FAYETTEVILLE — The Razorbacks will be without star running back Rocket Sanders once again for the Arkansas vs Mississippi State matchup Saturday.
During his weekly Monday press conference, head coach Sam Pittman revealed the reigning All-SEC selection would miss his second straight game, but did not reveal a specific timeline for his return. In fact, he was non-committal when asked about whether or not Sanders would return at all in 2023.
“I really don’t know,” Pittman said. “It just depends on how he feels and the progression of his rehab.”
The Rockledge, Fla., native also missed the Kent State, BYU and LSU games because of a knee injury suffered in the opener against Western Carolina. However, he had started the previous two games leading up to the matchup with Alabama.
That made him a surprise scratch against the Crimson Tide, as he didn’t even travel with the team to Tuscaloosa. Pittman told reporters after the game that he “went to get some more rehab” and then said on Monday that it was following Tuesday’s practice that he found out Sanders “wasn’t confident in his knee yet.”
With him out, the Razorbacks will have to lean on what was believed to be a strength of their team before the season — the depth of their running back room.
Rashod Dubinion and AJ Green have emerged as the top two options, with Dubinion getting the bulk of the action of late. He’s carried the ball 39 times over the last four games, compared to Green’s 10 carries. It’s a similar story for snap count distribution, as Dubinion has played 122 snaps over that span and Green has played just 34, according to Pro Football Focus.
That was particularly on display with Sanders unavailable against Alabama, with the breakdown between the two backs being 44 snaps to 16 and 14 carries to 6.
“We felt like (Dubinion) could get the tough inside yards a little bit more, so that’s where we were going there,” Pittman said. “But we believe in both of them and we’ll probably split the difference this week with them.”
The decision to split their reps more evenly is likely the result of Green being the far more productive running back both against the Crimson Tide and for the season.
Despite having far fewer opportunities, Green still leads the team in rushing with 239 yards on 38 carries — including a team-high 44 yards on Saturday. That’s a 6.3-yard average on the season. Even if his 55-yard touchdown run against BYU is excluded, he’s averaging a respectable 5.0 yards per carry.
Dubinion, on the other hand, is averaging only 3.3 yards per carry (213 yards on 65 carries) and managed just 26 yards on his 14 carries against Alabama. He was the running back on the field during Arkansas’ final drive and tripped after a 2-yard gain on a play that might have gotten the Razorbacks into field goal range.
Making the playing time disparity even more of a head-scratcher is that Green has been more consistent on a play-to-play basis, as well.
According to research by Best of Arkansas Sports, Green has only two negative runs and 10 carries of 0-2 yards. Those plays account for only 31.6% of his total attempts this season. Those kinds of runs account for 44.6% of Dubinion’s carries, as he has nine negative runs and 20 carries of 0-2 yards.
Some of that could probably be attributed to a struggling offensive line, but in a seven-game sample size, Green has by far been the most effective running back.
Arkansas Football’s Weekly Press Conference
Here are several other updates from the fourth-year coach’s weekly Monday press conference, in which he looked back at the Alabama loss, previewed the Arkansas vs Mississippi State matchup, gave some injury updates and more…
- On facing Mississippi State: We’re excited to play Mississippi State. Very physical team. They’ve had some injuries, as well. We don’t know exactly who they’ll play at quarterback and running back. The two quarterbacks are two completely different styles that we have to prepare for. We don’t know where that is. Defensively, they’re all over the place. A lot of movement, a lot of blitzing, a lot of zone coverage.
- On the cornerbacks: I think we’re going to get Braxton back. That’ll help us tremendously. I think Kee’yon will be fine. Snaxx had a nice game out there. I think we’ll be fine at cornerback as long as Braxton gets back.
- On first-year Mississippi State head coach Zach Arnett: I think he’s done a really good job. He’s been hit with injuries. He’s tried to take them to a new offense. Obviously he’s still working with the defense, but I’m sure it’s a little bit different. I have a lot of respect for him. I think if they stay with him, he’ll bring a tough, physical team. A lot of their situations come from injuries.
- On MSU backup quarterback Mike Wright: He throws better than I want him to. He’s fast. Obviously they’ll run designed runs for him, not just read plays. A lot of fly sweeps with the option to pitch or keep. They’re reading the defensive end.
