FAYETTEVILLE – Various conspiracy theorists floated rumors that Arkansas graduate transfer quarterback Feleipe Franks quietly opted out of actively playing in Arkansas’ final two games last Saturday against Missouri and this Saturday’s 11 a.m. against the nationally No. 1 ranked 9-0 already SEC West champion Alabama Crimson Tide on ESPN at Reynolds Razorback Stadium.
They are wrong whether Franks can play or not play Arkansas Coach Sam Pittman asserted during his Thursday noon press conference with Franks set trying to practice Thursday afternoon despite a Nov. 21 rib injury against LSU scratching from playing last Saturday against Mizzou.
Redshirt freshman KJ Jefferson quarterbacked the the now 3-6 Razorbacks’ 50-48 shootout loss to Missouri in Columbia, Mo.
Because so many players during this covid-19 plagued season have recently opted out of playing, including last week Rakeem Boyd, Arkansas’ senior Preseason All-SEC running back and offensive co-captain after missing the 30-28 loss Oct. 10 at Auburn with an ankle injury and the 27-24 Nov. 21 LSU loss after covid testing, players like Arkansas offensive co-captain and former Florida starting quarterback Franks get speculated as opting out if they miss a late-season game even while dressed out which Franks did in Columbia.
“Everybody’s got an opinion about everything,”Pittman said. “So last week, (people were) like, ‘Well, you know, he’s opting out. He’s not going to play.’ The kid was hurt.”
He’s not 100 percent now but trying to mend to playable,
“This week, he’s trying to play and it says a lot about him,” Pittman said “He wants to play. I have so much respect for that kid.”
The coach also respects Franks’ future.
“He’s got to feel well,” Pittman said, “I mean, would you like to go out there and play hurt against Alabama? I wouldn’t. If he’s healthy, we’re going to put him out there. If he’s not, we’re not.”
Jefferson’s 18 of 33 passing for 274 yards and three touchdowns and a 2-point conversion pass with no turnovers plus a rushing touchdown against Missouri certainly indicates all is not Arkansas lost if Franks can’t play,
“Obviously, KJ went in there and played so well,” Pittman said. “It gave us a look into our future.”
It seems doubtful that Arkansas senior middle linebacker and Butkus Award finalist Grant Morgan of Greenwood, on crutches during last Saturday’s fourth quarter after a third-quarter knee injury, will play Saturday.
Senior Hayden Henry and sophomore Andrew Parker have practiced all week in the middle alongside junior weakside starting linebacker Bumper Pool,
And it appears that Dalton Wagner will continue to start for sidelined for several games injured right tackle Noah Gatlin, and senior Blake Kern of Lamar continue start at tight end for in and out of the lineup, recently mostly out injured, redshirt freshman Hudson Henry.
Originally a walk-on, Kern had three letters as a blocker and special-teamer but never caught pass. This year he’s caught 18 for 182 yards with two touchdowns, one against Tennessee and one against Missouri.
“ Blake’s been valuable,” Pittman said. “I mean, just done a really, really good job. I think he played almost every rep last week against Missouri. Hudson … I don’t know… he plays it’ll be a limited situation.”
Starting cornerback Montaric Brown, injured during the second half against Missouri, has recovered, Pittman said.
Defensive end Julius Coates has not practiced this week and presumably is out of Saturday’s rotation.
Freshman safety Myles Slusher is deemed questionable, Pittman said but the Hogs do have star Jalen Catalon available for the entire game Saturday.
Catalon had to sit the first half against Mizzou because of a second-half targeting penalty the previous game against LSU.
Saturday’s regular-season curtain closer marks perhaps the Razorbacks’ most ever unusual Senior Day.
Because of covid-19 vastly altering everyone’s 2020 football schedule, including in the SEC eliminating the four nonconference games off its normal 12-game schedule and playing 10 SEC games, 2020 seniors have the option if their coaches concur to return senior eligible in 2021 or seek grad transferring for possibly better playing opportunities or move on to the NFL draft or to their beyond football careers or studies.
Under the circumstances, Pittman says it’s Senior Day for all, especially with 2021 options still pondered.
“ I’m hoping that we get a whole bunch of them that come back,” Pittman said of the seniors who suffered through 1-7, 0-8, and 0-8
SEC campaigns (2017 under Bret Bielema and 2018 and 2019 under Chad Morris) but have gone 3-6 and easily could be 3-6 with three losses combining just a 7-point difference). “This team, the ones that stayed with us, I think they’re proud of being an Arkansas Razorback. I’m not saying they weren’t in the past. But I’m proud of them. We fought every single game. We believed that we could win every single game. They’ll always be the group that I think about because of my first ever Division I (head coaching) football job. So very, very, very thankful for that group.”