FOUR DOWNS – ARKANSAS VS. AUBURN NOTES
1. Fumbles Plague Davis
Arkansas running back Knile Davis showed promise Saturday, gaining a season-high 129 all-purpose yards in the 58-10 loss at Texas A&M.
But the positive from Davis’ performance was overshadowed by a glaring problem: Davis fumbled three times and lost one of them. The turnover was scooped up and returned 28 yards for a touchdown by Texas A&M’s Tramain Jacobs.
The mistakes added to Davis’ rising fumble totals this season. He now has fumbled seven times, losing two of them, in five games. So ball security is something Arkansas coach John L. Smith said Davis must correct as the Razorbacks (1-4, 0-2 in SEC) prepare for Saturday’s trip to play at Auburn (1-3, 0-2 in SEC).
The best way to do it, Smith said, may be simply not thinking about it this week.
“I really believe that we have worked so hard on ball security, we’ve put in circuits, where we’re doing all that stuff, and we’ll continue to work on it,” Smith said. “But there comes a point where everybody starts - you become paranoid about ‘I can’t fumble the ball.’ And what’s the first thing you do? You fumble the ball.
“So, I almost think we’ve gone a little bit that way, being overboard to our football team, from a coaching standpoint. So, you know, hang onto the ball.”
Smith doesn’t believe Davis’ lack of contact during preseason practices is the reason for the rash of fumbles. Davis agreed after the game. He hasn’t put the ball on the ground during three games, but has fumbled seven times in two SEC games.
In addition to Saturday’s miscues, he fumbled four times and lost two in the 52-0 loss to Alabama. Davis is averaging a fumble every 12.4 times he has touched the ball (82 carries, 5 receptions) this season.
“That’s what all teams are trying to do, trying to get a turnover,” Davis said of his mistakes. “They succeeded a few times. I’m just trying to get better at that.”
But Davis said he did feel better about his performance – fumbles aside – during the first half of the Texas A&M loss. Arkansas is hoping it’s a sign the running back, who has a team-high 273 rushing yards in five games, is ready for a break free.
“I think Knile came in and at least from the beginning on you’re looking from the sidelines and ‘Yeah, that’s Knile,’” Smith said.
“Hopefully we can build on that for this week, and I think he will.”
2. Injury Updates
Arkansas doesn’t know if tight end Chris Gragg (bone bruise) or safety Eric Bennett (leg) will be ready to return to the field against Auburn. Both starters sat out the Texas A&M loss, joining the long list of players who have missed time with injuries.
Smith said cornerback Kaelon Kelleybrew (possible concussion) also hasn’t been cleared after going down during the first half last Saturday. Meanwhile, Dennis Johnson played with a broken hand and safety Rohan Gaines was shaken up Saturday, but Smith said both players should be available for the Auburn game.
Arkansas also is playing without cornerback Tevin Mitchel (concussion, gall bladder), fullback Kiero Small (broken foot) and running back Kody Walker (broken leg). Small and Walker are out for the season.
“Some years I guess you just get guys hurt and some years you don’t,” Smith said. “But it’s not an excuse. We have to live with what we have. And we sit and talk about that weekly as a staff. Do we need to take any less - take some of the contact out of practice? You have to have some contact in practice. How do you become a better tackler? I mean, if you don’t tackle, you know what I mean? Where is that fine line?”
3. ‘Decent Matchup’
Arkansas’ defense is among the worst in the nation through five games. But Smith said the Razorbacks still see a chance for improvement against Auburn, which had issues of its own on offense during the first month of the season.
The Tigers are last in the SEC in total offense (297.8 yards), scoring (17.5 points) and passing (144.8 yards). Auburn also is 11th in rushing (153.0 yards).
“Athletically, you look at them as a very, very good football team,” Smith said. “What they’ve done offensively to this point is, I’m sure, not what they want to do. But we look at it and say, ‘Maybe that’s a decent matchup for us this week.’”
4. Extra Points
Smith was asked by Arkansas kept quarterback Tyler Wilson on the field throughout the blowout loss Saturday. “I thought about that, but you are thinking that we need some consistency, we need some points on the board and we sure would like to see him get it in the end zone,” Smith said. “Not only for him, but for everybody on that first-team offense. There were some thoughts back here, but at the same point I was thinking we have to get something positive, too, like a score. … Auburn’s No. 2 receiver, Quan Bray, has been suspended for Saturday’s game against Arkansas. Bray, who has 11 catches for 82 yards, was arrested during Auburn’s off week. … ESPN finalized its schedule for this weekend’s games. The Arkansas-Auburn game will be played at 11 a.m. on ESPN2. … The Arkansas-Kentucky game on Oct. 13 has been set for a 6 p.m. kickoff and will be televised by Fox Sports Net.
— Robbie Neiswanger • Arkansas News Bureau