FAYETTEVILLE — Rivalry week started on Sunday with a lively practice for the Arkansas Razorbacks followed by a longer-than-normal Monday press conference for Coach Sam Pittman.
Due to the Friday kickoff for No. 21 Arkansas vs. Missouri at Reynolds Razorback Stadium and a shortened week featuring a Thanksgiving celebration, Pittman will not conduct his usual Wednesday media appearances: On the SEC coaches teleconference, his 1 p.m. video conference and his 7 p.m. “Sam Pittman Live” radio show.
So Pittman’s Monday presser was loaded up with questions about the nature of rivalries, the quick turnaround to respectability for the University of Arkansas under his watch, and the availability of some key players this week.
The Razorbacks (7-4, 3-4 SEC), coming off a 42-35 loss at No. 2 Alabama on Saturday impressed Pittman with their energy in Sunday’s workout. Arkansas takes on the Tigers (6-5, 3-4) in the Battle Line Rivalry at 2:30 p.m. on Friday in the national CBS Sports broadcast.
Ace Arkansas receiver Treylon Burks, who was in obvious pain after several hard falls onto his right side on Saturday, participated in practices on Sunday and Monday in light “spider” pads.
“He practiced yesterday,” Pittman said. “He’s sore, but I believe he’ll be fine.”
Burks had eight receptions for 179 yards and two touchdowns against Alabama. He was in on Arkansas’ onside kick try with 1:02 remaining and took a huge hit from Will Anderson that sent him sprawling out of bounds and into Arkansas sideline personnel. He stayed down for several moments on the sideline as Alabama was kneeling out the clock.
Pittman said the coaching staff was “in all honesty, surprised” by the level of execution and the energy and tempo to Sunday’s work.
“The practice was outstanding,” Pittman said. “We’re electing this week to go in spiders the entire week. That was not the case until yesterday’s practice. I felt like we needed to thud, bang a little bit. … Because of the speed of practice last night, I felt like we could get our work done, heal up a little bit and make sure that we get our best players to Friday at 2:30. To be honest with you, the kids surprised me by how ready they were to go out and practice.”
Arkansas is 2-0 in its trophy games this season with wins over then-No. 7 Texas A&M (20-10) in the Southwest Classic and at LSU (16-13, overtime) in the battle for the Golden Boot.
The Razorbacks can make it 3-0 for the first time with a win over the Tigers in the still-young Battle Line Rivalry on Friday.
“We’re excited to play Missouri,” Pittman said. “We’re excited that we have an opportunity to play here in our home stadium. They’re a hot team right now. They’ve won their last two games.
“They’re coming in here I’m sure with a lot of confidence, and we’re excited to have a big crowd here. I’m hearing estimates of 65-70,000.
“We certainly hope that’s the case because Razorback nation helped us win the Mississippi State game. We’re encouraging everybody to have a whole lot of turkey and come out and help us win on Friday.”
The Razorbacks are 0-7 in games played after Thanksgiving over the last five years.
The program’s last post-Thanksgiving wins came in a 28-3 victory over Missouri on Nov. 27, 2015, and a 45-23 rout of Kansas State in the Liberty Bowl on Jan. 2, 2016.
That was Pittman’s final game as Razorback assistant head coach and offensive line coach before leaving to join up with Kirby Smart at Georgia.
Arkansas opened as a 14 1/2-point favorite to claim the Battle Line Trophy.