Tom Murphy is a sports 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. He was the 2017 Arkansas Sportswriter of the Year.
Razorback football notebook: Rocket progressing
Arkansas running back Raheim Sanders is shown prior to a game against BYU on Saturday, Sept. 16, 2023, in Fayetteville. Sanders missed his second consecutive game with a knee injury.
FAYETTEVILLE — Arkansas Coach Sam Pittman reported more progress for star tailback Raheim Sanders in practice this week but no definite time frame for his return.
“He ran well yesterday and is progressing faster than what I thought he might,” Pittman said before Wednesday’s practice. “But I don’t know whether he’ll be able to play or not.”
Pittman also gave an update on defensive tackle Anthony “Tank” Booker, who worked on the side with injured players Tuesday.
“He’s going to practice [Wednesday],” Pittman said. “Those knees are sore. He’s had problems in the past with them. But he’ll be full-go today at practice.”
The family of current LSU defensive back Greg Brooks Jr., a former Arkansas Razorback, released a statement early Wednesday explaining his medical emergency late last week.
“Greg Jr. was diagnosed last week with a large brain tumor that required emergency surgery. Doctors successfully performed the procedure Friday to remove the mass and we are awaiting biopsy results,” the statement read in part.
Brooks, a fifth-year senior, played three seasons at Arkansas before transferring to his home state and earning team captain status for 2023.
LSU Coach Brian Kelly said Brooks, who had experienced vertigo during training camp before recovering and posting eight tackles in the first two games, had another spell last week.
“He had dizziness again on Wednesday of last week,” Kelly said on Wednesday’s SEC coaches teleconference. “Finally we said enough’s enough and we got an MRI and that’s when the tumor was located. So the vertigo was just a symptom of what was obviously a larger issue.”
Kelly said he couldn’t venture a guess as to whether Brooks could return this season.
“I saw him in the hospital on Sunday,” Kelly said. “You know, he was still coming out of a heavy sedation so we weren’t able to have a lucid conversation. I know before he went in, he was pretty clear about playing again this year, but that’s Greg Brooks.”
Arkansas Coach Sam Pittman opened his Monday news conference extending prayers to Brooks and the LSU program and extolling Brooks as a “wonderful kid.” He was asked more about Brooks on Wednesday.
“In a nutshell, and I mean this with all my heart, he’s a wonderful, wonderful kid, and that didn’t change when he decided to go back to his home state of Louisiana,” Pittman said.
“He was a wonderful teammate here, and I could not think of one negative thing to say about him or his family. It’s tough. Our kids know it as well. But all we can do is represent him in the way that we play.”
Asked to relate a story from Brooks’ time at Arkansas, Pittman brought up the second game of the 2020 season, when the Razorbacks snapped a 20-game conference losing streak with a 21-14 win at Mississippi State.
“We go to Mississippi State and Greg picks a pass for the first touchdown of the game and takes it all the way back for seven,” Pittman said of Brooks’ 69-yard interception return. “It kind of sprung us into that win. I’ll never forget that and the look on his face after that pick 6.”
No. 12 LSU hosts Arkansas at Tiger Stadium in Baton Rouge on Saturday at 6 p.m. Central.
Max Fletcher is having a better sophomore season than he did as a freshman, but he’s still in a battle for the top punting job.
Fletcher is averaging 44.1 yards per punt, good for 25th in the country, and that’s despite having back-to-back shanks of 28 and 10 yards against BYU last week.
Without those two punts, Fletcher’s average is 48.3 yards per punt.
“I will tell you Devin Bale, he’s been punting the ball well also,” Sam Pittman said on Wednesday’s SEC coaches teleconference. “We’re going to start Max, but we will punt Devin Bale on Saturday because he’s earned the right to do that.
“And that’s no negative against Max. Maybe a little bit more concentration there and things of that nature. But competition helps everybody.”
Bale is a junior transfer from Northern Colorado, where he averaged 41.2 yards on 103 punts in 20 games.
Freshman Luke Hasz had the biggest game for an Arkansas tight end since C.J. O’Grady’s 91 receiving yards in a 31-27 loss to Texas A&M with his performance last week.
Hasz had four receptions for 78 yards and a touchdown in the Hogs’ 38-31 loss to BYU.
“It’s definitely been a blessing being able to come here and having the opportunity to get on the field,” Hasz said Tuesday.
Hasz caught a 19-yard touchdown pass from KJ Jefferson in the second quarter. He had an 8-yard reception in the first quarter nullified by a questionable offensive pass interference call against him.
“I was definitely shocked,” Hasz said. “But at the end of the day we can all do things a little better to make it not for the refs to throw a flag. I can work on going back and watching that play and figuring out what I did wrong or why I gave him the opportunity to throw that flag.”
Coach Sam Pittman said freshman linebacker Alex Sanford is playing the scout team role of linebacker Harold Perkins this week.
Perkins, now an LSU sophomore, bedeviled the Hogs for 3 sacks for 27 yards in losses and 2 forced fumbles in last year’s 13-10 win by the Tigers en route to freshman All-America status.
Though Perkins is being deployed a little differently this year, he’s still high on the Hogs’ radar.
“Alex Sanford has been the Harold Perkins, and he’s done a nice job,” Pittman said. “He’s the closest thing we can get to him. … Obviously, you can’t duplicate that type of speed, but he’s done a nice job with it.”
Sanford, a 6-1, 227-pounder from Oxford, Miss., drew praise in camp from Pittman despite reporting in the summer and not having spring ball with the Razorbacks.
A reporter asked LSU Coach Brian Kelly about the national dialogue that the SEC is down, particularly with early losses by Alabama, LSU and Texas A&M in Power 5 matchups through the first three weeks.
The SEC has a 5-7 record, the second-worst among the Power 5 behind the Big Ten’s 5-8 mark, in head-to-head meetings, including Arkansas’ 38-31 loss to BYU last week.
“Certainly the narrative is because LSU lost and Alabama lost that it’s down, but that’s one game,” Kelly said. “We’ve got a long season ahead of us. Georgia’s still the two-time national champ in the SEC, so last I checked they were still undefeated.
“I just think that’s a news cycle kind of narrative. I think you just play the games and continue to do the things that you need to do, and that changes the next week. Everybody was talking about how difficult it was at Florida, and look how well they’re playing. I just think that all the teams in this league are difficult to play against.”
LSU quarterback Jayden Daniels and receiver Malik Nabers are just the fifth set of teammates to share SEC offensive player of the week honors since the weekly awards began in 1985.
The Tigers have turned the feat three times, with Joe Burrow and Clyde Edwards-Helaire being named co-offensive players of the week after a win over Alabama in 2019, and Tommy Hodson and Wendell Davis sharing the honor after a win over Notre Dame in 1986.
Arkansas’ Tyler Wilson and Jarius Wright shared the award after an historic comeback win over Texas A&M in 2011, and Tennessee’s Andy Kelly and Carl Pickens did the same in 1990 after beating Kentucky.
LSU’s Tiger Stadium has a capacity of 102,321, making it the fifth-largest college football venue in the country and second-largest in the SEC behind Texas A&M’s Kyle Field (102,733).
The top three stadium capacities all reside at Big Ten powers: Michigan (107,601); Penn State (106,572) and Ohio State (102,780).
ESPN has assigned its lead crew of Chris Fowler on play by play, Kirk Herbstreit with analysis and Holly Rowe with sideline reports to Arkansas’ game at No. 12 LSU on Saturday.
The ESPN radio call will consist of Mike Couzens on play by play, Max Starks as analyst and Mike Peasley on the sidelines.
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