FAYETTEVILLE — Brandon Mitchell’s suspension will continue through the homecoming game against Tulsa on Saturday and Arkansas coach John L. Smith said there is no timetable for his return.
Last week, the redshirt junior did not travel with the team to Little Rock for what has been called a violation of team rules. Smith said Mitchell’s absence this weekend will still be classified that way.
“There comes a point where you get through Wednesday practice and if you haven’t used him – and which we couldn’t plan on him being here,” Smith said. “So we don’t anticipate (him playing) at all. He’s not game ready, not game-planned, not part of it.
“Like everybody, I’m just knocking on wood. I’m anxious.”
Mitchell made the move to wide receiver from backup quarterback this season and earned a starting spot during the summer. He was still meeting with the quarterbacks, split time under center with Brandon Allen in the 52-0 loss to Alabama and threw a touchdown to fellow receiver Javontee Herndon on a reverse pass in the 24-7 win against Auburn. Without the Amite, La., native split out against Ole Miss, the Razorbacks had only two wide receivers record receptions and are looking for production out of some of the freshmen.
“I really like what I am seeing out of (D’Arthur) Cowan and Mekale (McKay) is doing a great job as well,” Smith said. “Those guys are going to be very, very good. We need to keep kicking Hatcher in the tail and get him better, which he will because he’s a talent as well. All of those guys are continuing to work and will get better and hopefully as time goes by, they’ll be a bigger part of the game plan and we’ll be able to spread the ball around.”
The Razorbacks are looking for another freshman to contribute against the Golden Hurricane as well. Nate Holmes has moved back into the punt returner role after being removed in favor of Keante Minor following the Rutgers game in which he muffed two kicks.
“This week, we’ve used Nate,” Smith said. “We take them and we kick them a number of balls daily and this week, Nate’s been the best so Nate’s going to be the guy back there.”
In the season opener, Holmes impersonated Joe Adams with what appeared to be a 50-yard return for a touchdown in which he broke a tackle and seemed to defy gravity by keeping his knees off of the ground, but the play was called back after a review showed his elbow touched the ground.
“We still believe that Nate is going to be something back there,” Smith said. “He’s going to be something and has that ability to put it in the end zone any time he touches it. I think this is a good time for him to come back. He’s very appreciative of getting another shot, so he wants to go out and do well.”
Arkansas has yet to score a special team or a defensive touchdown this year. The Razorbacks have lost a pair of momentum-swinging special team plays that set up touchdowns, like the snap over Dylan Breeding’s head against Alabama and a blocked punt by Ole Miss. But a big special teams play of its own could be crucial in the month of November as the Hogs try to gain bowl eligibility.
“That can win you a ballgame,” Smith said. “It’s just like we talked about how a blocked punt could lose you a ballgame, a touchdown on special teams can win you a ballgame. Last year we ended up with six touchdowns and that could be six game-winners that we haven’t seen yet. It’s a combination of a number of things, replacing a Joe Adams which is a very special kid and then they’ve taken kickoff return out of the game.”
The last time Arkansas faced Tulsa, the Razorbacks’ school-record holder for career kick return yards, Dennis Johnson, had a 96-yard return for a touchdown in the 30-23 win over the Golden Hurricane. As Smith noted, the new rule moving the kickoff to the 35-yard line has made a kick return touchdown nearly impossible, but a big play by Johnson or Holmes may be the difference this Saturday as it was in 2008.