Scottie Bordelon is a reporter for the Hawgs Sports Network. He has a bachelor's degree in journalism from the University of Arkansas and previously covered high school sports for the Times Record in Fort Smith and the Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. He was the 2022 Arkansas Sportswriter of the Year.
Stephens pushing for bigger role
Arkansas wide receiver Bryce Stephens (14) reacts after scoring a touchdown, Saturday, October 8, 2022 during the third quarter of a football game at Davis Wade Stadium in Starkville. Visit nwaonline.com/221009Daily/ for today's photo gallery...(NWA Democrat-Gazette/Charlie Kaijo)
FAYETTEVILLE — A relative unknown entering the 2022 season has provided pop for Arkansas in two phases of the game in the last month.
Bryce Stephens, a redshirt freshman receiver from Oklahoma City, in Week 3 returned a punt 82 yards for a touchdown during the Razorbacks’ 38-27 come-back win over Missouri State. And last week at Mississippi State he tallied the first receiving score of his career on a 54-yard pass from quarterback Malik Hornsby.
Arkansas coach Sam Pittman has witnessed a rise in the quiet, about-his-business receiver’s confidence. That has come as a result of his performance as a punt returner.
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“He’s catching the ball better,” Pittman said Wednesday. “And if there was any type of, 'I don’t know about him,' it would be just his catch ability, his consistency at catching the football. Certainly that’s been erased.”
Stephens this season has returned 9 punts for 130 yards and 1 touchdown, which was the program’s second since Joe Adams’ in the Cotton Bowl against Kansas State in January 2012. The 82-yard return was the fifth-longest in school history.
On the perimeter, he received his first extended action against the Bulldogs, playing 24 snaps, including 20 in the slot. He had a grade of 75.8 at Mississippi State, according to Pro Football Focus, following a 2-catch, 59-yard game.
Asked if Stephens’ play in the loss could position him for more playing time moving forward, Pittman essentially said it is a possibility.
“You play kids that have shown you that they can compete and do well, and certainly that catch was a big-time catch,” he said. “He’s certainly moved up in our mind of guys we would put in earlier in the game. And, of course, he earned that, I felt like, on Saturday.”
Stephens said this week that his touchdown catch was a big personal moment, and he was ready when called upon. He thinks he can use it as a stepping stone to aide a passing game that has not clicked in recent weeks.
A participant in 100-meter and 200-meter races in high school, Stephens could provide the Razorbacks a deep-ball threat. Arkansas is tied for 45th nationally with 22 pass plays of 20-plus yards.
“I really knew I could go do it going in,” Stephens said. “But it’s just like building more confidence in quarterbacks and everyone in me.”
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Asked what he brings to the receivers group aside from speed, Stephens said he has a strong grasp of the offense, where to be and when, and an ability to push others. Those things could come in handy this weekend.
BYU, which is 4-2 following a 28-20 loss to Notre Dame in Las Vegas, owns the nation’s No. 25 pass defense. The Cougars are allowing an average of 190 yards, and they have five interceptions — all by linebackers.
“They’re very disciplined and have a lot of older guys and stuff, so we need to make sure we key in, lock in on what we’re supposed to be doing,” Stephens said.
“We’re going to continue to work and come out this weekend and get a dub.”
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