By Nate Allen
Special to the News-Times
FAYETTEVILLE - Arkansas’ revived passing attack faces a banged-up Ole Miss secondary in Saturday night’s SEC West game at War Memorial Stadium in Little Rock.
Kickoff is 6:30 p.m. and televised by the SEC Network.
The Razorbacks (1-5, 0-3) enter Saturday’s game after completing 26-of-40 passes for 242 yards and two touchdowns (25-of 39-for 239 yards and a touchdown by starter Ty Storey, though he was intercepted once for a pick-six) against Alabama.
Meanwhile, though routing Louisiana-Monroe 70-21 last week, the Rebels (4-2, 0-2) are compelled because of injuries to play a couple of running backs as defensive backs.
“Arkansas presents a lot of challenges because of how much movement and motion they do,” Ole Miss coach Matt Luke said. “But (free safety) Zedrick Woods, who is our quarterback back there, thankfully has a lot of experience. But we will have to play Armani Linton who has been at running back. He will have to go over there and help us. The same thing with (5-6 reserve running back) Tylan Knight. He will go in and play a bunch just for depth.”
Arkansas coach Chad Morris was asked about the Ole Miss secondary.
“They’ve had some injuries, but they are very well coached,” Morris said. “A lot of experience back there. What we’ll do is just worry about ourselves and do what we do, try to get this football team better each week.”
Alabama presented the leading and most skilled offense in the country last Saturday in Fayetteville, but Morris implies Ole Miss isn’t far behind.
“When you look at their skill guys, they’re as good as anybody in the SEC from a skill position,” Morris said. “They have two, possibly even three, first-round receivers. They’re that talented. They have great speed. They’re very well experienced and I know that the quarterback (Jordan Ta’amu) makes them go. He has been very efficient and effective and he’s capable of running the football, so he’s very much a dual threat. It’s going to force us to have to cover not just sideline to sideline, but we also have to cover end zone to end zone with these guys.”
Wideouts A.J. Brown, D.K. Metcalf and tight end DaMarkus Loge are the Rebels’ pass-catchers that Morris predicts will be playing on Sundays someday in the NFL.
However, it’s not like Arkansas defensive coordinator John Chavis and staff can omit defending against the Rebels running.
Running back Scottie Phillips averages 7.1 yards per tote with 654 yards and eight touchdowns on 90 carries.
“I think he’s done a really good job of maximizing his opportunities,” Luke said. “He’s very elusive, quick through the hole and has the ability to get some yards after contact by running through people. We knew it was going to be a struggle to replace Jordan Wilkinson, a 1000-yard rusher from a year ago. Scottie has done an outstanding job not only carrying the ball, but he’s also had some catches (five for 59 yards and two touchdowns) out of the backfield here lately.”
Arkansas senior starting right tackle Johnny Gibson of Dumas, withheld from Tuesday’s practice because of “soreness,” will play against Ole Miss, Morris said before the Hogs practiced outside Wednesday.
Morris has lauded Gibson ever since he dropped his weight from 345 to 320 during the summer.
“I think Johnny has done a really good job,” Morris said. “Obviously, what he did coming out of summer and transitioning his body. He’s done a good job of moving around and continues to get better as the whole group does up front. Especially since we found the group of five.”
The five including installing sophomore Ty Clary at center, moving senior Hjalte Froholdt from center back to left guard where he has started the past two seasons, getting junior left tackle Colton Jackson of Conway back healthy after missing the season’s first two games because of July back surgery, with senior Brian Wallace continuing at right tackle.
True freshman Noah Gatlin of Jonesboro who started two games at tackle in Jackson’s absence, has been idled by an ankle injury and hasn’t played since Jackson returned to a starting role in the SEC opener against Auburn after playing off the bench against North Texas.
Gatlin was in a yellow no-practice jersey Wednesday.
Having played three games, two starts and playing the season opener as a reserve, Gatlin under the new NCAA redshirt rule, could play one game and still retain his freshman eligibility for 2019 as a redshirt.
“We’ll see if we can get him back ready to go,” Morris said. “We feel he can be a phenomenal player.”
Junior running back Devwah Whaley appears to have passed his concussion protocol sidelining him the past two games. Whaley is expected to back up sophomore junior college transfer Rakeem Boyd, who had 15 carries for 102 yards against Alabama.
“It will be great to get him (Whaley) back, but Rakeem Boyd has had a really good last few weeks,” Morris said.
Compelled Tuesday to practice inside the Walker Pavilion because of lightning, the Razorbacks worked outdoors Wednesday in 63 degrees and sunshine.
“Just a beautiful day to be back on the field,” Morris said.