Sam Pittman Post-Game Quotes

January 1, 2022

Saturday, January 1, 2022
Tampa, Florida, USA
Raymond James Stadium
Arkansas Razorbacks
Sam Pittman
Press Conference

Arkansas 24, Penn State 10

SAM PITTMAN: I appreciate being ahead of KJ. I didn't really do nothing. KJ did a lot. I appreciate you waiting on me here.

Penn State, I do want to say this about Penn State: they had six guys that went early to the NFL and they played. We had two. I think that's pretty cool. I think that's really neat that Penn State wanted to play as bad as the University of Arkansas did. I think that's really cool.

I think James Franklin is a wonderful person. Obviously the guys that played, it was their opportunity, just like the guys that replaced our guys who elected to go to the NFL.

The Outback Bowl was tremendous this week. They were just outstanding. Bruce and Rita and Jim, I mean, the police officers that took us around from place to place, hospitality, the events. It was outstanding. The University of Arkansas is just so happy to have been a part of the 2022 Outback Bowl.

Very proud of our players, the way they competed. I told them at half there's no way we could have played an uglier first half, so look on the bright side, it's got to get better.

I did talk to them about Rice. We were down 10-7 the first game of the year, just like we were at half. We came back to win that game by 21.

I learned a long time ago that being three down, you can make your team feel like you're 300 down or keep it real: We're three down, we get the ball, we have to change what we're doing running the football, but other than that we could still win this football game. Our team believed that. Obviously we had a really big third quarter.

With that I'll answer any questions.

Q. Describe the feeling of being on stage and accepting the Outback Bowl trophy.

SAM PITTMAN: It's hard. Like I said a long time ago, I used to be one of the people in the stands. To some people this might be a big, big, huge win. Some people may think it's the Outback Bowl, it's not the national championship.

To me it's as big as you can get to our players. We've come a long way. We are really pleased of how the Arkansas people followed us here, the folks. I know they spent their hard-earned money to get out here. We're so appreciative of that.

You know what I'm going to say. That feeling of tomorrow morning, you're in University of Arkansas, you're in our state of Arkansas, you're proud of the Razorbacks. That's what I felt whenever they were giving KJ his trophy and the team ours.

Q. What was the message to the offense at halftime?

SAM PITTMAN: Well, I think a big part of coaching at halftime, the great ones get it done before. They continue to try to talk and communicate. At half the bottom line is if our back was over here, they're blitzing over there. So the adjustment that we wanted to make was either run gap schemes back over this way, lead the tight end frontside, or run some type of inside zone where we're not crossing the quarterback.

Well, what happened was we did that, then they gave us the read. That's when KJ started taking off. The read was there. So we had two options off of those three plays with the read, which the read became very, very big for us.

We had to make adjustments. I thought our kids, we didn't play quite as hard, strain quite as hard in the first half as we did in the second. But that's not their fault. That's us. I should have had them ready a little bit better.

But that's basically what we told them. I just told them that we get the ball, we're down three, it's not the biggest deal, the score. But how we've been playing, we can dictate that.

Told the defense to swarm the football because we missed some tackles in the second quarter. Seemed like we couldn't get close to them, even though I thought the defense played really well. We needed to swarm the ball better, and we did.

Q. Dominique (Johnson) had success early on. Was the plan to hold him out and keep him fresh?

SAM PITTMAN: No, no. I thought he got tired. I didn't feel like he was running real, real fast in there. But he did some good things. We weren't blocking him too good early, he made some guys miss, made some plays out of it.

No, we played him about what I thought we should today. Now, I didn't think he was as fast today as what he normally is, but I may be wrong. Have to watch the tape on that.

Q. On the play of the defense.

SAM PITTMAN: Well, I'd have to look at the tape a little bit more. I think we were there a few times on the quarterback and just missed him. He's a competitive son of a gun, their quarterback. I think we were there and just missed him.

But I'd have to wait a little bit. I really didn't notice anybody just particularly standing out. I'd have to look at the stats defensively to figure that out. I really don't know. I don't see a whole lot of stats there at that position. I think they did affect the quarterback. Barry, with his blitzes that he had, I know it affected the quarterback.

Q. On the play of the wide receivers.

SAM PITTMAN: Wide receivers? I think we only had like 90-some yards of offense. I'm going to look right here, see what I can remember of that. I know (indiscernible) had an early one. KJ, he got open early. Tre had a couple. De'Vion.

It just wasn't one of those days. We felt like coming into the game that we were going to feature KJ and our running backs and our offensive line. Wasn't going too good in the first half.

I think maybe the heat wore them down and we made some adjustments. We didn't seem to have a problem out there at wideout. We elected not to throw it as much as we normally do.

Q. On KJ Jefferson's aggressive play and not sliding.

SAM PITTMAN: Yeah, well, it is. We don't do none of that. That ain't how we're built (laughter).

Earlier in the year, I said, Hey, KJ you can go left or right.

No, no, no.

What did you tell me? Right early in the Texas game, here comes the safety, and he doesn't even have to run to KJ because KJ just turns and starts running to him (laughter).

That's a little bit of physicality of who he is and hopefully what our team's about.

