Sam Pittman Respects Rice’s Program, Feels It’s an Improving One

FAYETTEVILLE — Arkansas and Rice will open the 2020 football season on Saturday at 1 p.m. in Reynolds Razorback Stadium.

The Owls are coming off a 2-3 season in 2020. The two schools are old Southwest Conference foes. Arkansas leads the series 35-29-3 including 12-9 in Fayetteville. The two schools last met in 1991 when the Hogs won 20-0 in Little Rock. Sam Pittman is set for his second season at Arkansas after going 3-7 in 2020.

“We’re looking forward to Rice coming in here,” Pittman said “They’ve got a physical team, a lot of starters coming back. They’re going to try to run the ball. I call it bully ball. They’ll probably try to bully us a little bit with their offensive line. They have a lot of experience there. Defensively, they play multiple fronts. They fly to the football. Really good on special teams. I thought they got better as the year went on last year, and they were very competitive in almost every game they played. So, we’re looking forward to the crowd being out there supporting us and looking forward to Saturday.”

Since Rice likes to play bully ball, can that impact a team such as Arkansas that tries to play with a fast tempo on offense?

“I think it can,” Pittman said. “It’s a great question. When I was at Georgia, we played Georgia Tech every year. One year, I remember we were up 17-0 at half, or 17-7, I can’t remember. But we had three possessions. Two we went down there and scored, and we had a hurry-up offense and kicked a field goal right before half. That was it. Basically, two and a half possessions. We talked to our team about that. We know what type of pace they play with.

“Obviously, it’s up to our defense to get them off the field. However, we don’t want to panic with that. We don’t want to do something that we aren’t. We want to go run our offense, but the offense knows we need to have success and success early. Obviously, we’d like to get the lead and take them out of that pace a little more. Georgia Tech was a team where that was just what they did. I think Rice can adjust their speed. They obviously have a good third-down package, as well, on offense. So, I think they can adjust the tempo if they want to, but I anticipate them taking as much time off the clock as they can.”

Rice is coached by Mike Bloomgren who, like Pittman, is a former offensive line coach.

“Yeah, I have a lot of respect for him, both as an offensive line coach and a head coach,” Pittman said. “He’s done a really nice job at Rice. They’re coming, I believe. But I don’t remember ever really meeting him. I may have met him, but I don’t remember having a lengthy conversation with him. But I have a lot of respect for what he’s done there at Rice and of course his career as an offensive line coach.”

On this week’s depth chart, Rice has Wiley Green or Luke McCaffrey listed as possible to start at quarterback. McCaffrey transferred from Nebraska to Louisville, but left there and came to Rice.

“Both of them can throw the ball, but obviously McCaffrey, we cut up every run that he had from Nebraska, we cut up every pass that he threw from Nebraska and it’s impressive,” Pittman said. “He’s a really good player. You’ve got to watch him when he runs a draw and things of that nature. Obviously he played some tailback for them as well, so the guy is a good player. He can run over you, fast enough to run around you. Then the other kid, he’s a passer, not quite as mobile, but obviously they went with him a year ago. I think there’s two different styles.”

Last season, Arkansas was the underdog in all 10 games. They open the season as a 19-point favorite over Rice. Pittman talked about the fact they are favored in this game and if that changes anything as far as preparation.

“I know it’s coach speak and all that and we all say it, but we really are just worried about how we play you know,” Pittman said. “If we’ll play physical and chase the ball and not make mistakes and are tough and play with a chip, we feel like we’ll play well. It’s really not as much about the opponent for the players. Certainly you get ready because you see tendencies and you know who you’re lined up against and all those things, but we pretty much keep it about Arkansas. We need to play our best, whatever that is, and then let the scorer figure out the score. But we’ve kind of gone that way. We pretty much approach every game that same way. Certainly the kids have different rivalries in their mind and things like that, but I don’t think – I’m hoping and I don’t think – that we’ll have any type of different way we play, whether we’re a favorite or whether we’re not. It is different because we’re expected to win this game and we weren’t – at least Vegas-wise – expected to win any of them last year. It is a valid point and we’re very aware of that.”

Arkansas will return to the practice fields today.