FAYETTEVILLE — The Arkansas football team will be without yet another key contributor for the Liberty Bowl, Best of Arkansas Sports has learned.
Starting defensive tackle Isaiah Nichols plans to enter the transfer portal and won’t play against Kansas in Memphis on Dec. 28, a UA spokesperson confirmed. His decision was first reported by WholeHogSports.
One of 12 Razorbacks eligible to use an extra year of eligibility next season, Nichols is the sixth whose status for 2023 is known. Tight end Trey Knox and punter Reid Bauer have also entered the transfer portal, while center Ricky Stromberg declared for the NFL Draft and defensive end Jordan Domineck has announced he’ll be back.
The other known decision is left tackle Luke Jones not returning, as head coach Sam Pittman announced Friday. He didn’t go into specifics, but the third-year coach also indicated that the others would likely return.
That group includes defensive end Zach Williams, defensive back LaDarrius Bishop, safety Simeon Blair, tight end Nathan Bax, defensive back Trent Gordon and walk-on quarterback Cade Fortin.
Limited Liberty Bowl Roster for Arkansas Football
Isaiah Nichols joins defensive backs Myles Slusher and Khari Johnson, wide receivers Ketron Jackson Jr. and Warren Thompson, Knox, and Bauer as Arkansas football players with multiple starts in 2022 who have entered the transfer portal since it opened up earlier this month.
That list doesn’t include safety Jalen Catalon, who started the opener before going down with a season-ending injury. He also entered the transfer portal after starting 16 games for the Razorbacks.
A trio of starters — Stromberg, wide receiver Jadon Haselwood and linebacker Drew Sanders — have opted out of the bowl to focus on the 2023 NFL Draft, while linebacker Bumper Pool had hip surgery before the Missouri game and will be unavailable.
All together, players who started a combined 95 games — 50 on offense and 45 on defense — for the Razorbacks will not play against Kansas. That is more than one-third of their total starts on both sides of the ball.
Throw in all of the reserves who also entered the transfer portal — Nichols will be the 18th scholarship player to do so — as well as injuries to players like Taurean Carter and LaDarrius Bishop and the indefinite suspension of Jalen St. John, the Arkansas football roster will have only 56 available scholarship players for the Liberty Bowl, by Best of Arkansas Sports’ count.
That is a significant number because during the pandemic-altered 2020 seasons, the threshold for postponing games in the event of a COVID-19 outbreak on a team was 53 available scholarship players.
According to Pro Football Focus, the Razorbacks who won’t play against Kansas accounted for 3,410 offensive snaps (34.3% of all snaps), 2,583 defensive snaps (26.0%) and 787 special teams snaps (19.3%).
As for how Arkansas will specifically replace Nichols in the Liberty Bowl, Terry Hampton and Cam Ball were spotted getting first-team reps in a four-man front at Friday’s practice. In a three-man front, Hampton would presumably get the nod.
Isaiah Nichols with the Razorbacks
A three-star recruit in the 2018 class, Isaiah Nichols played his high school ball just up the road at Springdale High. He turned down offers from the likes of Iowa State, Kansas State, Mississippi State, Missouri and North Carolina State to stay home and play for the Razorbacks.
Part of the first group of players that got to benefit from the four-game redshirt rule, Nichols appeared in three games as a true freshman, but maintained his year of eligibility.
From that point on, he was part of Arkansas’ defensive line rotation, playing 296 defensive snaps as a redshirt freshman in 2019, 457 snaps in 2020, 362 snaps in 2021 and 422 snaps this season. Including his redshirt year, Nichols played 1,580 career defensive snaps for the Razorbacks.
A part-time starter the past two seasons, starting 11 of 23 games, Nichols became a full-time starter in 2022 and played more than any other defensive tackle on the roster.
Despite all of that playing time, he wasn’t particularly productive on the stat sheet. He finished this season with only 16 tackles, one tackle for loss, two quarterback hurries and one pass breakup. He received a 55.1 PFF grade this season, which was down from the solid 69.7 mark he earned last year.
Nichols ends his Arkansas football career with 78 tackles, including six for loss and 2.5 sacks.
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