Matt Jones is the online sports director for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. A double graduate of the University of Arkansas, he is a member of the Football Writers Association of America and National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association, and voter for the Heisman Trophy.
Razorback report: Officials say bowl game is on
Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium is shown prior to Arkansas' game against Kansas State on Jan. 2, 2016, in Memphis, Tenn.
MEMPHIS — Liberty Bowl officials felt compelled to issue a statement Monday assuring the game between the University of Arkansas and Kansas was still on after the arctic cold front last week added further challenges for city officials, who were already dealing with a boil water order due to challenges with the water supply and water pressure in the city.
“There have been significant weather challenges throughout the country, including here in Memphis,” the statement read. “We can assure you that the 64th AutoZone Liberty Bowl between Kansas and Arkansas will be played on Wednesday, December 28th with kickoff at 4:30 p.m.
“The weather forecast at game time is for temperatures in the 50s.”
The media hotel in Memphis has had significant issues with water flow, quality and pressure since at least Sunday.
Kansas has had far fewer players than Arkansas opt out of the bowl due to declaring for the NFL Draft or entering the NCAA transfer portal. However, the Jayhawks have had several key players banged up in recent weeks.
Ace safety Kenny Logan Jr. arrived in Memphis wearing a walking boot on his left foot Sunday. However, he practiced Monday and engaged in interviews and said he’ll be ready for game day.
“It was just a little twist,” Logan said. “I’m doing good.”
Kansas Coach Lance Leipold said Sunday afternoon that Logan had been “highly limited” lately, but defensive coordinator Brian Borland said he expected Logan, the team leader with 96 tackles, to be available.
Reserve tailback Daniel Hishaw is considered unlikely to play against the Hogs, Leipold said.
Hishaw is third on the team with 262 rushing yards and five touchdowns.
The Arkansas Razorbacks got in a morning practice Monday at the University of Memphis’ indoor facility called the Hardin Family Field.
The Razorbacks had been scheduled to practice outside at Rhodes College, but that plan was scuttled due to the potential for snow. A snowfall started between 9:30 a.m. and 10 a.m. through most of town and lasted about an hour.
The indoor facility, a 74,000 square foot space that came on line in 2020, was the biggest part of a 100,000 square foot renovation inside the Billy J. Murphy Athletics Complex, including an extension of the main building.
Senior offensive lineman Dalton Wagner said the workout was energetic and productive and that Coach Sam Pittman had to be pleased.
“Memphis has a really, really nice indoor over there,” he said. “I think the team really fed off that energy, being in a place like that. It was heated too, so I think that helped the team out.
“Guys flew around today. Defense looked awesome down there. Offense was clicking on all cylinders. KJ [Jefferson] made some really awesome throws today. Rocket [Raheim Sanders] was hitting the hole as hard as he can and the O-line was blowing stuff up.
“It was a great practice. High energy, high intensity. Coach Pitt couldn’t have been more happy with that practice.”
Defensive lineman Eric Gregory said Monday he will return as a super senior in 2023. He is one of a handful of super seniors who might be in position to return. That list would includes players like defensive end Zach Williams, safety Simeon Blair, tight end Nathan Bax and a few others.
Blair and Bax have said in Memphis that they are focused on the bowl game and will turn their attention to their plans in 2023 after the game.
“It’s one of those things that I want to have a conversation with my parents about,” Bax said Monday. “It’s a place I know and I’ve been here a while. It’s a conversation I want to have with my parents and coaches, the people I trust the most.”
Blair was asked Sunday about his potential for returning.
“That hasn’t been in my head too much,” he said. “We’ve really been taking Kansas seriously. I’ve been really focusing on what to do, looking at film with the rest of the DBs.”
Malik Chavis has made moves late in the season to earn more reps at cornerback in Arkansas’ rotation with starters senior Dwight McGlothern and true freshman Quincey McAdoo, whose rise has been one of the best success stories for the Hogs this season.
Chavis split first-team reps with McAdoo during the early portion of Monday’s practice.
“I tell you who has really looked good has been Chavis,” Coach Sam Pittman said. “Chavis, it’s almost like some kind of weight he was carrying in his mind has lifted.
“He’s now just running and reacting, and he was a little bit slow twitched during the season at times.”
Chavis made six starts opposite McGlothern during the middle of the season, while McAdoo has stared the last three games. Hudson Clark started the first two games at cornerback, then started two games at safety in the middle of the season and has been listed as the starting dime the last four games.
Polo for Pitt
Sam Pittman said he and his wife Jamie traveled north and a little west of Fayetteville to celebrate Christmas and that he got some bottles of cologne for presents.
“I like Polo, old green style,” Pittman said. “Kind of worked for me when I was a kid and I’ve never turned loose of it, so I got a couple of bottles of that.
“We went up to Pittsburg without the ‘h’ Kansas. I was in Kansas, so I was hearing about the Jayhawks all the time. That was [Dec. 24]. But we had a good time. We went up to be with her family.”
According to UA officials, the Razorbacks traveled with 88 players to Memphis, including a large number of walk-ons that numbered probably 37.
Coach Sam Pittman said he currently has 12 available scholarships after the Razorbacks landed 25 during the December signing period, leaving about 51 scholarship players on the roster for the bowl game.
The Razorbacks added veteran linebacker Antonio Grier through the transfer portal during the early signing period.
The native of Atlanta played the first five seasons of his career at South Florida before entering the transfer portal. He participated in only three games this season before a hand injury cost him the rest of the year.
Grier, 22, had been committed to Central Florida, where new Arkansas defensive coordinator Travis Williams had been coordinating the defense, before switching to the Razorbacks.
“We wanted to do it the right way,” Coach Sam Pittman said of flipping Grier. “We didn’t go after him before he decided to de-commit from UCF. I think there were other SEC schools that had offered him and all that.”
Grier, a 6-1, 233-pounder, led the Bulls with 92 tackles to go with 8 tackles for loss, 3 sacks, 2 interceptions and 2 forced fumbles while earning second-team All-AAC honors during his true senior year in 2021. He also led South Florida with 59 tackles in eight games during the covid-shortened 2020 season.
Pittman said he when left his interview with Williams, he understood “the new wave is you’re going to lose guys” and Williams helped him understand you can reload your roster.
“Travis made me believe that if we do [lose players], we can go replace them,” he said. “I needed that, to be perfectly honest, in that meeting. I left that meeting feeling a lot better about the transfer portal.
“We want our kids to stay, but if they elect to leave, we certainly are going to go attack, and we have a lot to sell at Arkansas. We’ll go out there and we’ll get another player.”
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