Arkansas got second-leading receiver Chris Gragg back on the field for the first time since the Rutgers game on Sept. 22 — at least for a while — on Saturday, but played without another top receiver in the 30-27 loss to Ole Miss.
Junior Brandon Mitchell did not play because of a “violation of team rules.”
Arkansas announced the suspension in a two-paragraph news release before the game and coach John L. Smith provided few other details about Mitchell’s absence during his postgame news conference.
“Let’s just let that sit,” Smith said when asked if Mitchell would return this season. “We anticipate yes. But I don’t … we’ll have more answers for you on that.”
Smith also was asked if Mitchell’s absence was related to an NCAA eligibility issue and said, “It’s a team rule at this point.” Smith repeated the sentence when asked if Arkansas’ compliance office was involved in Mitchell’s suspension.
Arkansas athletics director Jeff Long also declined comment regarding Mitchell’s suspension when approached at halftime.
Mitchell is Arkansas’ third leading receiver witch 15 catches for 257 yards. He’s also the team’s third-string quarterback, completing 2 of 8 passes for 45 yards and a touchdown this season. Mitchell threw a 26-yard touchdown pass to receiver Javontee Herndon on a trick play to help Arkansas wrap up its first Southeastern Conference win at Auburn.
Arkansas junior Cobi Hamilton caught 12 passes for 146 yards to lead the Razorbacks in receiving Saturday. Only two other wide receivers — Julian Horton (three catches, 30 yards) and Javontee Herndon (one catch, 18 yards) — caught passes.
Hamilton said Mitchell practiced with the team this week, but received limited repetitions. He said it was an early indication Mitchell wouldn’t play Saturday.
“You really miss his vocal leadership. That big, strong deep voice. You just kind of miss him on the sideline. He’s just a great leader vocally. He’s a great player,” Hamilton said. “I’m sure he hated watching in Fayetteville, watching and not being here. So I know he’ll be excited to come to practice Tuesday and get back to work.”
Arkansas lost two players to injuries during Saturday’s game.
Gragg, who played for the first time in a month and caught a 42-yard touchdown pass, left the field late in the first half after suffering another injury to his left leg and did not return. He finished with three catches for 55 yards.
Running back Knile Davis also left the game in the first half with what appeared to be a hamstring injury suffered on a 23-yard reception. Davis also rushed for 4 yards on two carries before suffering the injury.
“It could be a number of things,” Smith said when asked about the specifics of both injuries. “We’ll find out this next week.’
Hamilton In Little Rock
Hamilton has had a history of big performances in Little Rock and it didn’t change Saturday despite the loss. Hamilton, in his final appearance in War Memorial Stadium, led the Razorbacks with 12 catches for 146 yards.
“They were kind of chattering at me pregame, so I kind of figured they had a plan for me,” Hamilton said about Ole Miss. “I felt like all eyes were on me in pregame. We exchanged a couple of words. But I guess it’s what you’ve got to expect. I’m having a good year and you’ve got to expect defenses to try to control it.”
The receiver finished his career with 40 catches, 789 yards and eight touchdowns in eight career games in Little Rock. Hamilton now has 58 catches for 900 yards with four touchdowns this season. He leads the SEC in catches and receiving yards.
Hamilton also moved into sixth on the school’s career receptions list (143).
Arkansas’ struggles in the second quarter returned Saturday.
Ole Miss outscored the Razorbacks 21-7 to erase a 10-point deficit in War Memorial Stadium. It was reminiscent of games earlier this season, when Alabama, Rutgers and Texas A&M combined to outscore Arkansas 52-0 en route to wins.
The second quarter woes proved to be the difference in Saturday’s game.
Arkansas quarterback Tyler Wilson led NCAA in yards per completed pass prior to the Ole Miss game, but his average took a hit against the Rebels.
Going in, Wilson was averaging 15.78 yards per completion. His 24 completions against Ole Miss were worth 297 yards, an average of 12.4 yards per.
Before the Ole Miss game, the fifth-year senior from Greenwood led the SEC with 9.03 yards of total offense per play. Against the Rebels, he recorded a minus-25 yards rushing and his 43 pass attempts averaged out to less than 7 yards per play.
Arkansas’ running game continues to improve production. The Razorbacks, who rushed for more than 100 yards in each of the three games prior to Ole Miss, churned out 167 against the Rebels.
Dennis Johnson led the way with 27 carries for 161 yards.
His average of 5.86 yards per try was ninth in the SEC prior to the Ole Miss game.
For the first time in three games, senior linebacker Terrell Williams did not lead the Razorbacks in tackles.
Williams was in on eight tackles vs. the Rebels, but had only one solo stop. Ross Rasner and A.J. Turner tied for the team lead with 10 tackles each. Rasner had five solo tackles and Turner had two. Safety Rohan Gaines also had five unassisted tackles and was third on the team with nine.
Williams tied his career high with 12 tackles at Auburn and added 1.5 tackles for loss with a sack. Against Kentucky, he tied for the team lead with five stops in the weather-shortened game to go along with one pass break up and one quarterback hurry.
Other than being in on the eight tackles vs. Ole Miss, Williams did not record any other statistics.