Arkansas is preparing to play its third game without injured tight end Chris Gragg, who was leading the Razorbacks in receptions when he suffered a bone bruise in his leg against Rutgers on Sept. 22.
His absence left Arkansas looking for production in the passing game from other tight ends – especially Austin Tate. The junior doesn’t possess the same type of skill set as Gragg and is the first to admit it. But he did become a bigger part of the offense last week, hauling in 4 catches for 44 yards in the Auburn win.
Tate looked back at the performance and how he has settled into the lead role at tight end without Gragg. He also looked ahead to Saturday’s game against Kentucky:
Q: You had a nice receiving game at Auburn. How did it feel?
A: “It was good to catch the ball finally. I’ve been talking about it, been working towards it. I was glad to finally catch a ball and move it down the field for the team. But most importantly was getting the win. That felt good. That’s a good feeling, a good feeling to have going into class the next week.”
Q: You said last week you’re not the receiver Chris Gragg is, but you’re putting some decent numbers now. How do you think you’ve developed in the passing game?
A: “I’ve just had to work hard at getting quicker, getting more elusive, trying to get out. They’re doing a great job calling plays that help me get open. They’re my kind of plays … We’ve just been working hard at that. Me and Tyler (Wilson) are getting some timing down and just moving the ball down the field, that’s our main focus.”
Q: It looks like this is going to be your third week to start. Are you starting to get comfortable in that role?
A: “I’ve been comfortable. … Texas A&M was kind of my first big role, starting. But I felt good. I’ve been here. I feel like I’ve got the experience. Everybody looks up to me. I’m kind of the older guy, other than Chris. My comfort level’s fine. I feel good out there on the field. Last week things just clicked for me.”
Q: Would it surprise you to hear Arkansas is 2-4 vs. Kentucky?
A: “Let’s make it 3-4 … It’s going to be a good game. We’re back home. That’s a big deal for us coming off a road win. We’ve really been working hard trying to get back up on top. We finally got a win, but we’re not done. We need to come home and close the deal out and finish the season the right way.”
Q: When you heard Tyler had been involved in accident, what was going through your mind?
A: Honestly, if I hadn’t kind of been eavesdropping in the locker room, I wouldn’t have known that even happened. I saw him walking around beforehand, so I knew obviously he was fine. I heard he was in a wreck, went over and asked him if he was fine, and he said he was fine, so then I kind of got my mind ready for practice.”
Q: How much can you build on big win last week with three home games coming up?
A: “We were working hard trying to get that win. We got it. I feel like that’s kind of gotten everybody’s self-esteem back up a little bit. Kind of got us started. Everything’s a snowball effect around here … Last week we came off the field feeling good, had a nice trip home. I think everybody likes that feeling. I don’t know anybody that doesn’t like that feeling. We’re striving for that. It was a big win for us, an SEC game on the road. Good win for us. Now we’re hungry for that. We know what that feels like and we want that feeling come Saturday night.”