- On Mississippi State’s defense: We’re probably going to have to throw it a little bit more, to be honest with you. This is a feast or famine type of defense. They’re very aggressive on first down. We’ll have to do something different than just hand it off and run it at the A-gaps.
- On Landon Jackson’s improvement from last year: What he’s doing better now than in the past is he’s turning the corner. He’s gotten the edge against the tackle, but he hasn’t always been able to plant and turn the edge. He’s a little better with his moves, but the key is when he turns, he’s turning now. He’s not wasting movement. He’s getting straight to the quarterback.
- On the offense putting together two late TD drives vs. Alabama: It can’t all be gloom and doom just because you lose. You have to find things you can do better and coach better, but you always have to find something good. Certainly we made some plays there. Some of our up-tempo stuff helped us. I thought KJ made some big, big plays. He ran better than he has all year when he took off.
- On Antonio Grier’s improved play: Yeah, he was hurt. Didn’t really have time to practice. Obviously we’ve always thought he’s a pretty good football player. He just has been hurt. Nagging stuff, not major. Had a (hamstring) forever that we couldn’t quite get healthy. Just now he’s not hurt. He always hasn’t had a problem with confidence. He’s just playing healthy now.
- On Max Fletcher: He’s the greatest thing, watch him when he gets a good punt. I mean, he’ll fire up everybody. He’s so excited. I’ll be honest, I didn’t know if he was going to be where he is right now, but he’s a weapon now. If you can gain 10, 12, 8, 6 yards every time you do something, before you know it the field will flip for you as long as you’re not turning it over. Really, really proud of him, and Cam Little’s just, he’s just a bad ass. That’s what he is.
- On the importance of Saturday’s game: We have to win. We have to. When the season starts, you have all these goals and there are still some attainable goals we have. Our kids know. This game Saturday is a big, big game for us.
Watch Arkansas football coach Sam Pittman’s full press conference ahead of Arkansas vs Mississippi State here:
Arkansas Football Injury Report
Here’s the latest on various Arkansas football players dealing with injuries ahead of Arkansas vs Mississippi State…
- RB Rocket Sanders (knee): Missed the Alabama game (did not travel) and already declared out vs. Mississippi State… Timeline for a return is unclear
- LB Chris Paul Jr. (undisclosed): Did not travel to Tuscaloosa… Pittman said he was hopeful he’ll return to practice Monday and be available to play this week
- CB Dwight McGlothern (concussion): Traveled, but did not play against Alabama despite practicing and having encouraging updates throughout the week… Asked about him Monday, Pittman said, “I have no idea, to be honest with you.”
- DT Cam Ball (undisclosed): Traveled, but did not play against Alabama… Pittman said he’s “got a chance” to play against Mississippi State
- CB Jaylon Braxton (undisclosed): Did not travel to Tuscaloosa… Pittman sounded confident that he’ll be back this week
- S Alfahiym Walcott (undisclosed): Played against Alabama despite suffering an injury against Ole Miss and missing practice earlier in the week
- CB Kee’yon Stewart (undisclosed): Shaken up and helped off the field during the Alabama game… Pittman said he’s “going to be fine”
- OL Devon Manuel (stinger): Traveled, but did not play for a second straight week… No update from Pittman, but he’s said in the past that he needs to go through a full week of practice in order to play
- DE John Morgan III (neck): Returned to action vs. Alabama after missing the Ole Miss game with a neck injury suffered against Texas A&M
- DE Jashaud Stewart (groin): Returned to action vs. Alabama after missing the previous two games
- OL Eli Henderson (undisclosed): Did not travel to Tuscaloosa
- OL Joey Su’a (undisclosed): Did not travel to Tuscaloosa… Has not dressed out this season
- OL Luke Brown (undisclosed): Did not travel to Tuscaloosa… Has not dressed out this season
- DT Marcus Miller (undisclosed): Did not travel to Tuscaloosa… Has not dressed out this season
- DB Dallas Young (undisclosed): Did not travel to Tuscaloosa… Has not dressed out this season
- TE Luke Hasz (broken clavicle): Out for the season… Could potentially return for a bowl game if Arkansas makes one
- CB Quincey McAdoo (neck): Out for the season
- OL Terry Wells (torn pec): Out for the season
- WR Sam Mbake (knee): Out for the season
Arkansas Football Depth Chart
The following depth chart for Arkansas vs Mississippi State was released to the media by the UA in its weekly game notes…
For a breakdown of how the depth chart has evolved throughout the season, click here.
