FOUR DOWNS – ARKANSAS VS. OLE MISS NOTES
1. Gragg “Ready To Go”
Arkansas tight end Chris Gragg took to Twitter on Monday to let everyone know he’d be back on the field when the Razorbacks play Ole Miss on Saturday.
If that wasn’t enough of an indication the senior was healthy and ready to play, there was one more sign Tuesday. Gragg strolled into the post-practice interview room.
“I want Tyler (Wilson) to throw it to me as many times as he can,” Gragg said. “It feels like I have a lot of making up to do. I want to help this offense as much as I can.”
The Arkansas offense, which turned in its best performance of the season during the 49-7 win against Kentucky on Oct. 13, will have a key weapon back on the field against the Rebels. Gragg – the team’s second-leading receiver – is on track to earn his first playing time since suffering a bone bruise in his knee and leg on Sept. 22.
Gragg was leading the team in receptions at the time of his injury, pulling in 19 passes for 234 yards and 2 touchdowns. So offensive coordinator Paul Petrino said having Gragg back in the gameplan should be another boost for the Razorbacks.
“Any time you can have one of your best players back, that makes a defense worried about him, it stretches the field,” Petrino said. “There’s a big difference with a tight end that can run like he can compared to one that can’t.”
Gragg, who has been wearing a brace on his injured knee during practice, said the low blow from a Rutgers player did “scare” him. His leg buckled from the hit and the tight end said he heard some “cracking and popping” in his knee after it happened.
Gragg, who hasn’t watched the hit on film, said he is experiencing some soreness in his leg after missing three straight games. But – barring an unforeseen setback - it won’t sideline him any longer as Arkansas begins its final stretch Saturday.
“Once I’m out there playing and everything, I don’t think about it. I don’t feel it,” Gragg said. “The coaches said I’m looking pretty fast on film, so I’m ready to go.”
Gragg’s return will give Arkansas its full compliment of weapons for one of the few times this season. Wilson and his top two receivers — Gragg and Cobi Hamilton — have only been on the field together four quarters this season because of injuries.
“He looked like he hasn’t missed a beat,” Wilson said. “He’s catching the ball just like he always catches it. He’s fast. I don’t think he’s lost a step.”
2. Wilson Wants Wins
Wilson isn’t among 16 seniors named semifinalists for the Davey O’Brien Award, which recognizes the nation’s top quarterback. But he shrugged it off Tuesday.
“We’re focused on our goals, and that’s to win this week,” Wilson said. “All that other stuff, yeah, throughout the season they do narrow it down to a list of guys. Obviously, you want to be on there, because you’ve a competitor, and you think you’re a pretty good player. But we’ve got to go win this week.”
Wilson — who missed six quarters after suffering a concussion against Louisiana-Monroe — has completed 124 of 205 passes for 1,957 yards with 14 touchdowns and 5 interceptions. He leads the SEC in passing yards a game (326.2), second in total offense (328.2 yards) and third in passing efficiency (158.3 rating).
3. Pads Popping
Petrino believes Arkansas put together one of its best practices of the season Tuesday. One telling sign: The noises coming from the field.
“I heard the pads popping out there (Tuesday) at practice,” Petrino said. “That’s probably the best I’ve heard the pads popping that I can remember this year. That excites you. I’m ready to watch them go play this weekend.”
Arkansas still has two days of work remaining before Saturday’s game, but Wilson said the Razorbacks did get off to a good start after the off week.
“As far as intensity, as far as execution, as far as everything goes, we were hitting on all cylinders (Tuesday),” Wilson said. “That’s really where you expect it to be.”
4. Turnover Danger
Ole Miss’ defense ranks 11th in the SEC in scoring (26.6 points a game), but Petrino said the group has been opportunistic. The Rebels have forced 16 turnovers in seven games, which is tied for the fourth-highest mark in the conference.
“I think they’re playing hard,” Petrino said. “I think they run to the football. They get a lot of guys around the ball. They’re doing a good job of stripping it and causing some turnovers. … We’ve just got to get ready to go and do a better job.”
Arkansas has committed 17 turnovers this season. But the Razorbacks are coming off a turnover-free performance in the Kentucky win, which was its first in 2012.
— Robbie Neiswanger • Arkansas News Bureau