Bob Holt is a sports reporter for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. A graduate of the University of Missouri, he sits on the board of directors for the U.S. Basketball Writers Association, is a member of the Football Writers Association of America, and a voter for the Heisman Trophy and AP Top 25 basketball poll. He has been awarded Arkansas Sportswriter of the Year four times and has been inducted to the Arkansas Sportscasters and Sportswriters Hall of Fame.
Razorback report: Rocket ramping up in practice
Arkansas running back Raheim Sanders participates in a drill, Friday, Aug. 4, 2023, during a fall camp practice in Fayetteville.
FAYETTEVILLE — Preseason All-America tailback Raheim Sanders practiced Tuesday in what looked like full-go mode for Arkansas, perhaps portending he will be available for Saturday’s 11 a.m. game against Texas A&M at Arlington, Texas.
Sanders, a 1,443-yard rusher in 2022, has missed all but the season-opener after experiencing swelling in his left knee following the Razorbacks’ 56-13 win over Western Carolina at Little Rock.
Sanders wore his white No. 5 jersey and participated in drill work that included thud contact and cutting, and the junior ran with the first unit during fastball starts.
The Razorbacks’ running back room appears set to undergo some transition this week. While Sanders looks to be available, junior AJ Green, who has started the past three games in his absence, has been in a green no-contact jersey the first two days of the week while protecting a shoulder injury.
“I’m so excited that he’s back,” sophomore tailback Rashod Dubinion said. “He’s a tremendous leader as well. Him and AJ Green and Dominique Johnson, they keep me motivated every day bringing it to practice. It makes me step my game up.”
Dubinion said Sanders has stayed engaged throughout his recovery period, which has seen him on the sideline for the BYU game but not on the travel roster at LSU last week.
“He’s keeping us motivated, telling us what he sees on film and what we can do better,” Dubinion said. “Just staying in touch with us and letting us know he’s still here, like he hasn’t gone anywhere.”
Green leads the team with 190 rushing yards and 6.1 yards per carry, while his two rushing touchdowns are tied with Sanders at the one-third mark of the regular season.
Dubinion is second on the team with 174 yards and 1 touchdown, while Sanders notched 42 yards in the opener. Quarterback KJ Jefferson leads the team with 47 rushing attempts, which includes 11 sacks.
Raheim Sanders had a pair of runs during the Razorbacks’ fastball starts in full pads Tuesday. Sanders had a strong burst through a hole at right tackle on his first carry and exploded into the secondary. His next run up the middle against “thud” defense was stacked up for a short gain.
Quarterback KJ Jefferson went 0 for 2 with the first unit, with defenders getting hands on both of his passes. End Trajan Jeffcoat broke up his first throw at the line of scrimmage after an run-pass option mesh with Sanders. On the fourth snap of the sequence, Jefferson’s throw over the middle was knocked down and nearly intercepted by safety Jayden Johnson.
Rashod Dubinion had all four touches for the second unit, punctuated by a breakaway carry at left guard on the third rep. Dubinion also had short runs at right guard and up the middle and he caught a check-down pass from Jacolby Criswell in the left flats.
Plane to XNA
The Razorbacks did not bus to Fayetteville from Little Rock during the early morning hours of Sunday in the return from Baton Rouge, as reported in Tuesday’s Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.
Members of the UA traveling party landed at Clinton National Airport in Little Rock due to storms in Northwest Arkansas and waited for more than three hours for them to subside. The Razorbacks finally landed at Northwest Arkansas Regional Airport around 5:20 a.m., and the buses returned to the football building around 6:30 a.m.
Competition to snag complimentary player tickets to Saturday’s Arkansas-Texas A&M game at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas, has been fierce on the Arkansas roster with a big number of players from Texas.
Defensive end Landon Jackson, a Texarkana, Texas, native, said it’s been tough.
“Man, I told my family in our group chat, I’ve got a guaranteed four tickets,” Jackson said. “If you want to for sure be able to come and you’re not Mom, Dad, brother, fiance, you better just go ahead and buy a ticket, because there ain’t no promises.”
Receiver Andrew Armstrong from Dallas said he’s trying to find 15 tickets to help out family and friends.
“Oh yeah, definitely,” Armstrong said of trying to find extra tickets. “I had to get my hustle on, starting on Sunday night.”
Freshman defensive back Jaylon Braxton from Frisco, Texas, said he’d like to get at least 20 tickets to accommodate requests.
“I’m trying to get tickets,” Braxton said. “It’s hard right now, but I know for sure that my mom and all them, they’ll be there. If not, they’ll watch on TV.”
One of the stranger plays this season happened in the fourth quarter of Texas A&M’s 27-10 win over Auburn last Saturday.
Aggies Coach Jimbo Fisher was standing on the field when Auburn linebacker Asante Edwards quickly recovered an airborne fumble and returned it 67 yards for a touchdown. Edwards ran untouched between the Texas A&M sideline and a startled Fisher, who managed to stand still.
“I thought the play was dead,” Fisher said. “I was yelling at somebody else on the side and then the ball’s coming back my way.
“I said, ‘Dang, that ain’t supposed to happen.’ I’m lucky I didn’t get run over.”
Fisher said he didn’t realize there had been a fumble. He thought the play was over as he tried to get the attention of quarterback Max Johnson.
“Bad execution on my part,” Fisher said. “I should have gotten out of the way.”
Arkansas Coach Sam Pittman couldn’t help but laugh when asked about the play.
“Man, that had to be a terrible feeling,” Pittman said. “Guys, I like Jimbo Fisher. I do. He’s a good man. Good coach.
“But he was out and the guy was running closer to the sidelines than he was. He ran inside of him. You can just see on his face, like, ‘Oh no.’ … I’m sure all coaches could almost get caught out there doing the same thing.”
Arkansas lead the all-time series with Texas A&M by a count of 42-34-3 but the Aggies have tightened the margin significantly in the past 12 years.
Texas A&M has won 10 of the past 11 meetings, with the lone blemish a 20-10 setback in 2010. The Aggies have won seven of the past eight games at Arlington, Texas, with three of those games going into overtime and six of them decided by seven points or less.
Arkansas won the first three games in the renewal of the Southwest Classic in 2009-11, all in Arlington, to extend its series lead to 41-24-3.
The Razorbacks hold a 12-7-2 advantage in games played in Fayetteville, a 9-3 edge in Little Rock, and a 17-15-1 lead in College Station, Texas.
Issac TeSlaa started the first three games at a wideout spot, but the 6-4, 216-pounder started in the slot at LSU last week.
The move was made to get Tyrone Broden in the starting lineup for the first time. He took TeSlaa’s spot outside, pairing with Andrew Armstrong.
Sam Pittman said TeSlaa handled the move well and it was a good opportunity to give Broden more work.
“I think it worked out probably, and for the future I think it’ll be even better for us,” Pittman said.
Broden was targeted 7 times and had 3 catches for 31 yards and 1 touchdown. TeSlaa, who replaced Jaedon Wilson in the slot, was targeted 5 times and had 3 catches for 31 yards.
Texas A&M linebacker Tauren York was named SEC Freshman of the Week after he had 11 tackles against Auburn, including two for lost yardage.
“Taurean York really played well, fit well,” Aggies Coach Jimbo Fisher said. “He was outstanding in the game.”
Arkansas fans were disappointed the honor didn’t go to tight end Luke Hasz, who had 6 catches for 116 yards and 2 touchdowns in a loss at LSU.
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