FAYETTEVILLE – Arkansas starting quarterback Feleipe Franks has practiced this week but Arkansas senior starting middle linebacker Grant Morgan has not going into Wednesday afternoon practice, Arkansas Coach Sam Pittman confirmed Wednesday morning.
Pittman and Alabama Coach Nick Saban were both on Wednesday’s SEC Coaches/Media teleconference as this week Pittman’s 3-6 Razorbacks and Saban’s 9-0 nationally No. 1 already SEC West champion Crimson Tide prepare to close their SEC regular season campaigns with Saturday’s 11 a.m. ESPN televised SEC West game at Reynolds Razorback Stadium.
Franks traveled to but because of a lingering Nov. 21 rib injury from Arkansas’ 27-24 loss to LSU in Fayetteville did not play in last Saturday’s 50-48 loss to Missouri that Arkansas backup KJ Jefferson quarterbacked in Columbia, Mo.
Greenwood native Morgan, the nation’s leading tackler and a Butkus Award finalist for the award postseason honoring the nation’s best linebacker, injured a knee during last Saturday’s third quarter and had to watch on crutches as Mizzou scored 27 fourth-quarter points and won with a field goal on the game’s last play.
“Grant’s a leader for us, obviously he has not been able to practice yet at this time as of yesterday,”” Pittman said. We have a lot of confidence in (backup middle linebackers) Hayden Henry and Andrew Parker and those guys. They’ve been practicing this week. So I think we’ll be fine there regardless of whether he plays or whether he doesn’t. You lose a lot of tackles, you lose leadership. You certainly don’t want that to happen, but if he’s not able to play, well then, we’ve obviously recruited other linebackers and we’ll go in there and I know they’ll play hard.”
If they could fill Morgan’s shoes like Jefferson (18 of 33 passes for 274 yards and three touchdowns plus a rushing touchdown) did against Mizzou, the Razorbacks might hold their own even against the acknowledged best offense in college football.
For now Franks, the graduate transfer difference maker from taking last year’s 0-8 SEC Hogs without him to 3-5 in his eight starts that easily could be 5-4 given an egregious officiating error allowing Auburn to kick a 30-28 game-winning field goal after officials voided what should have been Arkansas recovering an Auburn fumble, and another Arkansas fumble recovery eye-brow raising voided against LSU, and Jefferson both practice like either could start against Alabama.
“Feleipe has practiced,” Pittman said. “We’re still working to see how he’s feeling. He’s done a nice job of practicing but he’s not 100 percent. We’ll continue obviously to practice today (Wednesday) tomorrow, and it’ll give him time to heal up a little bit more. Then we’ll make a decision game time on what we’re going to do at the quarterback position. Is there a potential for us to play both of them? The answer would be yes, assuming that Feleipe can play. Obviously if Feleipe can’t play, then that answer would be no.”
Pittman then said it’s not just potential but a definite that both would play if Franks can play. “If Feleipe plays, will KJ have the opportunity to play?” Pittman asked rhetorically. “Absolutely.”
Saban said the Tide faces a tough task whether up against Franks, or Jefferson or both. “I think both guys do a really, really good job,” Saban said. “He [Jefferson] really played well against Missouri last week. Really executed the offense well. The guy’s athletic. He’s a big, strong guy and he threw the ball effectively and threw it well. I thought he played really well. And I think Feleipe (155 of 280 for 2,017 yards with 17 touchdowns vs. four interceptions) has played really, really well all year long. He’s been effective as a passer and he’s extended plays and run when he’s needed to run. So I think both have done a really good job when they’ve gotten opportunities.”
As opposed to Arkansas’ quarterbacks “really good jobs,”
Alabama quarterback Mac Jones has done a Heisman Trophy candidacy worthy job, 193 of 255 passing for 3,113 yards and 27 touchdowns vs. three interceptions.
Alabama sports another Heisman Trophy candidate with receiver DeVonta Smith, 80 catches for 1,305 yards and 15 touchdowns, and a 1,000-yard running back with Najee Harris amassing 1,0389 yards and 20 touchdowns on 169 carries.
Asked if he was a Heisman voter which Alabama star would get his vote, former offensive line coach Pittman lengthily praised them all then said none of the above. “If I was going to vote for the Heisman for Alabama I’d vote their entire offensive line,” Pittman said.
Arkansas vast improvement over 2020 has come with new defensive coordinator and former Missouri head coach Barry Odom so masterminding the defense that he’s been nominated for the Broyles Award honoring the nation’s best assistant coach.
However the Hogs last week come off their season’s worst defensive performance now against the nation’s best offense.
Have they recovered from their miscues at Mizzou?
“I thought we were over the Missouri loss on Monday,” Pittman said Wednesday. “I thought we had a very good practice, a spirited practice. However, yesterday (Tuesday) for whatever reason, I didn’t feel like the practice was very good. Certainly we addressed it with our coaching staff and our players and I’m anticipating a very good practice today. We’ve got to get over it. I think we have. We better because we’re playing a really, really good football team on Saturday.”