HOGS need more DBs; better special teams

HOGS need more DBs; better special teams

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FAYETTEVILLE - At least two defensive backs Arkansas didn’t have for Saturday’s 37-10 loss to Georgia should be available when the Razorbacks visit Mississippi State at 6:30 Saturday night in Starkville, Miss.

Fourth-year senior Jarques McClellion and redshirt freshman Devin Bush, not suiting up against Georgia during this era when so many players are in and out of coronavirus quarantine because of COVID-19 symptoms or contact tracing associated with others tested COVID positive, “will be back,” Coach Sam Pittman said Monday.

Pittman held his Monday presser before the Razorbacks launched  preparations for Saturday night’s game against Coach Mike Leach’s nationally 16th Bulldogs televised on the SEC Alternate Network.

First-team safety Joe Foucha, who returned to practice Thursday, should practice every day this week, Pittman said.

The Razorbacks need every capable pass-defender Saturday night in Starkville.

First-year Mississippi State coach Leach spectacularly debuted the “Air Raid” offense Saturday that he famously established as head coach at Texas Tech and Washington State.

MSU graduate transfer (via Stanford) quarterback K.J. Costello set an SEC record with 623 passing yards as the Bulldogs stunned defending national champion LSU 44-34 in Baton Rouge, La.

“Costello was incredible,” Pittman said. “Throwing every throw with great poise. I mean it was unbelievable for him to be a transfer and come in and do what he did.”

For the long haul, Arkansas might have improved its depth with (normally starting) Foucha working back in the rotation off the bench. Simeon Blair, the third-year sophomore ex-walkon from Pine Bluff put on scholarship by Pittman, started at safety. Blair made three tackles and drew Pittman’s praise.

“Simeon stepped right in there and did a really nice job for us,” Pittman said. "He’s smart, detailed oriented and he really plays hard.”

Arkansas’ depth chart lists Blair and Foucha as “either-or” starters against Mississippi State. 

Sophomore defensive end Mataio Soli also returns, Pittman said, after missing the Georgia game.

Soli’s return could factor prominently. Senior starting defensive end Dorian Gerald recorded a sack among his four tackles against Georgia but left the game upon injuring an ankle.

Sophomore end Zach Williams posted nice stats with seven tackles while subbing for Gerald against Georgia. Pittman would love to rotate them all for a fresh pass rush against Costello.

“Hopefully Dorian will be able to play,” Pittman said.

Arkansas’ offense requires special preparations to rebound from being stifled by Georgia’s great defense while aware that Mississippi State’s lesser-touted defense surprised LSU with seven sacks.

And the Hog defense, while drawing praise for holding Georgia without a TD for 39 minutes, must especially prepare for Leach’s unconventional offense.

But it’s special teams off the Georgia game requiring the most special attention. Arkansas suffered a blocked punt, while Georgia netted 91 yards on two kickoff returns.

“We have to be a lot better on special teams,” Pittman said. “Georgia dominated us on special teams. We couldn’t get off hold-ups. Special teams have to improve in a quick way. We can fix that. We’ve just got to coach better and execute better.”

Arkansas punters George Caratan and Sam Loy “punted well,” Pittman said. Caratan averaged 48 yards with a long 57 on six punts. Loy, capable of throwing the opposition off stride with rugby punts, averaged 40 yards on his two punts.

The blocked punt was not Caratan's fault, Pittman said.

“I didn’t think his operation was slow,” Pittman said. “They collapsed the middle and came right off the edge. We’re overlapped too much on our shield, as well. So, we’ve got to fix that.”

Georgia punter Jake Camarada was outstanding, pinning Arkansas inside its 20 five times out of seven while averaging nearly 49.9 yards per punt.

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