HOGS: Mullen praises Arkansas; notes

HOGS: Mullen praises Arkansas; notes

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FAYETTEVILLE - Given four SEC games this weekend have been postponed because of covid-19, Sam Pittman missing Arkansas's game at Florida because of covid becomes a blip on college football’s national radar.

Seems Arkansas’ coach prefers keeping it that way. Not just nationally, but for his 3-3 Razorbacks as they head to Gainesville, Fla., for Saturday’s 6 p.m. SEC game against the sixth-ranked Gators (4-1) while Pittman quarantines at home.

Pittman has quarantined since learning Monday he tested covid-19 positive on Sunday. The first-year head coach tested positive again Monday and remains quarantined until at least next week.

Through Zoom, Pittman meets daily before practices with his team and game-plans with his staff upon reviewing the video.

UA defensive coordinator Barry Odom, offensive coordinator Kendal Briles and special teams coordinator Scott Fountain oversee those plans in practice.

Odom, Missouri’s head coach from 2016-2019, head coaches Saturday night minus Pittman phoning input.

“I don't want the kids to think any different of it,” Pittman said Wednesday. “If they do, Florida will beat the heck out of us. So we have to be locked in on everything but me. I can promise you that.”

He could videotape a pregame speech for Saturday, a media member suggested.

“I could and all those things, but I don't know what good it would do,” Pittman said. “I’m going to talk to the team Friday night over Zoom, and then go let them play. We've got great guys and a great group of coaches. I don't want to make a mountain out of a molehill. The kids are ready. Barry will do a hell of a job with it."

Normally coordinating the defense from the press box, Odom will be on the field head coaching and defensive coordinating Saturday night.

With Pittman absent, the Razorbacks have received NCAA permission for defensive quality control coach Michael Scherer to take Odom’s place in the press box.

While “not wanting to make a mountain out of a molehill," Pittman acknowledged he is “disappointed” not to be in Gainesville. Since testing positive, he’s dwelled in what he calls his “outback” behind the house he has temporarily abandoned to keep wife Jamie covid-free.

That applies for watching Saturday’s game, too.

“No, I can’t go in the main house,” Pittman said. “I’ll be out here watching it by myself. I might get Lucy my bulldog to come out here with me. I’d be lying to you if I said I’m not somewhat depressed. That’s why you get into coaching, to go see your kids play. Coach Odom will be there and do a great job, but I’m certainly going to miss that.”

Pittman said he had looked forward to talking pregame to Florida coach Dan Mullen.

Mullen can commiserate. He and enough of his team contracted covid earlier in the season that Florida’s game with LSU was postponed until Dec. 12.

“I hope he (Pittman) has minor symptoms kind of like I had,” Mullen said Monday. “It really wasn’t a tough ordeal. I know a lot of people have had a tough time dealing with it, and then obviously the seriousness of it for a lot of other people and families out there. So, our prayers are with him, and I hope he recovers quickly.”

Pittman is grateful for Mullen's thoughts and prayers. “I appreciate that very, very much,” he said.

The Razorbacks need prayers against Florida, Las Vegas oddsmakers imply.

Arkansas is 3-3, all in the SEC, compared to 1-7, 0-8, 0-8 SEC Arkansas teams of the past three years, but the Gators are favored by 17.5 points.

Florida flogged Georgia 44-28 last week.

Georgia opened the season on Sept. 26 by beating Arkansas 37-10 in Fayetteville.

“We’re getting ready to play an outstanding Florida team,” Pittman said. “What a great skill set that they have. They get the ball to so many people. And of course (Florida quarterback)  Kyle Trask is playing lights out. And defensively they are so big. (Defensive linemen) Brent Cox and (Tedarrell) Slaton and (linebacker Jeremiah) Moon, and of course they’ve got (linebacker Ventrell) Miller. They’ve got a really, really good football team.”

Other than Arkansas’ SEC-leading 12 interceptions, the Razorbacks statistically belie a team that ought to be 4-2.

An egregious officiating error at Auburn deprived the Razorbacks of a fumble recovery and enabled Auburn’s 30-28 game-winning field goal with seven seconds left.

“They could even have a better record than they have,” Mullen said.

How have Pittman’s Hogs done it?

“The mental toughness and the winning attitude they’re playing with,” Mullen said. “There's a lot to believing you can win and expecting to win. You can just look at last week’s game (rallying from down 13-0 to beat Tennessee (24-13). They fall behind. They fight. They battle. They claw back and find a way to win. Mental toughness and ability to win don’t show up on a stat line.” 

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