Morgan, Clark proving what coaching can do with previous staff’s hidden gems

Photo by Arkansas Communications

If Sam Pittman has anything to thank the previous coaching staff for it’s rounding up some pretty good players and not wasting a year on some of the good ones.

But the difference in coaching is showing with guys the staff before that got to campus. Neither of the previous two staffs could develop.

What that means is they coached players down. One of the biggest challenges every coach that has highly-ranked recruiting classes will tell you is getting the players is only part of the challenge.

As Steve Spurrier used to say, “you gotta coach ’em up.” He was referring to 5-star recruits.

Grant Morgan and Hudson Clark showed what the defensive coaching staff Pittman put together is capable of doing in developing players. Both started as walk-ons.

This week they are the best defensive player in the SEC and the best freshman defensive player.

Morgan earned a scholarship. Clark got one after starting the summer as a backup, then getting a scholarship after picking off Matt Corral three times in Arkansas’ 33-21 win over Ole Miss on Saturday.

“He’s earned that and we’re awful happy to be able to do that,” Pittman said on the SEC Network on Monday. “He was happy and excited and probably thought in his mind, ‘It’s about time.’ But we were happy to be able to give him a scholarship come January.”

We in the media had no idea where Clark was in his development. I probably am not the only one that had to look up who he was when he broke out against Mississippi State when Montaric Brown was injured (and, yes, that’s going to be interesting when he comes back from a personnel standpoint in the secondary).

Maybe most importantly it shows what a change in coaching can do. I said last year and all summer the talent on this team was good enough the Razorbacks should have been in a bowl game the last two years.

There just wasn’t any development.

With some changes that include knowing how to put together a plan every week that puts players in position to be successful, Odom has gotten everybody’s attention with how the defense is playing.

And getting backups to play and the performance doesn’t drop off. That may be the most startling aspect of the entire defense.

There’s still over half of a season to play, but the Hogs now have a guy who’s going to be in the conversation over the Broyles Award (Odom) and a player in the talk over the Burlsworth Award (Morgan).

Now if the offense can figure out how to start a little faster, this team will completely exceed the expectations of even the most optimistic fans.

Everybody likes to play the guessing game with football. I stayed away from that this year completely because of Covid-19 and the completely uncertain aspect every single week.

But how many games do you see on the remaining schedule that are not “gettable” (to steal a copyright phrase from Ruscin & Zach)?

There’s not a single team I would put down as a loss right now. Not even Alabama. Disagree if you want.

The way Odom has this defense playing and his game planning, I’m not counting them out of anything.