By Nate Allen
Special to the News-Times
FAYETTEVILLE - If the Arkansas Razorbacks perhaps miss Brian Wallace without missing him at today’s practice, then Dalton Wagner will have picked up where he left off last Saturday.
During the second half of Arkansas’ 65-31 SEC loss to Alabama at Reynolds Razorback Stadium in Fayetteville, Wallace, a senior right offensive tackle, exited with a sprained ankle.
Wagner, a redshirt freshman, finished admirably innocuously in the fifth-year senior’s place.
Wagner would practice first-team today if coach Chad Morris, offensive coordinator Joe Craddock and offensive line coach Dustin Fry concur that Wallace’s ankle would benefit from another day off readying for Saturday night’s 6:30 p.m. SEC game between the Razorbacks (1-5, 0-3) and the Ole Miss Rebels (4-2, 0-2) at War Memorial Stadium in Little Rock.
“I think Brian will be fine,” Craddock said during Monday’s coaches press conference while the players take their NCAA mandated weekly off day. “He’ll get a lot of treatment and he’ll be ready to go, I’m assuming, tomorrow.”
If Wallace isn’t ready today, Craddock hopes Wagner can start practice like he finished in the last game.
Craddock, observing from the press box with Fry during games, remarked that after Wagner had played for awhile: “Coach Fry got on the headset with Dalton, and said, ‘Hey, I haven’t seen the film yet, but when I don’t notice you’re in there, that’s a good thing.”
Wagner’s no notice during the game got him good notices afterwards.
“We didn’t notice B-Wall was out,” Craddock said. “We didn’t notice that he (Wagner) was in there. So he did really well. He played his butt off and did some really good things.”
Arkansas’ special teams, other than De’Vion Warren’s 78-yard kickoff return and Connor Limpert’s 41-yard field goal on the obviously plus side, also went mostly unnoticed against No. 1 reigning national champion Alabama.
That also was a good thing.
Burned for a 90-yard punt return touchdown in the 44-17 loss to North Texas, a 96-yard kickoff return touchdown and three long punt returns and suffering a blocked punt in 34-3 loss at Auburn and a game-opening 100-yard kickoff return touchdown in the 24-17 loss to Texas A&M, Arkansas quietly kept Alabama’s very special special teams from breaking anything special Saturday.
“Special teams, we executed our game plan,” Morris said after Saturday’s game.
“I thought we got better in that regard. This (Alabama) is one of the best special teams that we’ve played.
“They’ve got an electric return team this year and I thought that we did a really good job of containing their explosiveness.”
Morris upon his Arkansas arrival from SMU back in December bragged on the tight end talent he inherited from the Bret Bielema regime and that it would be a focal point position in Morris’ Arkansas offense.
That didn’t happen early in the season.
He can be more vocal about it being focal after Saturday.
Between them, tight ends Cheyenne O’Grady (7 catches for 48 yards), Austin Cantrell (2 for 21 yards) and Grayson Gunter (1 for 10) combined for 10 catches and 79 yards and O’Grady’s two touchdowns.
“Where we were earlier in the season we weren’t there yet,” Morris said. “We just weren’t. We had to get some things fixed before we could start getting all of the puzzle pieces in place.”
They seem fixed now.
“I’ve been saying it, our tight end is very important to our offense,” Craddock said.
“I think now you’re starting to see that. Obviously, getting C.J. (O’Grady) going. Then (Austin) Cantrell making a play too across the middle. We try to take advantage of what they give us.”
Arkansas’ defense, which has played pretty well for four games and exceptionally in the 24-17 loss to the explosive Texas A&M Aggies, obviously took a backward statistical step absorbing 65 points and 639 yards of total offense inflicted by Alabama’s free flowing Crimson Tide.
John “Chief” Chavis, the most veteran of the SEC’s defensive coordinators, didn’t mince words.
“I am gonna start with the way I feel,” Chavis said. “l’m disappointed, but I'm not disappointed in our players by no stretch of our imagination. We've got to coach them better, get them prepared better. We have got to play better and that's where we are.”
In Chavis’ defense, Alabama scored 21 after Arkansas’ three turnovers.
Two came on drives after Ty Storey fumbles and one directly on the pick-six that Storey threw to receiver Chase Harrell, but deflected off Harrell’s fingers to Alabama defensive back Shyheim Carter and returned for a 44-yard touchdown.
And that Tide offense that rolled on Arkansas has rolled over everybody else it played at a nationally leading rate.
“I used to say 1995 (when Chavis coordinated Tennessee’s defense) we faced an Ohio State team in a bowl game and I thought maybe at that time the best offense we ever played against,” Chavis said. “I can't say that any longer.”