Young skill players step up for Hogs

By: Tom Murphy
Published: Wednesday, November 14, 2012
Arkansas receiver Mekale McKay, tripped up just short of the goal line against South Carolina, had three catches for 49 yards in the Razorbacks’ 38-20 loss to the Gamecocks on Saturday. The drive ended with a Dennis Johnson fumble at the 5.
Photo by Michael Woods
Arkansas receiver Mekale McKay, tripped up just short of the goal line against South Carolina, had three catches for 49 yards in the Razorbacks’ 38-20 loss to the Gamecocks on Saturday. The drive ended with a Dennis Johnson fumble at the 5.

— Cobi Hamilton has an Arkansas school-record 73 receptions for 1,149 yards this season, a good indicator why the senior is a semifinalist for the Biletnikoff Award, given to the nation’s top receiver in college football.

The rest of Arkansas’ wideouts have combined for 69 receptions for 1,000 yards. While Hamilton’s numbers exceed the rest of his unit’s aggregate totals, the rest of the group is on the rise, as is the production for the Razorbacks’ young skill players as a whole.

Newcomers accounted for 40 percent or more of the team’s receptions and receiving yards last week for the first time all season, and freshman tailback Jonathan Williams led the Razorbacks with 61 rushing yards.

First-year receivers Keon Hatcher and Demetrius Wilson each caught his first touchdown pass of the season in the 38-20 loss at South Carolina.

“They’ve been improving every day and you kind of thought they would have a breakout,” Arkansas offensive coordinator Paul Petrino said.

“As a young player, you need to learn what to do when you first come out here,” Wilson said. “But we’ve kept putting in the hard work, kept getting better, kept get- ting our chemistry down with [quarterback] Tyler [Wilson] and the whole team. ... It’s going to be a great group of receivers.”

Tight end Alex Voelzke, a redshirt freshman, caught his first touchdown pass in a 30-27 loss to Ole Miss three weeks ago, and both he and Hatcher had touchdowns on their first career catches.

“It’s great seeing all those young guys getting out there, getting after it and getting a reward,” Voelzke said. “They’re out there every day, just like everybody else is. When they get that first touchdown, it’s a great feeling.”

Opportunities for the younger players are on the rise for a couple of reasons. They’ve continued to battle in practice and older players, like tight end Chris Gragg and tailback Knile Davis, have been injured.

Tyler Wilson said players like Hatcher and Demetrius Wilson needed to be more involved.

“They’ve had to,” Tyler Wilson said. “We’ve kind of had a situation at tight end where you lose a guy, so you’ve got to bring a little bit of that. We lose some catches there at tight end so we have to bring some along at some other areas, and naturally we’re a little bit young there.”

Freshman Mekale McKay, a starter in the season opener, had a lull in the middle part of the year, but he bounced back touchdowns against Rutgers on Sept. 22.

Hamilton hasn’t scored a touchdown since then — a span of 53 catches for 720 yards — while Javontee Herndon, Julian Horton, Gragg, Hatcher, Demetrius Wilson and running backs Dennis Johnson, Davis and Williams have each had a touchdown reception in the past six games.

“They double you,” Hamilton said. “It gets kind of frustrating when you look up and you’ve got guys around you, but you’ve got to find windows and find a way to make things happen.”

Williams, who had a breakout game with two long receiving touchdowns in a 49-7 rout of Kentucky on Oct. 13, became the first back other than Johnson and Davis to lead the team in rushing with his performance against the Gamecocks. The 6-0, 205-pounder is drawing praise for his demeanor and leadership qualities.

“He’s not afraid to speak up. He works hard all the time. He always has a good attitude,” Petrino said. “Any time you can do all of those things, you’re going to be a leader.”

“He kind of carries himself with a little bit of swagger about him,” Tyler Wilson said. “Hey, he’s not scared. He’s not a freshman anymore. He carries himself like a veteran, and that’s big to have a guy like that out there.”

Williams’ rushing accounted for 85.5 percent of Arkansas’ 83 rushing yards against South Carolina, while the newcomers combined for a season-high 11 catches for 114 yards.

Hatcher needed 10 games to notch his first catch, but he followed his 6-yard touchdown reception with two more catches to finish with 21 receiving yards against South Carolina. Demetrius Wilson, a junior college transfer, had a key 20-yard reception to start Arkansas’ game-winning touchdown drive against Tulsa two weeks ago before catching his 9-yard touchdown catch at South Carolina.

“I think it gives Tyler a little bit more confidence in us,” Wilson said. “He doesn’t have to worry about just having one player or the tight end. He has some different weapons on the field.”

Hatcher, McKay and Cowan, all true freshmen, have not been available for media interviews since early in fall camp.

with three catches for 49 yards at South Carolina, two of them where he got loose in the red zone after hitch routes.

“He definitely made some plays, made some moves, gave us a chance a couple of times deep in the red zone to punch it in and score,” Tyler Wilson said.

“Mekale needed to pick up his feet a little bit and score on those two down the sidelines,” Petrino said. “I think that’s something, a year from now, after being in the weight room for a year, he would score on both of those hitches down the sideline. He just barely got tripped up. He gets a little bit stronger and faster and more physical, he’s going to be a beast.”

Arkansas has struggled in the red zone for parts of the season, possibly because teams have suffocated Hamilton in that area since he had 10 catches for 303 yards and 3

Sports, Pages 21 on 11/14/2012