Big thanks to Jacob Davis over at Arkansas Fight for taking the time to talk with us this week!
1) From the outside, I can tell you that we all (Alabama fans, as well as most anyone that follows SEC football) have been really impressed with the with how Sam Pittman has gotten Arkansas playing. Like, SEC coach of the year. What’s really been the major differences you’ve seen in his approach to running a program compared to what you had with Chad Morris?
From the get-go I’ve seen a coach that has the attention of his players and his staff. Coach Pittman has them playing and coaching above what we, as fans and writers, expected. Coach Morris’ program never seemed to get off the ground early on. Losses to Colorado State, North Texas and San Jose never helped either.
Pittman has the players believing in themselves and will run through a brick wall for him. That to me is why they are playing the way they are so early on.
2) So, uh, is Feliepe Franks gonna play? Or is this the KJ Jefferson show now?
Ha, if you think I know you are barking up the wrong tree. We literally found out about Franks not playing right before the game started. Arkansas stands a better chance with Franks playing but Jefferson proved he could still make plays. Though, the last time we started a redshirt freshman quarterback against Alabama back in 2012 it literally did not end well in a 52-0 loss inside DW Reynolds Razorback Stadium.
3) Just how big of a deal is it that Rakeem Boyd is opting out? His yards/carry haven’t exactly been inspiring this year, while the diminutive Trelon Smith has been killing it. But he’s been a nice back for Arkansas for a while now.
Boyd is a very, very talented back. He is also a guy that we at Arkansas Fight thought would have a standout senior year, a leader of his team and be a stud before heading the the NFL Draft. I think it could be a mix of high expectations and a different offense for the reason Boyd has been less effective. I don’t think it is a huge deal of Boyd opting out because Smith has shown the SEC that he was ready to carry the load.
Will Smith fully take on the load, or are we finally going to see the 6th-year Houdini that is TJ Hammonds?
Smith will get more of the carries but I do see Hammonds making a few plays as he has the previous two games.
4) Treylon Burks is awesome and I want one for Alabama. But tell us about your other receivers? If Burks is shut down, where do the yards come from?
Mike Woods. He is a receiver I thought could be a problem for SEC defenses and he just needed a chance. I really thought he was underused his first two seasons as a Razorback with the previous staff. This season against AP Top 25 opponents, Woods has reeled in 18 receptions for 318 yards and 3 touchdowns. Overall he has nearly 600 yards receiving and 5 touchdowns which ranks him 11th overall in the SEC.
5) I feel like Bumper Pool has been getting 200 tackles/year for a decade, but this is only his third season (seriously... Did he start over on his eligibility or something?). Between he and Jalen Catalon, your defense has a major playmaker in the linebackers and secondary. But are there any difference makers on the defensive line?
My wife LOVES Jonathan Marshall and so do I. He is the anchor on the defense at tackle and has been a force every single week. Marshall is normally double teamed but still seems to get a rush on the center. He has come a long way since he made it to campus. Marshall is the strongest man on the team and has shown that this season. His stats don’t pop off the screen but has 6.5 tackles for a loss and 1 sack proves he can be a problem for the Alabama defense.
6) What’s the strongest overall unit on your defense, and what’s the weakest link?
If this were week five I would tell you the strongest unit is our defensive backs because of the overall depth. Opt outs and injuries have depleted that position and made them very short on talent and experience.
Linebackers have become a real weakness because they may have lost Grant Morgan although there hasn’t been an update on him yet. For several years of terrible recruiting at the position, several walk-ons have risen to the top to ride along side Bumper Pool. However, if they lost Pool the Razorbacks would be in trouble.
The strongest unit, albeit very young, is the defensive line. They have plenty of star power from recruiting and several of them are beginning to blossom including Zach Williams and Mataio Soli. It’s early in a lot of their careers but they will continue to improve this position over the next few years.
7) what’s your prediction for the game?
I think Arkansas has the ability to score points on Alabama but the question is how many. However, Alabama chooses their score weekly. I’ll say 58-30 Alabama as the Tide roll into the SEC Championship versus Florida.
8) This really ties back into the first question, but how are you guys feeling about the direction of the Arkansas program going forward?
I feel very good about the direction of the program. A first time head coach doesn’t just go out and bring in the two best available assistant coaches during the offseason. Recruiting has been in the top-25 and the team has been playing over their expectations in year one. Going forward, the schedule will be really tough in 2021 with Texas at home and Alabama, LSU, Ole Miss and Georgia all on the road. With the amount of improvement I have seen there is a chance the Razorbacks will return to the top half of the SEC and setup a big year three under Coach Pittman. The sky is the limit in Fayetteville.