive backs and fewer linebackers for Saturday’s game against Mississippi State coach Mike Leach’s Air Raid offense.
Leach’s Bulldogs (1-0), who zoomed from unranked to 16th and 14th in the AP and Amway Coaches polls, play host to Arkansas (0-1) at 6:30 p.m Saturday on the SEC Network Alternate Channel at Davis Wade Stadium.
First-year UA coach Sam Pittman’s Razorbacks, able to dress out 80 at home compared to traveling 70 on the road, had a full quota of linebackers in last week’s 37-10 loss against Georgia’s conventional offense but was without defensive backs Jarques McClellion and Devin Bush.
Though practicing earlier in the week, McClellion of Lake Worth, Fla., has twice been quarantined since June 1 related to the coronavirus. He announced Thursday afternoon he will opt out of playing for the remainder of the season due to covid concerns.
Bush is back, and some reserve DBs not employed behind the starting secondary of corners Montaric Brown and Jerry Jacobs, safeties Jalen Catalon and either boundary safety Simeon Blair or Joe Foucha and nickel back Greg Brooks likely will rotate in Saturday.
Fresh secondary manpower seems a prerequisite after MSU QB K.J. Costello attempted 60 passes, including five touchdowns, and set a SEC record 623 passing yards against LSU.
Pittman said Thursday that Bush, and Foucha, normally a starter but playing off the bench against Georgia, “looked good” this week and that “it’s big” to have them back.
“We need as many as we can take,” Pittman said. “We're going to take 14-15 guys who are from nickel to safety to corner to the game. I mean, we're going to roll in there three deep, and we need to. That's a big deal getting those guys back. We've got a few secondary guys back last week on Tuesday, and certainly we're planning on being able to take everybody this week.”
With senior starting defensive end Dorian Gerald doubtful for Saturday, Pittman is pleased Mataio Soli, a 2019 starting defensive end as a true freshman, returns to active duty after missing the Georgia game.
Of Gerald, Pittman said, “We’re hoping, but as of right now we’ll just have to kind of wait and see.”
The Hogs needed Soli back, regardless of Gerald’s status, and the sophomore “has looked good,” Pittman said. “He was out 10 days. We were concerned about his conditioning, but not so much anymore. I think he’ll be fine.”
Backup sophomore defensive end Zach Williams collected seven tackles in the 37-10 loss to Georgia after Gerald went down.
“Zach played well,” Pittman said. “No matter what happens with Dorian, Zach has earned more playing time. We’re expecting him to go out there and play well for us.”
PRESSURE THE QB
Pittman was asked the importance of defensive end Julius Coates on the other flank and the defensive tackles pressuring Costello.
“Well, if we let him just sit back there, he's going to pick us apart,” Pittman replied. “We have to move him. He can't just stand there. If we don't sack him, he has to move. We have to pressure him, and I'm excited to see what our scheme does."
Without delving into specifics, Pittman said some personnel changes have been invoked on special teams, which were burned on key Georgia punt returns and kickoff returns. Georgia punter Jake Camarda continually put the Hogs in miserable field position.
“Special teams are a lot about desire, want-to,” Pittman said before Thursday’s practice. “Personal one-on-one battles that you have. We certainly emphasize the heck out of it. There have been some personnel issues where we thought we had a little bit of a mismatch going on Saturday, and hopefully they’ll be better. I expect them to be.”
Senior Ty Clary, last year’s starting center, has been practicing after missing much time, including the Georgia game, because of illness.
Clary seems ready to back up starting center Ricky Stromberg or fill in at offensive guard.
“He was back last week late in the week,” Pittman said, “and so he’s doing a good job. I really have no doubt that he’ll play this week.”