Q. How do you take the momentum and build for next season?

SAM PITTMAN: I think it's got to be easier. I think the recruiting has to become a little bit easier. We don't have a discipline problem on our team or anything of that nature, so they're going to do what we ask.

KJ can answer that better than me. I think it will make our kids a little bit hungrier understanding we can be a top-25 team, somewhere in there. Certainly we want to get higher than that and start into the top 15, top 10 in the country.

Q. On being able to effectively run the ball in the second half.

SAM PITTMAN: I think it changes the game. We go in at halftime where we don't know if we can run it. Really the only success we really had was the one drive that we ran it pretty good, threw the ball to Owen.

We were off. You have to give Penn State credit for that. But we were off. I thought we were sluggish and those things. Then to come out and get the kickoff and go bam, bam, bam, bam, do it what I call Arkansas style, that was pretty fun.

Q. On the progression of KJ Jefferson this season.

SAM PITTMAN: Yeah, I think the best thing that he's done, obviously he's throwing the ball better than he ever has, but it's the way the kids look at him on the team. I think you can tell a leader by the way somebody looks at you a lot.

The kids look to him because they wouldn't if he wasn't tough, they wouldn't if he made a lot of excuse, they wouldn't if he's late to practice, but he's none of those things. He's tough. He doesn't make excuses. He takes ownership of what he does, good and bad. He can throw the football. His delivery has really improved this year.

We always knew he could run. I'll be honest with you, I didn't know he can run as well as he can until the Rice came when he ran an option and did his little deal, went down the sideline.

He's just really grown. He's a better person than he was a football player. Really he's a great kid. That's usually where your leadership comes from.

Q. You used Malik Hornsby late. Was that to preserve KJ or give Malik reps?

SAM PITTMAN: A little bit of both. KJ was beat up a little bit. I wanted to give Malik some more reps, as well. It was a little bit of both.

Q. On finishing the game in victory formation.

SAM PITTMAN: Awesome. I mean, it really was. We didn't need that, all those things. But you need to respect your opponents. I respected Penn State for getting out there and playing the game.

Q. Ty Clary gave you something in the second half.

SAM PITTMAN: Yeah, I think he really did. Ty, he's got a shoulder that's a little bit of sore on him, things of that nature. He's been valuable all year for us, whether it be at center or guard or tackle.

I thought he did an outstanding job, really happy for him. Happy he got to play. Not happy Dalton got his ribs jacked up, but happy he got to play.

Q. How meaningful is the win back home in Fayetteville?

SAM PITTMAN: I hope it is. It is to us. I believe it is. You can kind of feel it in the crowd. You could kind of feel it.

You know, we're hungry for football. Our state's hungry for football. We're a proud state. Football, no disrespect to any other sport, football is big in the state of Arkansas, at the University of Arkansas. I think there's always folks that want more. One of them is me.

But it's over now. To be Outback Bowl champions with nine wins, I'm really, really proud of our team with what we've accomplished. Two of the teams that beat us also were pretty good last night. We play in a heck of a league. I said it a long time ago, we're in the SEC West, right where Arkansas belongs, and we're starting to prove that.

Q. Update on Dominique?

SAM PITTMAN: I don't. I asked him how he felt right there as we called the team up. He said he was fine. I don't know.

Q. On Rocket (Raheim) Sanders play in his home state.

SAM PITTMAN: I think he did good, man. He is tough. He had that shoulder jacked up for a while now, for a few days. I think he played really hard. What, did he score a touchdown or two today? I have to look. Two? He's probably pretty happy about that. I know I was.

Q. On the play of his trio of linebackers.

SAM PITTMAN: Yeah, you know, Barry put that three linebacker set in where they could all play at the same time, which I thought worked out very well.

But with Grant and Hayden, Bumper. I'm not giving up on Bumper (smiling). Need some help there, leader. I'm not giving up on Bump now. I want him back.

It's amazing how those guys rotate and they love each other. Never happens like that. Three guys rotating in, one of them doesn't like the other guy, I'm better than you.

How they go in there and play together like that, it's amazing. It's really great to see. It shows a lot about their character.

Q. Where is the Outback Bowl trophy going?

SAM PITTMAN: I haven't talked to Kyle yet, but I'm going to here in just a little bit. He'll be in the cargo somewhere around. The Outback Bowl trophy is going first class. I got another trophy. What are you doing with that? First class, okay (laughter).

Q. You're one of the top of the SEC and won the Outback Bowl. At the beginning of the season, did you think this was possible?

SAM PITTMAN: Oh, yeah. I knew that was going to happen. Look down on a piece of paper, just don't put the schedule on a piece of paper. You look down on the paper, you go, Huh, who is trying to fire me (laughter)?

One thing about it, we got guys like him. As long as we got guys like him, coaches like I have, kids that are going to work hard, we're going to be fine. We are at the University of Arkansas. I'm proud of that. Thank you.

Q. How excited are you to eat a bloomin' onion?

SAM PITTMAN: Well, you know what, I've lost a little bit of weight. It wasn't from eating a blooming onion, but I'm going to go ahead and chow into it here in a minute. I'm excited about it. You got a gift card from Outback Bowl? Is that part of the deal (laughter)?

Thank you, everybody. Go, Hogs.

KJ Jefferson coming up.

FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports