FAYETTEVILLE — Leading up to the Auburn game, Arkansas football received some bad news about its starting running back from 2021.
Junior Dominique Johnson suffered a season-ending injury last week, tearing his right ACL in practice on Tuesday. It’s the same injury he suffered in the Outback Bowl that led to him not playing in the first three games this season.
Head coach Sam Pittman said it happened in a non-contact drill when he made a cut on air and it was revealed by an MRI a couple days later.
“It’s really unfortunate for the team (and) certainly for him,” Pittman said. “He actually practiced the next day, and then he did not practice on Thursday and we found out Thursday. … It’s certainly disheartening for him because he had worked so hard to try and get back.”
After a brief stint at tight end last fall, Johnson was a breakout star for the Razorbacks in 2021 and eventually worked his way into the starting role midway through the season.
He finished fourth on the team in rushing with 575 yards, but did so on far fewer carries. His 5.9-yard average was the best among Arkansas’ running backs and actually ranked seventh in the SEC, plus he had a team-high seven rushing touchdowns.
However, a torn ACL in the Outback Bowl kept him out of spring practice and fall camp. There was hope that he might be able to return by Week 2, but Johnson ended up not making his season debut until Week 4 against Texas A&M, when he rushed five times for 32 yards.
Despite the decent production, he got just two carries — which went for 11 yards — the following week against Alabama and he was stuffed at the goal line on his lone carry at Mississippi State. Even though he played a handful of snaps, Johnson didn’t touch the ball at BYU.
Pittman said Monday that the team is trying to look at “all the positives out of certainly a negative situation,” and one of those is the fact that those were the only four games in which he appeared. That means he’s eligible to redshirt this year and maintain the year of eligibility.
Plus, the timing of the injury should allow Johnson to get healthy in time to return to the field for fall camp next year, which Pittman said he believed would be very beneficial compared to his timeline the first time.
From Arkansas’ perspective, the silver lining is the fact that the Razorbacks have a pretty deep backfield led by the SEC’s leading rusher, Rocket Sanders. He recently tied Madre Hill’s record as the quickest player in school history to reach 1,000 yards, doing so in eight games.
Pittman has also praised backups AJ Green and Rashod Dubinion for their play this year and likes the three-man rotation they’ve utilized, which has kept Sanders’ workload from being too much and kept him healthy.
“AJ Green has improved as much as Rocket has, he just hasn’t had the big one yet, but I think he has,” Pittman said. “Inside running, turning up north and south, Green has improved his ability big-time.”
Historical Context for Dominique Johnson
It won’t be easy, but it’s not completely unprecedented for players to return and be productive after a pair of torn ACLs.
One example that comes to mind in Arkansas football history is Madre Hill, but he isn’t a perfect comparison because his two injuries were in opposite knees instead of the same one. He had a phenomenal 1995 season, reaching 1,000 yards quicker than anyone else in school history until Sanders, before going down in the SEC Championship Game.
That caused him to miss the 1996 season and then he hurt his other knee in the spring of 1997. Hill finally returned to the field in 1998 and ran for 669 yards in Houston Nutt’s first season. It was enough to get drafted and have a short stint in the NFL.
A more recent example of someone who tore the same ACL is Robert Griffin III, who did it once in college (when Kendal Briles was a Baylor assistant) and then again a few years later in the NFL. He managed to play a few years longer, but was not the same player as he was before the injury, when he was named the Offensive Rookie of the Year.
Casey Hampton, the former All-Pro defensive tackle for the Pittsburgh Steelers, had three ACL surgeries in his career, including two on his right knee and one on his left. He played 12 seasons in the NFL.
Arkansas Football’s Weekly Press Conference
Here are several other updates from the third-year coach’s weekly Monday press conference, in which he previewed the Arkansas vs Auburn matchup, gave some injury updates, took a final look back at the open week and more…
- On the upcoming game: We’re excited to play Liberty. They have a really good football team. Good talent. A lot of transfers on their team. Coach Freeze has done an outstanding job there. Only loss was to Wake Forest. Obviously beat BYU the week after we did.
- On what he saw after reviewing the Auburn film: I didn’t think we played well at some positions. We’ve got to get better there. Our special teams made way too many errors. Offensively, I thought our line played okay, but not as well as we can. I’m glad we won and can learn from all of those things.
- On the challenge of Liberty’s offense: They can run the ball. They have two really good RBs. The QB running is a major concern of ours.
- On the play of injured DBs returning last week: We’ve got to get better. When you don’t play for a period of time, you have to get the rust off. We have to get better. If you asked each of them, they’d tell you that. I think they’re better than how they played Saturday.
- On another 11 a.m. kickoff for next week’s game against LSU: Yes, I was certainly hoping for a night game. I will say this though, when we played South Carolina at 11 a.m., our stadium was packed and loud. That’s what it’ll be again. But it is concerning that if we had all day and had recruits for a night game, we could get more kids on campus.
- On being back playing at home: Thank you, Lord. It’s time to get back home. We truly have the greatest fans in the country and they want to see the Hogs play. It’s a big deal for me, our staff and our team to play in front of our fans.
- On which position Hudson Clark will play: I think, in all fairness to Clark, we need to leave him at one spot. He played well Saturday. I think Chavis will battle with McAdoo, to be honest with you. It’s time we got McAdoo out there. We need to increase his reps at practice and give him an opportunity to get on the field.
- On the characteristics of a Hugh Freeze-coached team: They can hit you and tackle you. It was the same thing when he was at Ole Miss. Offensively, it’ll be something you haven’t seen. They’re a well-oiled machine and they’re a really disciplined team. They’ve got a couple of good returners on special teams.
- On what he expects from Liberty: He’ll have them ready and they’ll have their best game all year. I expect a really close game and hopefully we can make enough plays to win.
- On Auburn firing Bryan Harsin: You hate to see anyone get let go. But I know he did it the way he wanted to do it and worked extremely hard. I hate for anyone to get let go. I don’t know the situation, but I’m sure he’ll be fine. He’s a really fine coach.
- On the recruitment of Rocket Sanders: It was all Zoom. I remember every time we got off the phone, I would ask if that was really him because he was so polite and so nice. Once he committed, he got a lot of offers and stayed with us. He wanted to be a big slot.
- On running back Rashod Dubinion: R-Dub is R-Dub. He was so smooth on his second touchdown. He doesn’t have any false reads. It was just a smooth 2-yard run.
- On wide receiver Matt Landers: His confidence has gotten better. He needs that. He’s catching the ball extremely well. To be honest, I think KJ is the one who’s really looking for him a little bit more. He’s playing really well.
- More on defensive back Hudson Clark: If we leave him at safety, we’ll have to bulk him up in the future. He gives it everything he has. There’s an invaluable aspect of that. You know what you’re going to get.
- On linebacker Jackson Woodard: I thought he played hard. Jackson is a great kid and all-in for the Hogs. He made a tackle or two. It was good to see him have an opportunity.
Watch Sam Pittman’s full interview here:
Arkansas Football Injury Report
Here’s the latest on various Arkansas football players dealing with injuries…
- RB Dominique Johnson (knee): Out for the year after tearing his ACL again in practice last week
- DB Malik Chavis (head): Expected to return this week… Wasn’t ruled out for the Auburn game until Friday
- DT Taurean Carter (knee): Been out since getting hurt in the Spring Showcase… Pittman is hopeful he might be able to return for the final two games of the regular season, or for the bowl game at the latest
- CB LaDarrius Bishop (knee): Out for the year
- S Jalen Catalon (shoulder): Out for the year
Arkansas Football Depth Chart
The following depth chart was released to the media by the UA in its weekly game notes…
(NOTE: It’s important to remember that this depth chart is essentially worthless, as has been proved time and time again.)
|QB||KJ Jefferson||Malik Hornsby||Cade Fortin|
|RB||Rocket Sanders||AJ Green||Rashod Dubinion|
|TE||Trey Knox||Nathan Bax||Hudson Henry|
|WR||Ketron Jackson Jr.||Warren Thompson|
|WR||Jadon Haselwood||Bryce Stephens|
|WR||Matt Landers||Jaedon Wilson|
|LT||Luke Jones||Andrew Chamblee|
|LG||Brady Latham||Jalen St. John|
|C||Ricky Stromberg||Patrick Kutas|
|RG||Beaux Limmer||E’Marion Harris|
|RT||Dalton Wagner||Ty’Kieast Crawford|
- There are no changes to the offensive depth chart.
- However, Johnson – the fourth running back listed – is out for the year with a torn ACL, as mentioned above.
- It’s also worth noting that went the second-team offensive line entered the game against Auburn, Limmer was at center and Devon Manuel was at left tackle.
|DE||Landon Jackson||Jashaud Stewart|
|DT||Terry Hampton||Eric Gregory|
|DT||Isaiah Nichols||Cam Ball|
|DE||Eric Gregory||Zach Williams -OR-||Jordan Domineck|
|MLB||Drew Sanders||Chris Paul Jr.|
|WLB||Bumper Pool||Jordan Crook||Jackson Woodard|
|NB||Myles Slusher||Jayden Johnson||Trent Gordon|
|CB||Dwight McGlothern||Keuan Parker|
|S||Latavious Brini||Khari Johnson|
|S||Simeon Blair||Jayden Johnson|
|CB||Malik Chavis -OR-||Hudson Clark|
- The most notable change is on the defensive line. Hampton is now listed as a starter ahead of Gregory, who – in addition to being listed as a backup defensive tackle – is now listed as a starting defensive end. He has started there the last two games. There is an “or” between Williams and Domineck for the backup spot behind Gregory.
- There is no longer an “or” between Slusher and Jayden Johnson at nickel.
- An “or” has been added at cornerback, between Chavis and Clark. Chavis missed the last game with a concussion. Clark has been playing safety and corner the last couple of games.
- It’s also worth noting that Paul appears to be the No. 3 linebacker, going in and getting most of the snaps when either Pool or Sanders goes out of the game.
|P||Reid Bauer||Max Fletcher|
|LS||Eli Stein||John Oehrlein -OR-||Francisco Castro|
|KOR||AJ Green||Rashod Dubinion||Harper Cole|
|PR||Bryce Stephens||Harper Cole|
- The only change is the addition of Cole as the third kickoff returner.
How to Watch Arkansas vs Liberty
Date: Saturday, Nov. 5
Location: Donald W. Reynolds Razorback Stadium (Fayetteville, Ark.)
Kickoff Time and TV Schedule: 3 p.m. CT (SEC Network)
Announcers: Taylor Zarzour (play-by-play), Aaron Murray (analyst), Alyssa Lang (sideline reporter)
Arkansas’ Rankings: RV (AP) | RV (Coaches) | No. 27 (SP+) | No. 38 (FPI)
ESPN FPI: Arkansas has a 75.6% chance to win (down 8.5 percentage points from preseason projection)
Odds/Betting Line: Arkansas, -14.5 | O/U 64.5 (FanDuel)
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