FAYETTEVILLE — Arkansas receiver Javontee Herndon said it doesn’t matter whether quarterback Brandon Allen or backup AJ Derby plays at Rutgers.
It won’t change his responsibilities in the Arkansas offense.
“I don’t really focus on that,” Herndon said. “They throw the ball. I catch it.”
Herndon and the rest of Arkansas’ receivers are hoping there’s more throwing and catching no matter which quarterback plays when the Razorbacks travel to Piscataway, N.J.
The Razorbacks are coming off of a 69-yard passing performance in last week’s 24-3 win against Southern Miss, leaning on its ground game after Allen left the game with a first quarter shoulder injury and was replaced by Derby.
It was Arkansas’ lowest passing performance since a 62-yard effort in a 31-26 loss to LSU in 2006. The Razorbacks certainly aren’t apologizing for the conservative approach this week because it helped them improve to 3-0. But Arkansas also knows it may have to open things up under Allen or Derby to beat Rutgers.
Wide receiver Julian Horton said Arkansas’ receivers and tight ends are prepared.
“We’re going to be ready to make plays when the ball comes to us,” Horton said. “If we pass the ball six times or 20 times, it doesn’t matter. When that ball comes to us, we want to make plays and do what we’ve got to do to make plays and help the team win. Me converting third downs. Javontee converting big plays.
“Whatever we’ve got to do to make the team win. We’re going to do whatever.”
Horton is third on the team in receptions this season, catching five passes for 51 yards. Herndon leads the Razorbacks with 10 catches for 165 yards and three touchdowns, working as Allen’s top target before the sophomore’s injury.
Only one other wide receiver — Keon Hatcher — has a reception this season. The rest have gone to tight ends (9 catches) and running backs (5).
Arkansas’ passing production has dropped in each game since Allen threw for 230 yards in the opener. The Razorbacks had 125 against Samford and 69 last week. But Horton and Herndon are confident there will be opportunities as well against a Rutgers secondary ranked No. 107 (288.3 yards a game) in the NCAA so far.
They remember last season’s loss to Rutgers, too, when Arkansas threw for 419 yards and receiver Cobi Hamilton set the SEC’s single-game receiving record with 303 yards and three touchdowns. Arkansas’ offensive philosophy has changed, obviously, but it hasn’t altered the returning receivers’ beliefs that big plays will be there for the taking if the Razorbacks turn to the pass Saturday.
“I do think we can be a factor,” Herndon said. “We know that we have to throw the ball, and if we just keep practicing there’s going to come a time and a point where we have to carry the team and we’re ready for it.”
Herndon and Horton accounted for four of Arkansas’ six catches in the Southern Miss win. Fullback Kiero Small had the other two receptions, while Arkansas’ tight ends were shut out for the first time this season.
Offensive coordinator Jim Chaney said the Razorbacks — who are ranked 112th in the nation in passing offense (141.3 yards a game) — will continue to do what is best on offense whether Allen or Derby play Saturday. But he and Bielema also believe a week of preparation makes Arkansas capable of more production in the passing game after the quarterbacks went 6-for-11 against Southern Miss.
“I feel like we’ll be doing exactly what we feel like we need to do to win the football game,” Chaney said. “And if that takes us to open it up, I have no issues doing so.”
Horton said the receivers agree with Chaney: Winning is top priority.
But he, Herndon and the rest of Arkansas’ receivers are ready to help if the Razorbacks open up the passing offense at Rutgers.
“If we pass the ball more, that’s great,” Horton said. “We’re eager for that.
“We’re ready for that and we’d love it if we did that.”