Nance goes from unheralded recruit to Hogs' top threat

By: Matt Jones
Published: Sunday, September 24, 2017
Arkansas receiver Jonathan Nance scores a touchdown during the fourth quarter of a game against Texas A&M on Saturday, Sept. 23, 2017, in Arlington, Texas.
Photo by Ben Goff
Arkansas receiver Jonathan Nance scores a touchdown during the fourth quarter of a game against Texas A&M on Saturday, Sept. 23, 2017, in Arlington, Texas.

— Jonathan Nance wasn't recruited as a receiver out of high school and wasn't even the go-to man on his junior college team.

At Mississippi Gulf Coast last season, Nance - who transferred to junior college in 2015 after enrolling at Southern Miss as a defensive back - was the team's fourth-leading receiver with 13 catches for 153 yards an no touchdowns in a season shortened by three games because of a shoulder injury. Outside of Arkansas, his offer list included Colorado State, Troy and Louisiana-Monroe.

But through his first three games in the NCAA, Nance has emerged as the most reliable receiver on the Razorbacks' offense that has struggled to find consistency in its passing game.

Nance had three catches for 100 yards in Arkansas' 50-43 overtime loss to Texas A&M on Saturday, including two deep hauls on go-ahead scoring drives in the fourth quarter - big offensive plays missing from the Razorbacks' previous late-game collapses against the Aggies at AT&T Stadium.

Nance's 44-yard touchdown reception with 5:21 remaining put Arkansas ahead 36-33 after a two-point conversion. He split a double team on the play and got behind Texas A&M all-conference safety Armani Watts, who later had the game-winning interception in overtime.

After the Aggies regained the lead on Christian Kirk's 100-yard kickoff return touchdown, Nance had a 45-yard catch to the Texas A&M 4 to set up a David Williams rushing touchdown on the following play and give Arkansas a 43-40 lead. That catch came moments after Nance was laid out by defensive back Myles Jones with a helmet-to-helmet hit that was initially flagged as targeting, but overturned after review.

“He stepped up today where he wants to be that guy," said Arkansas quarterback Austin Allen, who targeted Nance on five of his 25 pass attempts. "He wants to get open. He’ll make contested catches and I thought he played a hell of a game.

"He brought the energy. He pumped up the crowd and pumped up the whole offense. He is an easy guy that I can trust to run the right routes and catch the ball."

It was the second consecutive game that Nance provided Arkansas' biggest highlight in the pass game. He had a 49-yard touchdown catch in a 28-7 loss to TCU on Sept. 9.

His stats account for a sizable chunk of the production from Arkansas receivers this season. He has nine of the position group's 22 catches; 200 of its 318 yards; and half of the four touchdown receptions.

Nance's 22.2 yards per catch are fifth-best in the SEC and he has Arkansas' three longest plays from scrimmage this season.

“I feel good," Nance said. "I feel like I’m gaining (Allen's) trust where he can just throw it up, and I am going to go make plays for him. I feel like that’s a good thing. We’ve got something good going.”

Nance has even more value to the Arkansas offense in light of Jared Cornelius' apparent Achilles injury suffered in the second half Saturday. Cornelius was the only receiver with more than two career receptions entering the season and, other than Nance, is the only with more than three receptions this year.

"People are going to have to step up and start making plays," Nance said. "(Cornelius) was the centerpiece of what we had going. We're just going to have to step up."

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