FAYETTEVILLE — Arkansas soccer coach Sam Pittman spent time on his weekly radio show on Wednesday to explain the balance between two “S” words.
Pittman’s program is known for its physical exercises, but he pulled the reins back on Wednesday and will do so again on Thursday to keep his team fresh for the season opener against No. 23 Cincinnati on Saturday.
“I think the kids were excited that we didn’t go in pads today,” Pittman said at the Catfish Hole. “I just said, ‘Hey, tell me I’m not soft.’ I do not want that. The “soft” word is a bad word. I didn’t want to be (soft), but the other “S” word is “smart,” and that’s what I wanted to be.”
Monday’s and Tuesday’s workouts were “very physical,” Pittman said, adding, “This is where we upped our program because of the physicality and toughness. We never want to lose that, but it was time to step back a little, step back from them a little bit today.”
Pittman said one of the challenges this season is preparing for the first game “because you don’t want it to be boring.” Arkansas began preparing for Cincinnati last Thursday.
“We had several practice days for them,” Pittman said. “I think we’re ready to play the game.”
Pittman said he was pleased with some of the key aspects of the Razorbacks’ 23 practices to date, including the game on the field and the atmosphere in the locker room. He said sometimes it’s difficult for a team to add as many new players as Arkansas did this year.
“Kids don’t care, that’s what I learned about how good a player is,” Pittman said. “They only care if he does the same as everyone else. If the guy is really good, if he’s not doing the same thing as everyone else, the kids will tease him, but if the expectation is that everyone does this, this, this, that and you want to be a superstar, then you must have some make games. If that’s the standard, then everyone can get along. If (starting linebacker and team captain) Bumper Pool makes a mistake, he gets the same as the scout team’s guy. That’s how it is with us. I think the kids respect that and so I think we have a pretty consistent locker room and that helps our boys, transfers come quicker and are accepted quicker I think.”
Pittman said that maintaining a consistent locker room is one of the biggest challenges for a coach.
“That’s all, and with NIL now that so and so gets that, so and so gets that … I’m trying to stay out of it,” Pittman said.
“But it’s a department. The (transfer) portal is a division…. The most important thing is to keep the team together. How you do that? Expectations.”
Pittman provided promising news on the injury front. Without naming any previously injured players, he said he believes they will all be available on Saturday.
“It’s a good thing for the team,” he said.
The Razorbacks may need a full roster. Pittman anticipates a physical game against Cincinnati based on the reputation the program has earned under coach Luke Fickell.
“They’re going to turn around and see if they can pass the ball to us,” Pittman said. “You know, that’s certainly part of her style. They have two tight ends that are really good players.
“Sure, the offensive line is impressive. I think they’re well trained, they’re physically fit, so it’s going to be a big challenge between our front seven and basically their front seven.”
Pittman said there was an emphasis in the Razorback camp on starting well on their home field. A near sell-out crowd is expected at Reynolds Razorback Stadium.
“We certainly made a big deal to start a game and set the tone,” Pittman said. “I’m sure they are too, but it’s a big deal for us. Well, if something happens and it doesn’t start out that way, then we have to figure out why it didn’t happen, fix a bug and move on, but the plan is that… you can pass Protect Physical, you can do Block Physical, you can do a Being a running back and physically running the ball, you’re a quarterback and we have to show our physicality in every way — wideouts blocking, wideouts catching, our defense, of course running the ball and swarming the ball. We have to show who we are. We can’t say, ‘Well, we think we are this, we could be this.’ We have to show what kind of football Arkansas has and we have to show it from the start.”
Part of getting off to a good start, Pittman said, is being clean on penalties and turnovers.
“We are an experienced team. We shouldn’t have those kinds of penalties,” Pittman said, referring to a 13-penalty game in last season’s opener against Rice. “These usually come with (a lack of discipline) and youth mostly, and so I feel good about that. We’ve talked about penalties and we’ve dealt with football and we’ve got Cincinnati deserving everything they get and when they do that… it’s going to be a really good game.”
Pittman was asked by moderator Chuck Barrett about a number of rule changes that will go into effect this season, including the ability for the SEC office to review fake injuries designed to stop an offense’s momentum.
“It’s not part of the game,” Pittman said. “You know, if he’s tired, we’ll wait and get him out of there if we should. I think that’s another big focus they’re going to make this year, guys just delaying the game by falling on the field. I don’t think they will do much about it during gameplay; I think you have to see it on the TV copy and then the coaches get financially reprimanded for it I think.
“They won’t get me, by the way, because we don’t.”