FOUR DOWNS – ARKANSAS VS. LSU NOTES
1. Vandy’s Franklin In Mix?
Arkansas athletic director Jeff Long has spent nearly eight months researching coaches around the country, looking for the right fit to lead the Razorbacks.
He may not have to leave the conference for his final choice.
Vanderbilt coach James Franklin appears to be a candidate for the position, according to ESPN’s Chris Low. Low, during an appearance on “Sports Talk With Bo Mattingly” on Tuesday, said Arkansas had reached out to Franklin. But it’s not known if the coach is listening to the Razorbacks.
Franklin is 13-11 in his second season with the Commodores (7-4, 5-3 in SEC), who wrap up the regular season against Wake Forest on Saturday. His work at the program, which historically has been a doormat in the SEC, is impressive.
Vanderbilt will reach back-to-back bowls for the first time in school history and Franklin’s 13 wins in a two-year span is the most at the program since 1905.
Franklin was among many coaches projected as potential candidates for the Arkansas job in the offseason. But the possibility cooled when the Commodores opened with losses in three of their first four games. Vanderbilt has rolled since, winning six of seven. It includes last week’s 41-18 win against Tennessee.
Franklin also has made a difference on the recruiting trail, helping the Commodores secure some of the top classes in school history. Vanderbilt’s 2012 signing class was ranked No. 29, according to Rivals.com. Its 2013 commitments are ranked 14th.
Franklin’s name joins several others that have emerged in various reports regarding the Arkansas job. The list also includes former Tampa Bay Buccaneers coach Jon Gruden, TCU’s Gary Patterson and Oklahoma State’s Mike Gundy.
Arkansas would have competition in any overtures for Gruden. CBSSports.com indicated Sunday both the Razorbacks and Tennessee were pursuing the ESPN Monday Night Football analyst in hopes of luring him back to coaching.
Long has said he hopes to have Arkansas’ next coach in place by mid-December.
2. Wounded Seniors
Arkansas will recognize a 22-man senior class before Friday’s game. But a good chunk of the group won’t be helping the Razorbacks on the field against LSU.
Tight end Chris Gragg, linebacker Alonzo Highsmith and defensive end Tenarius Wright are all sidelined by injuries. Defensive end Colton Miles-Nash is questionable, too, after suffering a knee injury in the Mississippi State loss.
It’s part of a frustrating season in which the Razorbacks have been decimated by injuries. Highsmith and Wright have been sidelined most of the year after suffering season-ending injuries early. Gragg will miss his seventh game.
Arkansas coach John L. Smith said the Razorbacks remain hopeful Miles-Nash will be able to play his final game.
“He’s going to do everything he can to be ready to go,” Smith said. “Hopefully we can get the swelling down, get movement back, and he’ll want to get on the field and play. How much he gets? He’s saying, ‘Yes.’ The trainer right now is saying, ‘Yeah.’
“We’ll have to wait and see if we can get him all out and get him ready to go.”
3. Should Knile Return?
Arkansas running back Knile Davis hasn’t had the season anyone expected, struggling to return to his 2010 form after missing 2011 with a broken ankle.
Davis ranks second on the team in rushing with 346 yards and 2 touchdowns, but is averaging 3.3 yards a carry. He also missed two games with a hamstring injury.
Davis had hoped a big season would lead to a jump to the NFL after his fourth year on campus. It’s not clear if he still has those plans now. Offensive coordinator Paul Petrino was asked if he had spoken to Davis about returning to campus next season.
“I haven’t,” Petrino said. “Obviously, I think it would be good for him because I don’t think he’s really been himself this year. But that’ll be something he’ll have to decide.”
4. Mettenberger’s Improvement
LSU’s offense has shown much more punch the past few weeks and Arkansas defensive coordinator Paul Haynes said it’s easy to see why. Quarterback Zach Mettenberger has settled into the starting position.
“I think he's controlling the offense a lot more as far as dumping the ball off to the underneath guys and letting those playmakers out there make some plays, which is opening up their vertical passing game,” Haynes said. “I think the reason they are running the ball a little bit better is just because they are throwing the ball better.”
Mettenberger has thrown for 2,272 yards with 10 touchdowns and 6 interceptions in his first season as a starter. He is averaging 284.3 passing yards with 3 touchdowns and 2 interceptions in the past three games.
— Robbie Neiswanger • Arkansas News Bureau