FOUR DOWNS – ARKANSAS VS. LSU NOTES
1. Smith Wants Win In Finale
Arkansas coach John L. Smith said he hasn’t met with athletic director Jeff Long about his future with the program. But Monday’s press conference sure sounded as if the coach understood he was preparing for his final game with the Razorbacks.
Smith was candid and emotional during portions of his 15-minute session with the media as he previewed Arkansas’ season finale against No. 8 LSU. Nothing has been announced officially, but Smith admitted he’s going to be overly emotional this week as Long continues to search for the program’s long-term solution.
“Boy, I’d sure like to go out with a win,” Smith said.
Smith returned to Fayetteville to lead the Razorbacks after former coach Bobby Petrino was fired last April. He was working as the head coach at his alma mater, Weber State, at the time. But Smith – who was an assistant at Arkansas - said the opportunity to return to lead the Hogs was too much to pass up.
It hasn’t worked. Arkansas will miss a bowl game for the first time since 2008. The Hogs also are in danger of losing eight games for the first time since 1990.
The coach also has been dealing with financial difficulties after filing for Ch. 7 bankruptcy earlier this spring. He has claimed $40 million in liabilities.
Smith said he has had plenty of conversations with senior associate athletic director Jon Fagg, who oversees the football program, but expects to speak with Long once the season ends. He said the staff will continue to work until told otherwise.
“He knows exactly and we know what they’re expecting and where we have to go next week and we’ll continue to work next week,” Smith said.
“That’s what we’re going to do. Whenever that decision is made that’s going to be made, you know, we’re going to leave everything here the very best we can. So we’re going to bust our tail until that day comes about. That’s about all I can tell you.”
Former Tampa Bay Buccaneers coach Jon Gruden remained at the center of discussion regarding the Arkansas opening on Monday, a day after a CBSSports.com report from indicated the Razorbacks and Tennessee were trying to lure him back into coaching. The report also stated Arkansas was prepared to enter a bidding war for Gruden, who has spent the past few years working at ESPN as part of the network’s Monday Night Football team.
Gruden is 95-81 in his NFL career, winning the Super Bowl with the Bucs in 2003. He has not worked in college since 1991, when he was the receivers coach at Pittsburgh. Gruden’s coaching career began as a graduate assistant at Tennessee.
TCU’s Gary Patterson and Oklahoma State’s Mike Gundy also have been mentioned among potential candidates for the Arkansas job. Long has said he would like to have his permanent coach in place by mid-December.
But, first, Arkansas will wrap up Smith’s run against the Tigers. And LSU coach Les Miles said he’s sure Arkansas will be motivated under Smith.
“John L. Smith is in a tough position in his last game,” Miles said. “But I'm sure he'll have them ready. And I'm sure this Arkansas team will play inspired.”
2. Gragg Done, Mitchell Back
Arkansas tight end Chris Gragg will not be healthy enough to play against LSU on Friday, which means his career with the Razorbacks is over.
Gragg’s senior season has been a disappointment because of a knee injury, which sidelined him for six of Arkansas’ 11 games to date. He first suffered the injury against Rutgers on Sept. 22, missed three games, then returned for the loss to Ole Miss. But Gragg re-aggravated the injury in the first half and has not been back.
“I’m sure he’s disappointed, as everybody that gets injured and has to go through that disappointment and work through that,” Smith said. “At this point, he has to look forward to whatever the future holds for him from here on out.”
Gragg remains Arkansas’ second-leading receiver despite playing in just five games this season. He has 22 catches for 289 yards and 3 touchdowns.
Arkansas will welcome receiver Brandon Mitchell’s return. The Razorbacks have declined comment on the details surrounding Mitchell’s absence, but it is believed the junior was held out of four games because of an NCAA compliance issue.
Mitchell is sixth on the team in receiving with 15 catches for 257 yards.
“There were certain plays last week where maybe if he was in there it would have been a little different in helping us,” Arkansas quarterback Tyler Wilson said. “And, you know, it’s going to be beneficial for us. LSU, he’s a Louisiana guy, so he’s going to want to play big in this game. He’s going to come to play.”
3. Williams Will Return
Arkansas linebacker Terrell Williams has been cleared to rejoin the team for the LSU game being suspended the past two weeks because of a driving while intoxicated arrest. The Tulsa native will participate in Arkansas’ senior day festivities and Smith indicated Williams will get opportunities to play in his final game.
“T-Will has worked hard the last couple weeks, and we’re going to give him an opportunity to possibly go out and play a little bit in this game,” Smith said. “Do I expect him to be a starter? No. Do I expect him to give us some help? Yes. ....
“Again, it’s Senior Day and he’s a senior and so he’s going to be a part of it.”
Williams, who ranks fourth on the team in tackles (52), worked with the second-team defense during Monday’s practice. He has been replaced in the starting lineup by freshman Otha Peters the past two weeks.
4. Holmes Healthy
Arkansas freshman Nate Holmes will be available to play after missing the Mississippi State game with a concussion. But Smith said the running back probably be available to return kicks or punts in the season finale.
“We’re going to go back to the drawing board and let them all catch a lot of balls,” Smith said. “So we’ll just have to wait and see who that is going to end up being.”
Smith said he wants to continue using receiver D’Arthur Cowan on kickoff returns, although the freshman averaged 15.4 yards at Mississippi State. Receiver Keante Minor is the leader for punt return duties after cornerback Kaelon Kelleybrew muffed his only attempt in the first half against the Bulldogs.
— Robbie Neiswanger • Arkansas News Bureau