Pittman suspends Slusher and 1 other, health of QB Jefferson uncertain

Arkansas defensive backs Myles Slusher (left) and Anthony Brown (right) were suspended for at least one game following their arrests in connection with disorderly conduct Sunday morning, Nov. 6, 2022. (UA Athletics)

Arkansas coach Sam Pittman suspended Razorback starting defensive back Myles Slusher and redshirting freshman Anthony Brown for at least this week’s game with LSU at 11 a.m. Saturday in Razorback Stadium after they were arrested Sunday morning in connection with disorderly conduct.

The players were disciplined with extra running this morning, Pittman said. Their situation will be reevaluated next week, according to Pittman, who learned of the incident from a phone call Sunday by Arkansas athletics director Hunter Yurachek.

Though playing in only five games this season because of injury, Slusher is one of the Razorbacks’ best defensive backs, and no doubt his absence will be felt Saturday by an Arkansas secondary that has struggled all season.

Liberty Rewind

At this point, I know you’ve probably read more about the Razorbacks’ 21-19 loss to Liberty than you ever wanted; however, how the Flames gummed up the works of Arkansas’ mid-line option last Saturday, which is the base of the Hogs’ offense, is worth reviewing.

As much as we would like to forget it, future opponents, no doubt, have taken notice.

The Flames basically flooded the A gap over the center with three defenders leaving Arkansas with a blocking quandary in the middle of the line of scrimmage. Center Ricky Stromberg took a defender, but it basically left two Flames defenders to meet in the backfield at the option mesh point between quarterback KJ Jefferson and tailback Rocket Sanders. One defender is responsible for the QB and one for the running back. It’s a great way of neutralizing the mid-line option and wrecking the RPO passing game that it sets up before it ever gets started.

Liberty coach Hugh Freeze has been running that defense since he was a high school coach in Memphis. I first heard of it when my nephew was playing center in high school ball in Memphis in the early 2000s.

Next up for the Razorbacks

Opponent: LSU
When: 11 a.m. Saturday, Nov. 12
Where: Razorback Stadium, Fayetteville

Remaining Schedule

Nov. 19 – Ole Miss
Nov. 25 – at Missouri

You can neutralize it by crashing both guards inside and running outside of that scrum. I’m sure there are other ways to handle it, too. The Hogs’ coaching staff eventually made adjustments, but being down 21-3 at the half was too much for them to overcome with Jefferson being less than healthy and getting little practice time last week.

Why mention it now with Liberty in the rearview mirror? Well, if you remember, Ed Ogeron’s LSU Tigers used a similar tactic in the A gap last year. A healthier Jefferson made them pay just enough for the Hogs to pull off a key 16-13 overtime victory in Baton Rouge.

Who knows how LSU coach Brian Kelly will opt to defend the mid-line option this week at Razorback Stadium, but, no doubt, he and his staff have the recordings of last year’s game as well as what Liberty did to gum up the Hogs’ works last week.

It’s on Pittman and his offensive staff to make quicker adjustments if they see those tactics again this week or in the future.

Jefferson was not seeing the field well at all against Liberty, and for the most part, he had plenty of time in the pocket. There were receivers open at times deep. I’m guessing he felt he couldn’t get the ball to them based on the way he was feeling because he threw to the middle and short of the sticks an awful lot on Saturday.

It’s hard to know what exactly was going on with Jefferson. Was it physical or mental or a little of both?

It’s hard for a physical quarterback like Jefferson to get healthy while still competing in the middle of the season. Pittman and offensive coordinator Kendal Briles might have a tough decision to make this week.

Do you play Jefferson against LSU or not? Certainly, Jefferson at quarterback gives the Hogs THE best chance to beat LSU, if he can execute.

But, if Jefferson is only at 60 or 75 percent, would resting him this week make a significant difference in his health for games against Ole Miss and Missouri?

Could playing him this week negatively effect Arkansas’ ability to win later?

These are questions that won’t be answered publicly, but they are ones facing the Arkansas staff as they move forward.

Pittman said in his press conference Monday that Jefferson felt better than he did last week when a sore clavicle kept him from fully participating in practice. The implication is that he will play, but what else could Pittman say at this point in the week?

Besides, it’s not whether or not Jefferson plays, but how well he is able to perform if he does.

This Week’s Games (Nov. 12)

11 a.m. — Missouri at Tennessee (ESPN+)
11 a.m. — LSU at Arkansas (ESPN)
11 a.m. — Vanderbilt at Kentucky (SEC Network)
2:30 p.m. — Alabama at Ole Miss (CBS)
3 p.m. — South Carolina at Florida (SEC Network)
6 p.m. — Georgia at Mississippi State (ESPN)
6:30 p.m. — Texas A&M at Auburn (SEC Network)

SEC West Standings

Ole Miss8-14-1
Miss. St.6-33-3
Texas A&M3-61-5

SEC East Standings

S. Carolina6-33-3