HOGS: O'Grady to play; more notes
FAYETTEVILLE - Arkansas coach Chad Morris approached Wednesday’s practice confident senior tight end Cheyenne “C.J.” O’Grady would debut for his 1-0 Razorbacks in Saturday’s 6:30 p.m. SEC opener at Ole Miss.
He was less certain regarding senior starting left guard Austin Capps and Jamario Bell, the senior expected to promote to starting defensive end with senior first-teamer Dorian Gerald (strained neck artery) lost for the season.
Bell injured a knee late in the Portland State game and didn’t practice Sunday, Tuesday or Wednesday. Neither did Capps (sprained ankle against Portland State) on Sunday and Tuesday but he dressed out Wednesday. Freshman Ricky Stromberg drilled at right guard and junior college transfer Myron Cunningham worked left guard in the team session Wednesday that media viewed.
“Jamario’s kind of day to day right now,” Morris said pre-practice. “Austin is very much like Jamario. It will probably be a game-time decision with him.”
Morris anticipates Stromberg starting at a guard and true freshman Mataio Soli, his broken hand from the Portland State game protected in a padded cast, starting at defensive end along with senior regular D-end Gabe Richardson.
True freshmen Collin Clay and Zach Williams become the backup defensive ends with the availability of senior Gerald and Bell in doubt.
“We recruited them to come in and make an impact, and since they came in here, they’ve done that,” Morris said of the freshman D-ends. “They’re fantastic football players, and they’ll get better with time. I’m excited for the opportunity for these young guys.
“(Soli) was definitely a difference-maker in the spring and added some weight and bulk during the summer and has really progressed through the fall camp. So he and Collin Clay and a bunch of those young guys, we anticipate they’ll be able to play."
O’Grady was withheld from the Portland State game coming off mid-August arthroscopic knee surgery but had limited practices last week and full-tilt workouts this week.
“We're excited to have C.J. back and ready to go,” Morris said Wednesday. “He had a really good practice yesterday. I think we saw what C.J. (30 catches for 400 yards and six touchdowns) was capable of doing a year ago. Pretty much a playmaker at 6-4, 255 pounds who runs extremely well, is very athletic, creates mismatches in the passing game and can block.”
Junior Grayson Gunter, last week’s starting tight end, practiced behind O’Grady Wednesday while grad transfer Chase Harrell did not practice.
SHOOTOUT TO SLUG-OUT
In Arkansas’ 20-13 victory in Fayetteville over 28-point underdog lower division Portland State and Ole Miss’ 15-10 non-conference loss at Memphis, the defenses fared better than the offenses.
So does Morris anticipate a defensive battle despite the wild SEC West games that Arkansas won 53-52 in overtime in 2015 at Oxford, 34-30 in 2016 at Fayetteville, and 38-37 in 2017 at Oxford with the Rebels last year overcoming a deficit to win 37-33 in Little Rock?
“Both defenses played well last week and the offenses didn’t execute as well as they wanted to,” Morris said. “As far as it being a shootout or being a low-scoring game, that’s going to be hard to predict. I know we’ve got our hands full. Going on the road in this league is hard, and we’ve got to make sure we take care of business.”
Ole Miss head coach Matt Luke, noting the Rebels start redshirt freshman quarterback Matt Corral and Arkansas starts graduate transfer quarterback Ben Hicks, expects improvement from both offenses.
“I think you always expect to see improvement from Game 1 to Game 2,” Luke said. “You’ll definitely see some. I think anytime you’re trying to bring in new quarterbacks there is going to be some growing pains, but the biggest improvement is always from Week 1 to Week 2. The greatest teacher is getting out there and doing it.”
Luke does see Arkansas SEC veteran defensive coordinator John Chavis turning up the pressure given the Ole Miss vs. Memphis results.
“We struggled against pressure last week, so I expect to see that,” Luke said. “We’re going against Coach Chavis, He’s a great football coach and we’ve got a young defense.”