HOGS vs. FLAMES: Freeze frames the Arkansas experience for his players
FAYETTEVILLE — The Arkansas Razorbacks (5-3, 2-3) and the 23rd-ranked Liberty Flames (7-1) meet for the first time on the football field this Saturday, but Liberty head Coach Hugh Freeze is no stranger to the Razorbacks.
Freeze coached the Ole Miss Rebels from 2012 to 2016, going 2-3 against Arkansas.
Freeze's Rebels won the first two meetings — one in Little Rock and the other in Oxford, Miss — but the Hogs won the next 3, including 2 in Fayetteville, the site of Saturday's game.
“The Hogs are going to be a handful for us,” Freeze said. “When you are playing an SEC roster with a Group of five school, it’s tough. You can’t hardly make any mistakes if you want a chance to be in it.”
Liberty, riding a 5-game winning streak, will encounter a different environment at Reynolds Razorback Stadium (76,000 capacity) than anything it has seen this year.
The Flames play their homes games at 25,000-seat Arthur L. Williams Stadium in Lynchburg, Virginia, and have yet to play in a stadium that holds more than 40,000 fans.
“I try and explain to them what I think of the given stadiums that we’re going into,” said Freeze, who has a 55-39 record at Arkansas State, Ole Miss and Liberty. “I don’t like our kids ever being surprised or shocked. I have a good feel for what I think Arkansas will be like and we’ll have to handle it.”
Freeze said he knows the Hogs will be ready to defend their home turf after being away from Fayetteville since a 49-26 loss to Alabama on Oct. 1.
“I showed them how you do ‘Woo Pig Sooie’ and ‘Arkansas Razorbacks’ and how you have to get into it,” Freeze said. “You’re going to hear it a lot, so you’ve got to get into it and know what you’re talking about. I want them to be familiar with the whole deal and enjoy the whole atmosphere.”
CHAVIS SET TO RETURN
The Hogs appeared to be as healthy as they have since the beginning of the season last Saturday in a 41-27 win at Auburn, and they are getting back another injured player, Malik Chavis, back on Saturday
Chavis (6-2, 192; 8 tackles in 7 games) suffered a concussion early in the 52-35 victory over BYU on Oct. 15 and was expected to return for the Auburn game but did not make the trip with the team.
Pittman announced on Wednesday that Chavis will be ready for against Liberty, eve after stating last week he felt like Chavis could have returned for the Auburn game.
“I think this will be my third week in a row that I said I think he’ll be ready,” Pittman said while laughing. “Yesterday, he ran like his hair was on fire. I mean he was moving. So, I can say he is officially, officially cleared.”
Chavis had been a consistent member of the Razorbacks secondary at cornerback. In 7 games this season, Chavis has yielded 74 receiving yards according to Pro Football Focus. Chavis looks to bolster a secondary that has given up 311.9 passing yards per game, second worst in the SEC.
IMPORTANCE OF HOMECOMING
Saturday's game was slated as Arkansas' Homecoming game, and Pittman said Homecoming holds special significance.
“When you come back for Homecoming, you’re playing for the history of the program,” Pittman said. “You have a lot of former students and players coming back and you don’t want to disappoint anyone on Homecoming. Everybody is coming back, having fun, and hopefully enjoying pregame, the game, and after the game.”
The Razorbacks have not won a Homecoming game since beating Tulsa 23-0 back in 2018, with Pittman holding an 0-2 record.
“Is there is a little bit of extra motivation for Homecoming, I say yes,” Pittman said. “We’d like to win the game. We’d like to win the game regardless, but there’s a little more extra meaning to it for that.”
FEW OPPORTUNITIES FOR RESERVES
As a rebuilding team in 2020, and a team on the rise in 2021, Pittman's Razorbacks have done what they have to do to win games, even if means nothing giving the reserves game experience.
“We’ve been here 31 games and have only total-subbed twice," Pittman said during the SEC teleconference on Wednesday. “A lot of it has to do with who we’re playing. When you’re at BYU for your nonconference schedule, who was our third nonconference team that’s been ranked in the top-25, it makes it difficult.”
Pittman said he knows it's important for second-teasers to see the field if possible.
“It can hurt morale at practice," Pittman said. “If you don’t feel like you’re ever going to get in the game as a 2 or things of that nature, it’s hard and I get it.”
Backups got an opportunity in the final 8 minutes of Arkansas' 14-point win over Auburn, but it didn't turn out as Pittman hoped.
Arkansas' reserves saw a 38-13 lead close to 41-27 when Auburn scored 2 touchdowns in the final 6 minutes.
Pittman said early in the week he planned to the second-teamers hear it.
“We’re not putting the twos in there to not score and we’re not putting them in to let somebody score,” Pittman said.