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Arkansas not looking past Western Carolina in opener

Sep 25, 2021; Arlington, Texas, USA; Arkansas Razorbacks quarterback KJ Jefferson (1) hands off to running back Raheim Sanders (5) during the second half at AT&T Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports
Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

Western Carolina, Arkansas’ opponent in Saturday’s season opener, is among a group of what Razorbacks coach Sam Pittman calls “non-logo schools.”

That isn’t meant to be a knock on the Catamounts or their Football Championship Subdivision brethren, especially considering Arkansas needed a fourth-quarter rally to defeat Missouri State last season.

Pittman has used recent history to remind players of the importance of not overlooking anyone. Sure, the Razorbacks boast a size advantage and an attack that returns quarterback KJ Jefferson and running back Raheim Sanders. But they can’t count on intimidating foes; it’s best to outwork them.

“We talk a lot about, ‘We’re not playing opponents, we’re trying to play our best ball,'” Pittman said. “We’ve got to get back to that physicality and playing our hearts out every week, whomever we play. … If we can do that, wins and losses will take care of themselves because I do think we have a talented team.”

An FCS program representing the Southern Conference, Western Carolina finished 6-5 last season compared to 7-6 for Arkansas, which defeated Kansas in a Liberty Bowl thriller.

The Catamounts visited Georgia Tech in their lone matchup against Power Five competition last season, losing 35-17 on Sept. 10. WCU excelled at moving the ball against most other opponents, however, gaining a program-best 5,339 total yards while passing for a school-record 30 touchdowns.

Quarterback Cole Gonzales, who appeared in eight games last season while making four starts, is primed to take the reins of the attack.

Western Carolina just hopes Gonzales and Co. aren’t frequently watching the Razorbacks’ tandem of Jackson and Sanders from the sideline.

“You can’t get any better than that,” Catamounts coach Kerwin Bell said.

“So they are going to be two keys for us — how can we slow them down, how can we keep them from creating huge plays on that side of the ball. We have got to get them on the ground. We have got to find ways to tackle them.”

–Field Level Media

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