Tom Murphy is a reporter for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. A graduate of Louisiana Tech University, he is a member of the Football Writers Association of America, and voter for the Heisman Trophy and AP Top 25 football poll. Murphy was the 2017 Arkansas Sportswriter of the Year.
Hogs football team dealing with mumps, bruises
Arkansas quarterback Jack Lindsey carries the ball during a game against LSU on Saturday, Nov. 23, 2019, in Baton Rouge, La.
FAYETTEVILLE -- It's not just the normal bumps and bruises the University of Arkansas football program is dealing with in this short Thanksgiving week ahead of Friday's season finale against Missouri.
The Razorbacks (2-9, 0-7), in the midst of an eight-game losing streak, also have to be wary of the mumps.
After an outbreak that has led to nine confirmed cases of the contagious disease on the UA campus, according to the Arkansas Department of Health, all coaches, players and staff in all sports had access to MMR (mumps, measles and rubella) vaccines made available at the Smith Football Center on Monday.
Trevor Williamson, athletic department tutor coordinator, sent an email Monday to tutors that read:
"Two student-athletes have been diagnosed with the mumps and they have been at the Jones Center recently. A few staff members in athletic training have also been quarantined. To be safe, we strongly recommend that everyone get the vaccine."
Interim Coach Barry Lunney Jr. referenced a statement released by the UA athletic department regarding the mumps outbreak when asked how it is affecting the team.
"I'm going to coach football, that's how I'm going to handle it," Lunney said. "I'm going to lead our team and get us ready to play on Friday.
"That's not a situation where there's any kind of panic or anything like that, it's just something that we're having to deal with. Our care and the health of our players and our staff is always at a premium and it will continue to be that way, but I'm just going to continue to coach football and get our guys ready to play football on Friday."
Lunney was vague when a reporter suggested football players had contracted the mumps.
"We know that, just based on the release, that there's players, students here, that have been exposed to that, so as far as the diagnoses and those types of things, we're being very proactive and giving our guys the best immunization or optimal health that we can give them," Lunney said.
Cornerback Montaric Brown and linebacker Deon Edwards did not travel to Saturday's game at No. 1 LSU, a 56-20 loss for the Razorbacks, due to unspecified illnesses. However, UA officials would not confirm the names of any personnel -- players or staff members -- affected by the mumps outbreak, or whether any personnel had the illness at all.
Lunney also wasn't prepared to name his quarterback starter for Friday's 1:30 p.m. Battle Line Rivalry game at War Memorial Stadium in Little Rock. And he wasn't just trying to make Missouri (5-6, 2-5 SEC), which has lost five in a row, play a guessing game.
"We're not trying to play games or anything, it's just we're still evaluating those guys," Lunney said. "I think that's going to be a day-to-day, hour-to-hour situation right now. A short week creates a little bit more challenge in that."
Freshman KJ Jefferson left the game at LSU, his first career start, in the third quarter due to concussion protocol, and junior Nick Starkel came out shortly thereafter in the fourth quarter when he took a hard shot on a completed pass for a first down to Hudson Henry.
Junior Jack Lindsey finished up at quarterback for the Razorbacks and was in for two touchdown drives in the fourth quarter. Lindsey engineered the final 54 yards of the 75-yard drive initiated by Starkel. He ran for 30 yards on his first college snap, then threw a 24-yard touchdown pass to Mike Woods on his second.
After the Razorbacks' Simeon Blair recovered an onside kick, Lindsey's throw in the end zone for tight end Blake Kern triggered a pass interference call that led to Devwah Whaley's 2-yard touchdown run.
Lunney said he would be "absolutely" comfortable starting Lindsey if needed.
The Razorbacks have started four quarterbacks this season -- with senior Ben Hicks and freshman John Stephen Jones joining Jefferson and Starkel -- which is thought to be tied with a school record. Arkansas also started four quarterbacks during the 1976 season.
Lindsey would make a school-record fifth quarterback starter in one season.
"Yeah, it's been a strange year for that," Lunney said. "And really, to be honest with you, some of it is a reflection of the status of our team. It'd kind of be a microcosm of that. We've been inconsistent in a lot of areas."
Lunney opened his news conference by stating his "vision" for Friday's game despite a rough three-year stretch for the Razorbacks, and later he got choked up for a moment while talking about playing games at War Memorial Stadium.
"My vision as the ... acting head football coach, as a former Razorback, a native Arkansan, my vision for Friday afternoon is for us to put aside the last three years and for us to unite for three and a half hours ... in Little Rock," Lunney said. "For us to have a moment as a program as one Razorback across the state. Our fans that care so much about our program, our football players, our staff, the young men who put in so much time and effort for getting ready to play football games. It hasn't gone the way we wanted it to go.
"But for Friday afternoon, we have an opportunity playing an SEC game against a very worthy opponent, Missouri, Friday afternoon for us to get together and unite our fans and our football team to create an atmosphere that we'll all be proud of and hopefully a product that we'll all be proud of by the end of the afternoon."
NWA Democrat-Gazette staff writer Mike Jones contributed to this report.
Sports on 11/26/2019
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