2020 Notre Dame Football Preview

Digital Edition

Blue & Gold Illustrated: 2020 Notre Dame Football Preview

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Page 124 of 163

BLUE & GOLD ILLUSTRATED 2020 FOOTBALL PREVIEW ✦ 123 BY PATRICK ENGEL W hatever Sam Pittman becomes as a head coach, he has one direction where he cannot take Arkansas. Backward. Pittman, a first-time NCAA head coach in his second stint at Arkansas, is a gamble more than most coaching hires. He has never been a coordinator and is on a steeper curve. But it'll be hard to outdo the prior two years' mess. Arkansas was 4-20, lost every SEC game and dropped four contests against Group of Five teams. Chad Morris departed as the lone coach in school history not to win a conference game. In a move that illustrated a sense of self- evaluation, Pittman hired two experienced coordinators and gave them freedom: Kendal Briles (previously the offensive coordina- tor at Florida State, Houston and FAU) and Barry Odom (former Missouri head coach and defensive coordinator). "They're expecting him to be more like a CEO type, leave everything in the hands of his coordinators," HawgBeat.com reporter Nikki Chavanelle said. The likely short- and long-term solutions at quarterback soon followed. Former Flor- ida starter Feleipe Franks came to Arkansas as a graduate transfer, and three-star dual- threat quarterback Malik Hornsby signed as part of the 2020 class. Franks missed all but three games in 2019 due to injury, but threw 24 touchdowns against six interceptions for the Gators in 2018. Franks will have three proven receiv- ers who were bright spots in 2019. Junior Mike Woods tied for the team lead with 33 catches. Sophomores Trey Knox and Treylon Burks combined for 57 catches and were four-star signees as part of Morris' 2019 class, which ranked No. 20 nationally. The dismal record didn't prevent Arkansas from accumulating talent in Morris' lone full cycle at the helm. "Burks is the freak of the group," Cha- vanelle said. "You can put him in the slot and he'll be a total mismatch for almost anyone you put on him." The Razorbacks' defense two lost draft picks, safety Kam Curl (seventh round) and defensive tackle McTelvin Agim (third). Leading tackler De'Jon Harris departed. Nearly all the team's pass rush production also left, though it notched only 21 sacks all year. Linebacker Bumper Pool, cornerback Montaric Brown and safety Joe Foucha are expected to be defensive leaders. Each has multiple years of eligibility left. Arkansas did not hold any spring practices before COVID-19 shut down college sports. Every football team in that spot will suffer. But it's even worse for first-year coaches, who lost precious time to further evaluate the current roster and build trust between players and staff. "Maybe this crazy pandemic situation will bring them together even more when they can get together," Chavanelle said. "But his- torically it takes a while for coaches to build trust with the team." ✦ X-FACTOR: Treylon Burks was one of two freshman receivers who started for Arkansas in 2019. The former top-150 recruit was second on the Razorbacks with 866 all-purpose yards. PHOTO COURTESY ARKANSAS ATHLETICS 2020 SCHEDULE Date Opponent 2019 Result Sept. 5 Nevada — Sept. 12 at Notre Dame — Sept. 19 at Mississippi State L, 54-24 Sept. 26 vs. Texas A&M* L, 31-27 Oct. 3 Charleston Southern — Oct. 10 Alabama L, 48-7 Oct. 17 LSU L, 56-20 Oct. 31 Tennessee — Nov. 7 at Auburn L, 51-10 Nov. 14 Ole Miss L, 31-17 Nov. 21 Louisiana Monroe — Nov. 28 vs. Missouri^ L, 24-14 * at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas; ^ at Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City, Mo. QUICK FACTS All-Time Series: First meeting Head Coach: Sam Pittman, 0-0 at Arkansas and overall (1st year) 2019 Record: 2-10 overall, 0-8 SEC West (7th) Returning Starters: 14 (8 offense, 6 defense) Prediction: Notre Dame 37, Arkansas 13 RETURNING LEADERS Rushing: RB Rakeem Boyd (1,133 yards, 8 TD) Passing: QB KJ Jefferson (197 yards) Receiving: WR Treylon Burks (475 yards, 0 TD) Tackles: LB Bumper Pool (94, 6.5 TFL) Sacks: LB Grant Morgan and LB Hayden Henry (1.0) Passes Broken Up: Pool (5, 0 INT) Reasons For Optimism • Experienced quarterback • Skill position talent • Fresh start For a total rebuild, starting with three reliable receivers with upside and a quarterback who has started 24 SEC games is a great spot. Senior Ra- keem Boyd is a proven back. The group needed a refreshed outlook and new voices after two woeful years. Reasons For Concern • Defensive holes • No spring practice for new staff • SEC West schedule Pittman and his staff have an entire team that still needs time to learn if it can trust them, plus several major defensive voids that need plugging. The SEC West powers and upstart Ten- nessee are a tough slate for a team starting from below the ground floor. ARKANSAS RAZORBACKS GAME 2 • SEPT. 12 • NOTRE DAME STADIUM

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