FAYETTEVILLE — Arkansas offensive coordinator Paul Petrino admitted that heading into the season, he was not sure Alex Voelzke would even be in a tight conference game like the 30-27 loss to Ole Miss on Saturday.
Chris Gragg returned to action against the Rebels after being injured about a month earlier in the first quarter against Rutgers. But after three receptions for 55 yards and a touchdown, the fifth-year senior was injured again and missed the remainder of the game. That left the Razorbacks with Austin Tate, who has made nine catches for 74 yards often in place of Gragg this season, and Voelzke to fill in for the injured tight end.
Late in the second quarter, Voelzke received his first opportunity at an in-game reception and made the most of it with his first career catch in the form of a 6-yard touchdown pass from Tyler Wilson that gave the Razorbacks a 17-14 lead with 1:02 left in the first half.
“You have to love the guys like him, (Morgan) Linton and Brad Taylor,” Petrino said. “Those guys take so many reps every day in practice, they fight hard and that’s who we have to line up and play with.
“He did a great job on that and we executed the play. The play had worked all week and it was a check against one of their blitzes, he was wide open, Tyler put it on him and he caught the ball. A lot of guys maybe wouldn’t their first time in that situation, so I was proud of him.”
The redshirt freshman started the summer low on the depth chart, but he said he found himself in the right place at the right time on Saturday.
“When Chris came out of the game, I just jumped in and the play was called, I was open and I was a little nervous when he threw it to me, but when you do that in practice, the repetition makes it seem like just another play,” Voelzke said.
Tate, a junior from Harrison, started the year behind Gragg on the depth chart. His only touchdown catch of the season, also against Ole Miss, was called back because of a penalty. In a strange formation, Arkansas offensive lineman David Hurd lined up along the wide receivers and Tate ended up open in the end zone, but the Razorbacks did not have enough men on the line of scrimmage before the play and the score was negated.
“During the moment, it made me a little mad, but at the end of the day, there’s nothing you can do about it and you have to move on and try to make a play this weekend and for sure have nothing go wrong,” Tate said.
“I scored and my emotions were running high and I turned around and saw a flag and at that point, you just have to go with whatever happens. Whether it’s a good call or not isn’t up to me. They felt like they made the right call and that’s why they’re out here.”
With his score erased, Tate said he has received some grief from Voelzke with his touchdown total now higher this season.
“Since he scored, there’s been a little knocking back-and-forth about how he scored and I still haven’t, but it’s fun and that’s why you play the game,” Tate said. “It’s part of why we play the game. We play to win, play to score touchdowns and you play for the camaraderie of your brothers.”
As for the other pass catchers, Arkansas’ wide receivers struggled against Ole Miss. Cobi Hamilton and Julian Horton were the only wideouts to record a reception against the Rebels with Brandon Mitchell suspended. Petrino said Mitchell has practiced, but still might not play against Tulsa.
“Until I get told that he’s in the game playing, he won’t,” Petrino said. “He’s taking reps and he works at it, but I’m having a plan for both.
“Horton needs to step up. He made a few more plays last week and (Javontee) Herndon needs to step up and make plays. I think D’Arthur Cowan needs to be ready to make some plays. Cobi is going to get his balls and he has to make his plays, but some of those other guys need to make a few plays for us.”