FOUR DOWNS – ARKANSAS VS. JACKSONVILLE STATE NOTES
1. Familiar Face
Some of Arkansas’ veteran defensive players will be familiar with Jacksonville State’s running back on Saturday.
Senior Washaun Ealey — a transfer from Georgia — rushed for 87 yards and a touchdown during Arkansas’ 31-24 win against the Bulldogs in 2010. Arkansas senior Tenarius Wright said he remembers Ealey, who amassed 1,528 yards and 14 touchdowns at Georgia before transferring to Jacksonville State.
“It’s going to be a great challenge for us to go out there and stop him,” Wright said.
Ealey is entering his second season at Jacksonville State after leading the team in rushing with 1,082 yards and 8 touchdowns last season. He is back as a key figure in an offense that also returns quarterbacks Marques Ivory and Coty Blanchard.
Jacksonville State coach Jack Crowe said Ealey won’t be alone in carrying the ball against the Razorbacks. The Gamecocks don’t want him overused in a nonconference game because of his importance to the team this season.
“How important is he? He’s the centerpiece,” Crowe said. “We’re going to have to use him wisely. … We’ve got to have more than just him.”
But Arkansas defensive coordinator Paul Haynes said Ealey will present a good test for his defense, which has emphasized stopping the run and tackling all preseason.
“I think it’s huge for a team to have him,” Haynes said. “He’s a big-time running back. He’s proved that on big-time, on the so-called big-time level. He’s a challenge for us.”
2. Weather Concerns?
Coach John L. Smith said the Razorbacks aren’t expecting any weather issues with the remains of Hurricane Isaac moving into the state Thursday.
“We have faith,” Smith said. “The sun always shines on the Hogs.”
Smith said Arkansas will be prepared in case there is inclement weather. All indications, though, are that things will be fine by Saturday’s 6 p.m. kickoff.
“If it came down to it and we really expected it, yeah, we would’ve spent a lot of time (Thursday) as coaches sitting down and talking about it a little bit different scenario,” Smith said. “But as of right now, everybody we talked to, said that thing is going to be out of here and we should be good to go. And that’s great for the fans.”
3. Tough Injury
Linebacker Alonzo Highsmith has dealt with injuries in his career. But the hamstring injury that bothered him throughout the preseason was a first for the senior.
“It was tough for me, especially after I was so ready to get out there after the pec and then that happened,” said Highsmith, who was sidelined for much of the first two weeks of the preseason. “It was tough at first but I just had to push through.”
Highsmith is expected to be in starting lineup along with Wright, who also missed time with injuries this preseason. Both players said they’re eager for the opener.
“It definitely takes its toll not playing football for so long,” Highsmith said. “Quite naturally I feel a little rusty, but each day all I do is just strive to get better than I was the day before, and I think I’ve been doing that.”
4. Competition Continues
Junior Brandon Mitchell and freshman Mekale McKay earned starting spots on the depth chart for the opener against Jacksonville State. But offensive coordinator Paul Petrino cautioned this week it didn’t mean competition was over.
“There’s still about three or four guys fighting for a position every day and right now he’s the leader,” Petrino said of McKay. “But it’s not over.
“It will be a continued fight every day. … He’s got to keep fighting. He’s done some good things and we look forward to him having a great game.”
— Robbie Neiswanger • Arkansas News Bureau