FAYETTEVILLE — Sam Pittman thinks the Arkansas Razorbacks have a strong stretch run in them and he predicted one on Monday as the University of Arkansas began preparations for Saturday’s historic game against Arkansas-Pine Bluff in Little Rock.
“I really think we’re going to make a run,” Pittman said. “I do. We made a four-game run early in the year. We made a nice run. And I think this week, if we practice the right way, we can get back as healthy.”
The Razorbacks (4-3) have lost three in a row and fallen out of the national rankings after peaking at No. 8 in the Associated Press top 25 three weeks ago.
Arkansas is a huge favorite against the Golden Lions (1-5), though there is not a betting line.
The Razorbacks are missing three starters from week 1 in defensive end Dorian Gerald, safety Jalen Catalon and offensive tackle Dalton Wagner and several other players are dealing with lingering health issues.
Arkansas fans hope the Hogs can be closer to fielding a healthy squad after the team’s lone open date on Oct. 30, but Pittman would like to see that happen sooner.
Pittman said he had to be smart with practice plans this week to preserve health.
“We always go shells on Monday, and we’re not,” he said. “We’re just too beat up right now, and we’ve got to get some players back. I don’t want them back for Mississippi State. I want them back for this weekend. I want them back for Pine Bluff.”
Defensive lineman Markell Utsey, a Little Rock native, and cornerback LaDarrius Bishop from Ashdown joined the injury list last week and their status is unknown for Saturday’s game, though Bishop (hamstring) practiced on Monday while Utsey did not.
Offensive tackle Ty Clary has played through back and shoulder problems. Defensive end Tre Williams has had ankle and arm issues. Tight end Trey Knox was slowed with what looked like an ankle injury from the 52-51 loss at Ole Miss. Several other players have varying levels of aches and pains.
Because of that, the Razorbacks are going to trim small parts of practice and adjust their level of full-scale intensity.
“I know we won’t practice quite as physical as we had because we just don’t have enough depth to do that right now,” Pittman said. “We would do it whether we were playing Auburn or playing Arkansas-Pine Bluff. We don’t really have a choice. We’ve got to be smart with our team.
“That’s certainly not being soft, that’s being smart. I don’t think we’ll have much of a problem getting ready and those things. A lot of times when you have some injuries, the new guy coming in certainly doesn’t have a problem getting ready because it’s his opportunity. I think we’ll be fine there.”
Arkansas will be playing an in-state team for the first time since the 1944 Razorbacks beat Arkansas A&M (now Arkansas-Monticello), coached by Glen Rose, 41-0 in the season finale.
“Even as old as I am I wasn’t born at that point, so I think it’s a big deal,” Pittman said.
The Razorbacks could wrap up an unblemished season against non-conference opponents with a win over the Golden Lions. Arkansas downed Rice 45-17, upset No. 15 Texas 40-21 and beat Georgia Southern 45-10 in the first three weeks of the season.
Arkansas last went 4-0 in non-conference regular season games in 2016. The last season the Razorbacks won all their non-conference games was 2014, when they downed Nicholls State (73-7), Texas Tech (49-28), Northern Illinois (52-14) and Alabama-Birmingham (45-17) in the regular season and thrashed Texas 31-7 in the Texas Bowl.
Arkansas has had a perfect non-conference record only five times since joining the SEC: 4-0 in 1999 with a 27-6 Cotton Bowl win over Texas, 5-0 in 2003 with a 27-14 Independence Bowl win over Missouri, 5-0 in 2009 with a 20-17 Liberty Bowl win over East Carolina in overtime, 5-0 in 2011 with a 29-16 Cotton Bowl win over Kansas State, and 2014.
Pittman said the coaching staff is not approaching the game against FCS-level UAPB as if second- and third-teamers will get large amounts of playing time, though he’d like to see his starters have lighter loads.
“Lord willing we will,” Pittman said when asked if the Razorbacks will get to play a lot of personnel. “The plan is go play as good as we can.
“Certainly if something happened it would be good for the guys who haven’t had opportunities, but we’re going in like it’s going to be a barn burner.”
Pittman then paused and added as an aside he wasn’t exactly sure what a “barn burner” was.
“But we’re going in like it’s really going to be a competitive game,” he said.