FAYETTEVILLE -- Keep an eye out on the legacy Arkansas Razorbacks this weekend in Starkville, Miss.
Zach Williams and Mateo Soli are likely to play huge roles for the University of Arkansas at the edge "Jack" position as the Razorbacks try to slow the Air Raid antics of No. 16 Mississippi State.
Coach Sam Pittman did not sound promising about the prospects for injured starting end Dorian Gerald, meaning Soli and Williams will likely share time at the spot opposite Julius Coates trying to get after quarterback K.J. Costello.
Soli, the son of former All-SEC nose tackle Junior Soli, is expected to see his first action of the season after missing last week. Soli started 11 games as a true freshman after Gerald's neck injury last year.
Williams, the son of former Arkansas linebacker Rickey Williams, showed well in the opener against Georgia last week, both before and after Gerald went out with an ankle injury.
Williams notched seven tackles to tie cornerback Jerry Jacobs for fourth on the unit. The 6-4, 246-pounder from Joe T. Robinson High School added an 8-yard sack and also combined on another tackle for loss.
"Zach played well, I thought, the other day," Coach Sam Pittman said Thursday. "No matter what happens with Dorian, he has earned more playing time, so we're expecting him to go out there and play well for us."
CB opting out
Arkansas cornerback Jarques McClellion announced on Thursday that he was opting out of the season due to family issues with covid-19, joining receiver Shamar Nash and offensive lineman Chibueze Nwanna as opt-outs.
McClellion announced his decision with a Twitter post, writing he's been quarantined twice since returning to campus on June 1, and noting he watched his mother "fight for her life" on a ventilator last year during the birth of his sister.
"This has really hit home for me and my family being quarantined twice," he wrote. "I wish my university all the best this football season."
Sam Pittman said the Razorbacks were traveling with a three deep of defensive backs across the board, with cornerbacks, nickel backs and safeties for their road opener at pass-happy Mississippi State.
Devin Bush, Micahh Smith and potentially other defensive backs who missed last week are expected to be available against the Bulldogs, who passed for 623 yards in their 44-34 upset at then-No. 6 LSU last week.
"We need as many as we can take," Pittman said. "I mean, we're going to roll in there three deep and we need to. That's a big deal getting those guys back.
"We got a majority of our secondary back -- not a majority but a few secondary guys -- last week on Tuesday and certainly we're planning on being able to take everybody this week."
Pittman said the trimmed-down roster position to account for the extra defensive backs would come at linebacker.
Arkansas and Mississippi State have the two hardest schedules in the nation, per the ESPN Football Power Index.
The Razorbacks have the toughest slate according to the FPI with games against all eight SEC teams in the current Associated Press Top 25 poll. The Bulldogs' schedule ranks second.
Arkansas drew No. 3 Florida and No. 4 Georgia as its two additional crossover opponents, and also faces No. 21 Tennessee from the SEC East in addition to five ranked SEC West foes. Mississippi State has crossover games against Kentucky, Vanderbilt, Georgia and Missouri.
Sam Pittman said senior Ty Clary, a two-year starter at center, is expected to contribute this week after missing substantial time during preseason practice and last week's opener due to covid-19 contact tracing followed by an illness.
"He's back now," Pittman said. "He was back last week late in the week, and so he's doing a good job. I expect him to play this week. I really have no doubt that he'll play this week."
Linebacker Grant Morgan was named Thursday as a semifinalist for the William V. Campbell Trophy, which is given annually by the National Football Foundation to the nation's top football scholar-athlete.
Morgan, a fifth-year senior from Greenwood, is one of a record 199 nationwide semifinalists.
Morgan, who leads the Razorbacks with 13 tackles, has an opportunity to win an $18,000 post-graduate scholarship, with is awarded to each of the 12 to 14 finalists for the Campbell Trophy. The winner of the award earns a $25,000 post-graduate scholarship and a virtual appearance on this season's Home Depot College Football Awards Show.
Oregon quarterback Justin Herbert won the trophy last season.
With the wind
Coach Sam Pittman said he was excited going into halftime with a 7-5 lead, and made his decision to open the second half based on that. Because Georgia had won the opening toss and chose to defer, the Bulldogs took the second-half kickoff and Pittman had the choice of which end of the field he wanted.
"The feeling that we had going in at half ahead, that was a great feeling," Pittman said. "I felt like we made some good adjustments. I decided to take the wind in the third quarter, because I felt like we could possibly knock them out. Stop them and get the ball back. It all worked exactly like we thought, except we didn't score seven on that possession."
The Razorbacks forced a turnover near midfield on Georgia's opening possession of the half, as safety Jalen Catalon stripped the ball from running back James Cook and safety Myles Slusher scooped it and returned it 7 yards to the Arkansas 49.
Arkansas notched three first downs -- on Feleipe Franks' 7-yard run and Mike Woods' catches of 11 and 15 yards -- and reached the Georgia 3 before settling for A.J. Reed's 25-yard field goal.
Quarterbacks playing under Mike Leach have passed for 3,000 or more yards in 17 of his 18 seasons at Texas Tech and Washington State, and five of them have passed for 5,000 or more yards, led by B.J. Symons' 5,833 yards and 52 touchdowns at Texas Tech in 2004.
Mississippi State has not had a 3,000-yard passer since Dak Prescott threw for a school-record 3,793 yards in 2015.
Current Bulldogs quarterback K.J. Costello had 623 yards last week in the first of a potential 10 regular-season games.
The Razorbacks' 37-10 setback against Georgia marked the program's third-largest point differential in a season-opening loss.
Arkansas' 50-14 loss against No. 6 Southern California on Sept. 2, 2006, it the largest season-opening deficit in school history. The second-biggest came in a 31-3 loss to No. 3 Miami on Aug. 31, 1991.
Grant Morgan and Bumper Pool combined for 24 tackles last Saturday, the most tackles for an Arkansas duo in an opener since Marcus Harrison and Sam Olajubutu combined for 24 in the 2006 season opener.
Because head coach Mike Leach serves as offensive coordinator and handles the quarterbacks, Mississippi State can afford to have its assistant coaches split 6-4 in favor of defense.
On offense, the assistants are line coach Mason Miller, inside receivers coach Dave Nichol, outside receivers coach Steve Spurrier Jr., and running backs coach Eric Mele.
Defensive coordinator Zach Arnett, who handles the linebackers, studied under San Diego State Coach Rocky Long and is part of the American Football Coaches Association 35 under 35 list of up-and-coming coaches. Jeff Phelps coaches the defensive line and Matt Brock, also the special teams coordinator, works with outside linebackers. The Bulldogs have three coaches assigned to the secondary in Tony Hughes, the associate head coach who handles nickel backs, cornerbacks coach Darcel McBath and safeties coach Jason Washington. Hughes, the recruiting coordinator and safeties coach in Starkville from 2009-15 under Dan Mullen, is the only coach on staff not in his first year at Mississippi State.
The Razorbacks had some issues with penalties, as is often the case in a season opener, by drawing 10 flags for 53 yards against the Bulldogs.
Georgia had it worse, earning 12 penalties for 108 yards to rank 70th in the country in penalty yardage, behind only Florida International (127) and Tulsa (120).
The SEC Network crew assigned to Saturday's 6:30 p.m. game in Starkville, Miss., to be shown on the SEC Network Alternate channel are Roy Philpott on play by play, Kelly Stouffer with analysis and Tera Talmadge on sideline duty. Talmadge, who also worked the sideline in the Georgia at Arkansas opener, is a sports reporter at KNWA-TV in Fayetteville.