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 start Outback Bowl prep without Morris, Lee
Arkansas wide receiver Tyson Morris (19) carries the ball during the fourth quarter of a Nov. 6 football game at Reynolds Razorback Stadium in Fayetteville. Morris and tight end Zach Lee did not travel with the Razorbacks to Tampa, Fla., but both are expected to arrive in time to prepare and play in the Outback Bowl on Saturday. - Photo by Charlie Kaijo of NWA Democrat-Gazette
TAMPA, Fla. — Wide receiver Tyson Morris was out with an undisclosed illness as the University of Arkansas opened on-site practices for the Outback Bowl on a warm Monday morning at the University of Tampa.
Morris, a bonus-year senior, and redshirt freshman tight end Zach Lee of Bentonville were the only noticeable absences for the Razorbacks (8-4), who are a slight underdog for Saturday's 11 a.m. CST game against Penn State (7-5) at Raymond James Stadium.
Morris, who did not accompany the team on the flight from Northwest Arkansas to Tampa on Sunday, has to receive clearance before coming to Florida.
"Tyson is dealing with some issues back home, and he could get here," Arkansas coach Sam Pittman said at his first media availability of bowl week. "It just depends on different rulings and things of that nature. He could get here anywhere from (Tuesday) afternoon all the way probably we feel like the latest would be Thursday. But if everything goes well, we feel like he could be able to play in the game."
An Arkansas official said the Razorbacks expect to have both Morris and Lee before the end of the week and to be at full capacity by game day.
Morris is one of the wideouts who is expected to take a larger role in the bowl game with the absence of standout Treylon Burks, who has declared for the NFL Draft.
Burks led the Razorbacks by a wide margin with 66 catches for 1,104 yards and 11 touchdowns. Morris ranks second on the team with 21 catches for 305 yards and 2 touchdowns and averages 14.5 yards per catch.
The former standout at Helena-West Helena Central said during on-campus bowl preparations that he was pleased to come back for a super senior year that ended with a Florida bowl trip.
"It's a feeling I've never been able to feel, so I'm excited," Morris said. "I'm excited for this program, being able to turn this program around and get it headed on the right track. So it's a big plus for us."
The other wideouts expected to pick up some of the targets and catches in Burks' absence would be Warren Thompson (18 receptions, 292 yards, 2 TDs), De'Vion Warren (13-219), Ketron Jackson Jr. (5-97, 1) and possibly Bryce Stephens, who has played in just three games but had a mini-breakout game in the Razorbacks' 16-13 overtime win at LSU as a punt returner.
Tight ends Trey Knox (18-130, 1), Blake Kern (14-175, 2), and Hudson Henry (4-27) and the team's bounty of running backs are also being counted on to pick up the slack in the passing game. The combination of Raheim Sanders (11-109), AJ Green (7-84), Dominique Johnson (6-74) and Trelon Smith (4-21) have combined for three touchdown catches, all of them big, on Green's tackle-breaking 48-yarder in a 20-10 win over Texas A&M, Johnson's 43-yarder at LSU and Sanders' 17-yard highlight-reel catch at Alabama to draw the Hogs' within 42-35 with 1:02 remaining.
Pittman later reiterated a couple of times that he felt confident about having Morris available for the game. Lee has not played any offensive snaps as a backup to Kern, Knox, Henry and Nathan Bax at tight end.
"I can tell you that depending on different rulings we would know this afternoon whether he can be here to practice on Wednesday or whether his first real speed action will be on Saturday," Pittman said of Morris. "We're hoping and we feel like we can get him back."
The Razorbacks' first workout at the University of Tampa's soccer complex was held with temperatures in the mid-70s with high humidity.
"It's hot," Pittman said. "It's different, maybe a little more humid than we're used to. We'll have to get used to that. I thought we had a good practice."
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