Liberty Bowl: Senior receivers take a back seat
Wide receivers London Crawford, left, and Joe Adams joke around during practice at Rhodes College in Memphis in preparation for the Liberty Bowl. Adams, a sophomore, has caught 7 touchdown passes. Crawford, a senior, hasn't caught a touchdown this season.
MEMPHIS After playing secondary roles in a run-based offense their first two seasons at Arkansas, receivers London Crawford and Lucas Miller broke out as juniors in 2008 with a combined 57 catches for 801 yards and 3 touchdowns.
Miller suffered a severe knee injury in the season finale against LSU a week after totaling 201 receiving yards at Mississippi State, the second-most in school history. But despite the setback, Miller and Crawford expected to have productive senior seasons in their second year under Coach Bobby Petrino.
Instead, they found themselves back in a secondary role again.
Miller and Crawford spent parts of the season on the sideline as the Razorbacks’ young guns - sophomores Greg Childs, Joe Adams and Jarius Wright - spread their wings and rose to the top of the SEC receiver ranks.
Miller suffered a broken collarbone during fall camp, missed the first two games and has been hampered by ailments most of the year. Crawford broke his collarbone while running with a 23-yard screen pass in the season opener and missed the next four games.
“My year was plagued by injuries, but as an altogether team thing, we’re in a bowl game, and as a senior, that’s what we set out to do, so I’m happy,” said Miller, who has 7 catches for 83 yards and 1 touchdown entering Saturday’s matchup against East Carolina in the Liberty Bowl.
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“It hasn’t gone the way I thought it would go,” said Crawford, who has 12 receptions for 167 yards. “I actually thought I’d have a way better senior year, pretty much a breakout year for myself. I made a few plays in that first game, and then I got injured. The broken collarbone kind of took me downhill.
“Just to be out there and working hard with my teammates, to push those guys and help them be better players, was pretty much a good thing for me.”
Under the guidance of offensive coordinator Paul Petrino, who has now departed for Illinois, the changing of the guard among the receiving corps was a key element of Arkansas’ offense in 2009.
Childs, Wright and Adams made a combined 25 starts, despite Adams missing three games at midseason after suffering a mild stroke. The three have a combined 110 catches, 2,006 yards and 18 touchdowns on the season, the best overall numbers for any set of three receivers in the SEC.
Auburn’s Darvin Adams, Mario Fannin and Terrell Zachery had a combined 111 receptions for 1,724 yards and 18 touchdowns.
Adams, Childs and Wright expect to bump up their production to even greater levels next season.
“We can’t do nothing but get better,” Adams said. “We keep pushing each other, the numbers will go up even more next year.”
Said Wright: “Anybody else you ask might probably say we played great, but I expect more. I set higher standards for myself and my teammates, especially the ones I’m closest to, like the receivers.”
Childs wound up leading the team with 45 receptions for 862 yards and 7 touchdowns, but perhaps because the Razorbacks spread the ball around in the passing game, he didn’t earn All-SEC mention from the league’s coaches.
“I was surprised about it, but I’m not too much worried about it,” Childs said. “I’ll just come back next year and work harder. I think I had a pretty good season, though. I improved from last season to this one.”
Bobby Petrino has consistently praised Wright’s toughness and has said all three can be great.
“When they’re focused and feeling good, they’re hard to stop,” Petrino said. “There’s a lot of room for growth. The consistency is a big part of it. We’ve seen them all have big games and big breakout games.”
Crawford, Miller and fellow senior Reggie Fish all served as tutors and supporters for the younger wave, including freshman Cobi Hamilton.
“They’ve handled it real well, better than I expected them to handle it,” Wright said. “When their number is called or when it’s their time to play their role, they do it with no complaints.”
Childs expressed the sentiment that prevails in the new Arkansas passing game.
“When you’re in the game and who ever’s hot, you’ve got to ride them,” he said. “That’s how we went about that.”
Sports, Pages 23 on 12/30/2009