Razorback report: Rocket nearing ready for takeoff

By: Tom Murphy Tom Murphy's Twitter account
Published: Thursday, September 28, 2023
Arkansas running back Raheim Sanders participates in a drill, Friday, Aug. 4, 2023, during a fall camp practice in Fayetteville.
( Hank Layton)
Arkansas running back Raheim Sanders participates in a drill, Friday, Aug. 4, 2023, during a fall camp practice in Fayetteville.

FAYETTEVILLE — Arkansas Coach Sam Pittman was not ready to declare tailback Raheim “Rocket” Sanders a definite “go” for Saturday against Texas A&M, but the 6-2, 242-pounder is certainly close.

Sanders has missed the past three games due to swelling in his left knee since rushing for 42 yards and two touchdowns in a 56-13 win over Western Carolina in the season-opener.

“I’m as confident as I’ve been since the Western Carolina game,” Pittman said regarding Sanders. “I would be lying to you if I told you that I’m sure he’s going to play.

“I feel better about his opportunity to play, but we still have to see how he recovers from [Tuesday’s] limited reps that he participated in and go from there.

“It didn’t swell up too bad on him [Tuesday]. We’ll give him a little less reps [Wednesday] and then see where he’s at [today]. We’re obviously hoping he can play.”

Pittman said safety Hudson Clark, who has been in a green no-contact jersey all week with a shoulder issue, will probably be ready to play against the Aggies.

Aggies lose starter

Texas A&M will definitely be without starting quarterback Conner Weigman for Saturday’s 11 a.m. game against Arkansas, as the sophomore is reportedly out for the year with a lower leg injury.

Multiple outlets reported the injury Weigman suffered late in the second quarter during a 27-10 win over Auburn last week is on a weight-bearing bone.

Texas A&M Coach Jimbo Fisher confirmed Weigman is out for a while on Wednesday’s SEC coaches teleconference. The move installs veteran Max Johnson as the starter, and Fisher said Jaylen Henderson, a transfer from Fresno State, will be the top reserve.

“Obviously, I hate it for Conner Weigman,” Arkansas Coach Sam Pittman said. “I do. He was playing really well. I’m sorry to hear that news.”

The Aggies lost their starting quarterback for the third consecutive year following injuries to Haynes King in 2021 and to Johnson last year.

The left-hander Johnson, a 6-6 sophomore from Athens, Ga., and the son of former NFL quarterback Brad Johnson, will start against the Hogs for the second year in a row. Ironically, he was replaced by Garrett Nussmeier two years ago by LSU Coach Ed Orgeron for a game against Arkansas, won 16-13 in overtime by the Razorbacks.

Johnson, who has played for parts of four years, suffered a year-ending thumb injury midway through last season, but he recovered and was beaten out by Weigman in preseason camp.

“Fortunately for A&M, they have a wonderful backup quarterback and now a starter in Max Johnson,” Pittman said. “Max has played a lot of games. I remember him when he was in high school when I was over at Georgia. … He’s a fine quarterback, a fine person. I’m sure he’ll do well, just like he did last week when he went in against Auburn.”

Johnson went 7 for 11 for 123 yards and 2 touchdowns against Auburn last week.

“I’m excited to play him,” Arkansas defensive end Landon Jackson said. “He’s another guy I was teammates with at LSU. He can throw really well from the run, so that’s something we’re preparing to do is keep him in the pocket.”

Tight losses

Arkansas has been coming up on the short side of close decisions for much of the past dozen years, and the first four years of the Sam Pittman regime have contributed in that department.

The Razorbacks lost their past two games against BYU and LSU by seven points or less, making them 5-11 in one-score games under Pittman.

Arkansas was 1-3 in one-score games in 2020, 2-1 in 2021, and 2-4 in 2022 before their 0-2 start in that category this season.

Hud’s ‘home’

Arkansas defensive back Hudson Clark, who has been wearing a non-contact green jersey in practice this week, is scheduled to compete in his 10th career game at AT&T Stadium on Saturday in Arlington, Texas.

Clark was part of three Texas high school state championship game wins at the home of the Dallas Cowboys while at Highland Park High School as well as four other playoff games.

The 6-2, 188-pound senior basically grew up in the stadium, which opened in 2009, and in Texas Stadium before that with his family attending numerous Cowboys games.

On Wednesday, Clark was named one of 201 semifinalists for the William V. Campbell Award, which is considered the academic Heisman Trophy for college football.

Jayhawks again?

The 247Sports national staff added Arkansas to its bowl projections this week after leaving the Hogs, South Carolina and Vanderbilt out of its postseason predictions a week ago.

The site is projecting Arkansas to play in the Texas Bowl and face a rematch with Kansas, which the Razorbacks downed 55-53 in a triple-overtime thriller in last year’s Liberty Bowl.

“Would anyone complain about seeing this matchup again during bowl season,” wrote 247Sports.com’s Brad Crawford. “Rematches in consecutive years are unlikely, but there would be a ton of fans from both sides make the holiday trek to the Lone Star State for this one.”

4 other heads

The Arkansas-Texas A&M game will feature six men who have been major college head coaches on the two staffs.

Current Arkansas Coach Sam Pittman, in his fourth year at the helm, has an offensive coordinator in Dan Enos, who served as head coach at Central Michigan from 2010-14 prior to his first stint (2015-17) as offensive coordinator with the Razorbacks.

Jimbo Fisher, who has a record of 125-45 in 14 seasons at Florida State (2010-17) and Texas A&M, has former Arkansas coach Bobby Petrino, along with Steve Addazio and DJ Durkin on his staff.

Petrino guided the Razorbacks to a 34-17 record from 2008-2011, including a 21-5 mark his final two seasons. His career record in 17 seasons at Louisville, Arkansas, Western Kentucky and Missouri State is 137-71.

Addazio compiled a 61-67 record in stints at Temple (2011-12) and Boston College (2013-19). Durkin guided Maryland to a 10-15 record over two seasons (2016-17) before he was fired, five months after the practice-related death of player Jordan McNair.


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