FOUR DOWNS – ARKANSAS VS. SOUTH CAROLINA NOTES
1. Mitchell Still Missing
Arkansas coach John L. Smith remained mum regarding the details surrounding receiver Brandon Mitchell’s status Monday.
When asked, once again, whether Mitchell’s absence from the past two games was related to an NCAA compliance issue, Smith declined to elaborate.
“I don’t want to comment anymore on him,” Smith said. “We’ll just wait and see. We’ll let you know.”
It has been Smith’s response regarding Mitchell’s status since he was held out of the Ole Miss loss. Smith was asked after the game if it had anything to do with NCAA rules violations or compliance issues and deemed it a “violation of team rules.” He called it an “internal deal” last week and Mitchell’s status remained “up in the air.”
Arkansas athletic director Jeff Long and Jon Fagg, the school’s associate athletic director for compliance, have not been available for comment.
A Freedom of Information request for documents pertaining to any correspondence between Fagg and the NCAA did not produce results regarding Mitchell, although an athletic department official indicated “additional pages of responsive records exist but they are exempt from disclosure because they constitute an ‘education record’ as defined in the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act.”
Mitchell is Arkansas’ third-leading receiver, catching 15 passes for 257 yards this season. He also is Arkansas’ third-team quarterback, throwing a key touchdown pass on a trick play during the 24-7 win against Auburn last month.
If Arkansas reports any rules violations to the NCAA or Southeastern Conference regarding Mitchell, it would put a damper on its recent celebration.
The athletic department’s status as a repeat violator with the NCAA expired last month. Long said the program had worked hard to improve its image with the NCAA and was proud of the results in recent years. He also cautioned the expiration of the repeat violator window didn’t mean the Razorbacks would relax in terms of NCAA compliance, referencing a recent message sent to chancellor David Gearhart.
“In the message that I shared with the chancellor, we’re proud to have reached this benchmark and have come out of this period, this repeat violator status,” Long said in an interview last month. “But I wanted to assure him our resolve is still here and we’ll continue to work to guard against them. But also share that should we find a major infraction, we will not turn our backs, we will not turn our heads, we will investigate it and carry it through to the full extent of the NCAA rules.”
2. Smith Earns SEC Honor
Arkansas defensive end Chris Smith was named the Southeastern Conference's co-defensive lineman of the week Monday.
Smith earned the honor after helping the Razorbacks earn a 19-15 win against Tulsa last Saturday. Smith sacked Tulsa quarterback Cody Green and forced a fumble that was recovered by defensive tackle Byran Jones in the final minute to wrap up the win. He shared the weekly award with Florida defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd
Smith also finished with a team-high 8 tackles, 1 1/2 tackles for losses, two quarterback hurries and two pass breakups in the win.
“I am just blessed to get that,” Smith said of the SEC honor. “A lot of people have been texting me and everything like that. It’s just good. I wish I could get it every week. I'm just trying to put on another performance this week.”
Smith ranks fourth in the SEC with 5 1/2 sacks this season and is tied for 10th with 8 tackles for loss. Smith also leads the Razorbacks in quarterback hurries (10) and his tackle total (37) is the highest among Arkansas' defensive linemen.
3. Davis 50-50, Gragg Doubtful
Arkansas will likely be without tight end Chris Gragg for the South Carolina game, according to Smith. He said there’s a chance running back Knile Davis could return from the hamstring injury that sidelined him for the Tulsa win.
“We will see how Knile is going to do this week,” Smith said. “I think that’s kind of a key, and to see how sore he’s going to be. Get him out (Tuesday), get him running a little bit. I totally doubt Chris. I just think we’re pushing the envelope by even thinking about him being ready this week. If I had to say on Knile — again, we’ll have to wait and see — but 50/50 is probably his best shot.”
4. Another Early Kick
The SEC television schedule for Nov. 17 was set Monday. Arkansas will have another early kickoff when it travels to play at Mississippi State.
The game will be televised by the SEC Network with kickoff set for 11:21 a.m. It will be the sixth time in seven games Arkansas will begin before noon. The Razorbacks are 2-2 in morning kickoffs heading into Saturday’s 11 a.m. start at South Carolina.
— Robbie Neiswanger • Arkansas News Bureau