FOUR DOWNS – ARKANSAS VS. MISSISSIPPI STATE NOTES
1. Return Duties
Arkansas freshman Nate Holmes handled both kick and punt return duties for the Razorbacks during last Saturday’s 38-20 loss at South Carolina. But it appears Arkansas will be forced to reshuffle its return game plans once again with Holmes doubtful for Saturday’s game against Mississippi State after suffering a head injury.
Arkansas coach John L. Smith indicated running back Dennis Johnson, who is the SEC’s record holder in kick return yards, may return to his special teams role against Mississippi State. Johnson – who is averaging 18 yards on kick returns — moved out of the spot to concentrate on his work with the Arkansas offense.
Defensive back Kaelon Kelleybrew is handling punt return duties, while Smith said during his weekly radio show freshman receiver D’Arthur Cowan should have opportunities to help the Razorbacks in the return game as well.
“Kelleybrew would probably be the guy back there,” Smith said during the SEC’s weekly coaches teleconference. “Dennis can still do kickoffs as well, as you know. ...
“But we’ve been working mainly Kelleybrew as the punt guy.”
Kelleybrew has been working on punt returns all season, but is waiting for his first opportunity in a game. The senior does have experience in college, returning punts at Mississippi Valley State. If he holds the role Saturday, Kelleybrew will be the third Arkansas player to return punts this season (Holmes and Keante Minor).
“I’ve done it before,” Kelleybrew said. “It’s nothing new. I mean, as far as being in the SEC as a return man, that should be a very good test for me this weekend. As far as being back there, I definitely feel pretty comfortable back there.”
Arkansas will be hoping for a spark after struggling in the return game this season.
The Razorbacks are averaging 7.3 yards on punt returns and 18.5 on kickoffs, which ranks 11th and 14th, respectively, in the SEC. It’s a sharp decline from 2011, when Arkansas averaged 13.5 on punt returns and 23.2 on kickoffs. The Hogs scored six touchdowns in the return game in 2011, but have not found the end zone this year.
2. Freshmen Bounce Back
Arkansas freshmen linebackers A.J. Turner and Otha Peters endured a tough outing in the South Carolina loss. But Arkansas defensive coordinator Paul Haynes said the duo, which was in the lineup together for the first time, is ready for Saturday.
“They have grown a lot,” Haynes said. “Every rep that they take and every mistake that they make, they are going to continue to grow.”
Peters finished with a team-high 8 tackles last week, while Turner added 7. Both players were picked on in the passing game. But Defensive tackle Alfred Davis said he’s impressed with how hard the freshmen are working this week.
“Things slipped away from those guys a little bit early,” Davis said. “But for those guys to control themselves and calm down and finish the game strong, that was a good thing. As far as this week goes, they’ve come back to practice, they’ve worked their tails off and I think they’re ready for it.”
3. MSU To Honor Bell
Mississippi State will honor the late Nick Bell, who died from a rare form of skin cancer in Nov. 2010, before Saturday’s game against Arkansas.
Bell would’ve been a senior this season. His mother, Linda, is scheduled to attend the pregame senior day ceremonies, according to the Jackson Clarion-Ledger. The Bulldogs also have painted “Nick Bell 36” into one of the team’s end zones this week.
“It'll be a great opportunity to thank Nick's mom, who's always with us, continues to support everything we've done and say another good-bye to him on Saturday,” Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen said earlier this week.
Said Smith: “We’ve had our own person like that in Garrett Uekman. So we can relate to what they’re going through and honoring Nick. We think that’s a great deal as well.”
4. Mitchel Running Track?
Cornerback Tevin Mitchel posted a message on Twitter on Wednesday morning that indicated he would join the Arkansas track team after the football season.
Smith was asked about it Wednesday and said Mitchel wasn’t running track. Then Smith changed his tune: “Maybe he’s going to run track. That’s news to me.”
“I’m thinking he’s probably wanting to do that just to help with his speed and all of the things thinking down the road that it could help him,” Smith said.
Mitchel wouldn’t be the only current Razorback to compete in two sports. Receiver Cobi Hamilton was part of the track team earlier in his career. Quarterback Brandon Mitchell has played both football and basketball for the Razorbacks.
— Robbie Neiswanger • Arkansas News Bureau