(NOTE: It’s important to remember that this depth chart is essentially worthless, as has been proved time and time again.)
|QB||KJ Jefferson||Jacolby Criswell|
|RB||Rocket Sanders||AJ Green -OR-|
|TE||Ty Washington||Francis Sherman||Nathan Bax -OR-|
|WR||Andrew Armstrong||Davion Dozier|
|WR||Isaac TeSlaa||Isaiah Sategna||Bryce Stephens|
|WR||Tyrone Broden -OR-||Jaedon Wilson||Dazmin James|
|LT||Andrew Chamblee -OR-||Devon Manuel|
|LG||Brady Latham||Josh Street|
|C||Beaux Limmer||Amaury Wiggins|
|RG||Joshua Braun||Ty’Kieast Crawford|
|RT||Patrick Kutas||E’Marion Harris|
- For the first time this season, there is an “or” at running back. It is between Dubinion and Green as the backup behind Sanders. However, it’s worth noting that Sanders has been listed first all season despite missing four games and Dubinion has received the bulk of the reps lately, as mentioned above.
- There was also a shuffle at wide receiver. There is now an “or” between Broden and Wilson for the third starting wide receiver spot. However, Broden had been getting starter reps the last several games despite being listed as a backup. As a result, Dozier is listed as a backup behind Armstrong and Sategna/Stephens are listed behind TeSlaa.
- There is still an “or” between Chamblee and Manuel at left tackle, but Chamblee has started six of seven games this year, including last week at Alabama.
|DE||Landon Jackson||John Morgan III||Jashaud Stewart|
|DT||Cam Ball||Taurean Carter||Keivie Rose|
|DT||Eric Gregory||Anthony Booker Jr.|
|DE||Trajan Jeffcoat||Zach Williams|
|LB||Chris Paul Jr.||Antonio Grier -OR-||Brad Spence|
|LB||Jaheim Thomas||Jordan Crook|
|NB||Hudson Clark||TJ Metcalf||Jaylen Lewis|
|CB||Lorando Johnson||Dwight McGlothern||Kee’yon Stewart|
|S||Alfahiym Walcott||Malik Chavis|
|S||Jayden Johnson||TJ Metcalf|
|CB||Jaylon Braxton||Jaheim Singletary||LaDarrius Bishop|
- The secondary has been shuffled to reflect how Arkansas has played the last two games while dealing with injuries. Lorando Johnson and Jaylon Braxton are now listed as a starting cornerbacks, despite the latter missing the Alabama game because of injury. Hudson Clark is now listed as the starting nickel after previously being listed as a backup safety – despite being a starter for several weeks. Dwight McGlothern is listed as a second-teamer after missing the last two games because of a concussion.
- It’s also worth noting that Ball and Paul are listed as starters despite missing the last game with injuries.
- There is an “or” between Grier and Spence as Paul’s backup, but Grier got the starting nod in his absence.
- Rose is listed as a third-team tackle, but got the start over Carter in Ball’s absence.
|K/KO||Cam Little||Blake Ford|
|P||Max Fletcher||Devin Bale|
|LS||Eli Stein||Ashton Ngo|
|H||Max Fletcher||Devin Bale|
|KOR||Isaiah Sategna||AJ Green|
|PR||Isaiah Sategna||Bryce Stephens|
- No changes were made to the special teams depth chart for Arkansas vs Mississippi State.
How to Watch Arkansas vs Mississippi State
Date: Saturday, Oct. 21
Location: Donald W. Reynolds Razorback Stadium (Fayetteville, Ark.)
Kickoff Time and TV Schedule: 11 a.m. CT (SEC Network)
Announcers: Mark Jones (play-by-play), Louis Riddick (color analyst), Quint Kessenich (sideline reporter)
Arkansas’ Rankings: NR (AP) | NR (Coaches) | No. 48 (SP+) | No. 31 (FPI)
ESPN FPI: Arkansas has an 67.6% chance to win
SP+ Projection: Arkansas has a 56% chance to win, favored by 2.7 (proj. score: 30-27)
Odds/Betting Line: Arkansas, -7.5 | O/U 50.5 (BetSaracen)
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