FAYETTEVILLE – As of noon Monday for his weekly press conference, Arkansas Coach Sam Pittman said he did not know the availability of injured Razorbacks Feleipe Franks and Grant Morgan for the Razorbacks’ regular-season finale against the nationally No. 1 already SEC West champion Alabama Crimson Tide.
Arkansas, 3-6 in this SEC coronavirus influenced entirely SEC schedule, and Coach Nick Saban’s Crimson Tide, 9-0, kick off at 11 a.m. Saturday on ESPN at Reynold Razorback Stadium.
Graduate transfer quarterback, Franks , the starter for Arkansas’ previous eight games, dressed out but did not play in last Saturday’s 50-48 loss at Missouri because of a lingering rib injury suffered late during Arkansas’ 27-24 loss to LSU on Nov. 21.
Senior middle linebacker and Butkus Award finalist Morgan of Greenwood injured a knee during last Saturday’s third quarter and had to watch on crutches while Mizzou scored 27 fourth-quarter points including the game-ending, game-winning field goal after Arkansas took a 48-47 lead with 43 seconds left in the game.
“We have no idea,” Pittman replied to a question about Morgan. “I haven’t seen him. Same way with Feleipe – haven’t seen him. We’ve got to find out about his (Morgan’s) knee. He won’t practice today. We’ll see if he can do something tomorrow. But I have no idea what his status will be for Saturday at this time.”
Franks apparently was going to try some things in Monday’s closed practice.
“The trainers have been with Feleipe and all those things,” Pittman said Monday. “But we haven’t seen him move or throw or anything like that. We’ll get that opportunity today. So I don’t really have an update as far as his availability yet. We’ll know more on that after today’s practice, and tomorrow and Wednesday. He has done a nice job of throwing it to our guys and not the opponent. He’s had a really good year and it’s certainly helped him, in my opinion, towards the NFL Draft.”
Franks as a leader and statistical producer, 158 of 228 passes for 2,017 yards with 17 touchdowns vs. four interceptions and the team’s third-leading rusher with 229 yards, has compiled a superb season.
However even if able to play Saturday, Franks “absolutely” will share some time with redshirt freshman backup quarterback KJ Jefferson, Pittman said.
The emergency starter against Mizzou, Jefferson last Saturday in Columbia, Mo. completed 18 of 33 passes for 274 yards and three touchdowns vs. no interceptions and rushed 13 times, with a 16-yard long run, for 32 yards including quarterback sneaking a 1-yard touchdown.
“I mean, the guy (Jefferson) played a great game,” Pittman said. “Absolutely. You know, it’s hard to say what the game plan’s going to be on ifs – if Feleipe plays, if he doesn’t, things of that nature. Certainly KJ’s earned the right to play some ball and Feleipe’s earned the right to be our starter. So we’ll just kind of go from there. If Feleipe can’t practice early in the week, we’ll certainly we have no problem at all going with KJ. If he can, then we’ll make a decision sometime in the mid part of the week.”
Asked to amplify on Jefferson’s game against Mizzou, Pittman replied, “I mean, anybody could see he had a great football game. He took care of the ball, he ran the offense. Certainly I’m really, really proud of him. I loved everything about him on Saturday. I really did.”
Morgan wasn’t the only crucial Arkansas second-half defensive injury last Saturday against Missouri.
Starting cornerback Montaric Brown also ailed and had to be replaced.
Will Brown be available against Alabama?
“Again that will have to be something that we will have to see how he does today,” Pittman said. “And how he moves forward throughout the week. But yes he was beat up a little bit on Saturday.”
The defense got just plain beat last Saturday yielding 50 points and 653 yards and in the final 43 seconds couldn’t stop Mizzou quarterback Connor Bazelak passing the Tigers from their 25 to the Arkansas 15 setting up Harrison Mevis’ game-winning 32-yard field goal.
“They whipped us,” Pittman said. “We lost the edge on a couple of long runs in the fourth quarter. We were trying some zone coverage and they would throw it underneath us on some quick outs, quick stop routes. We tried some man coverage and we couldn’t cover them man-to-man. And we couldn’t get pressure on the quarterback. On third down, we couldn’t get off the field. Losing Grant Morgan probably hurt us a little bit in the fact that he’s there for alignments. But the bottom line is they out-physicaled us in the fourth quarter.”
Given that 38 points marks the fewest that Alabama has scored this season while twice scoring 63, the Hogs, rolled 48-7 by last year’s Tide in Tuscaloosa, Ala. know the consequences if their defense doesn’t improve dramatically from last week to this week.
“Their offense is incredible,” Pittman said. “Stopping them. I mean, I don’t know that anybody has. We’ve proved that we’re a little bit better with a team that just is a throwing football team. But when you’re able to do both like Missouri was able to do both and like Alabama can do both in the best way possible, those guys are scary.”
Since senior running back and offensive co-captain Rakeem Boyd last week opted out for the season to concentrate on preparing for the NFL draft, senior offensive tackle Myron Cunningham has been voted to join Franks as offensive co-captain, Pittman said.
Although seniors during this covid-19 affected season have the option of returning next year to play Razorbacks football, Pittman said all Razorbacks seniors will be honored on Saturday’s Senior Day.
“We don’t know exactly who’s going to come back next year and who’s not,” Pittman said. “So, every senior on our team will go through the ceremony before the game.”