Expecations are high for Knile Davis this season.
Jacksonville State senior running back Washaun Ealey says he feels like he’s been at Jacksonville State for four years, even though this is his second season at the Jacksonville, Ala., school. He wasn’t so comfortable at his first stop, Georgia, getting into Bulldogs Coach Mark Richt’s doghouse for not doing things “the Georgia way.” Even so, the former Parade All-American played in 21 games for the Bulldogs, starting nine games in his career there and seven in the 2010 season. He rushed for a combined 1,528 yards and 14 touchdowns during his two seasons at Georgia. Arkansas fans remember him best for the three-yard touchdown run vs. the Hogs in 2010 that tied the game at 24-all. The Hogs went on to win that game in Athens, 31-24. He was granted his release from Georgia in May 2011 and transferred. Ealey (5-11, 215 pounds) rushed for 1,082 yards and eight touchdowns for Football Championship Subdivision member Jacksonville State in 2011. Ealey missed some scrimmage time during this fall camp, but says he just needed to rest his legs. … The biggest story line of the night looks like star junior running back Knile Davis’ return to the field for the Razorbacks. Sure, it’s John L. Smith’s first game as head coach, but we’ve had four months to get even more acquainted with him. Davis has had about five live carries since breaking his ankle a year ago – and those came in a closed scrimmage last week. When will he get the ball? How many carries will he have? How many yards will he end up with? Those questions continue to be asked by Arkansas fans. The last time we saw Davis (6-0, 226) in a game, he was piling up 139 yards on 26 carries vs. Ohio State in the Sugar Bowl. He ran for 1,322 yards and 13 touchdowns in the 2010 season. The ankle seems to be fine, and Davis has continued to show he’s one stout Hog in the weight room and on the field in practice. The Razorbacks have a stable of experienced backs, though. Seniors Dennis Johnson (5-9, 213) and Ronnie Wingo (6-3, 231) have each appeared in 38 games for the Hogs. It will be interesting to see how much action Wingo gets in the passing game. The Hogs have been splitting him out wide quite a bit, and he’s been practicing a lot with the receivers. Senior fullback Kiero Small (5-10, 255) is expected to pull double duty, getting some reps as the second-team middle linebacker. ADVANTAGE Arkansas
Earlier this week, Jacksonville State Coach Jack Crowe, the former Razorbacks head coach, called ex-Hog Quinn Grovey one of the best players he’s ever coached, and said it’s “hard to say he wasn’t the best player.” But Crowe has called his current starting QB, fifth-year Marques Ivory, “the best I've ever coached” from a mental standpoint. Ivory is a math major and calculus tutor. He’s also a pretty good player. Ivory (6-1, 235) missed most of last season with a broken leg and redshirted, but he started all 12 games in 2010, finishing third in the Ohio Valley Conference in total offense (196.6 yards per game), passing (187.3 ypg) and passing efficiency (133.1). He threw for 2,248 yards and 18 touchdowns and carried 59 times for 118 yards and two TDs. The Gamecocks plan to use two quarterbacks against Arkansas, and No. 2 on the depth chart is junior Coty Blanchard, who started nine of 12 games last season after Ivory’s injury. Blanchard (6-0, 185) is also a baseball player and the football team’s punter. He missed spring football because of baseball practice, and wasn’t able to attend the first two weeks of football practice in August because he was an infielder playing for the Falmouth Commodores of the Cape Cod League. In 2011, Blanchard led the OVC in pass efficiency (145.1), throwing for 1,703 yards, 12 TDs and five interceptions. He also ran for 427 yards and six TDs. … It will be hard to top the passing success Tyler Wilson had last season as a junior when he threw for 3,638 yards and 24 touchdowns. But in practices, it’s looked like Wilson (6-3, 220) just took over where he left off, and coaches and teammates continue to applaud his leadership. While he’s still running the Petrino system, he’s running it under a new quarterbacks coach and offensive coordinator. Garrick McGee is gone, and former Coach Bobby Petrino’s younger brother Paul now calls the shots. Wilson also has an offense that looks much different than it did last season – with small, speedy receiving targets replaced by tall – but certainly not slow – receivers. If everything goes as planned – if the game becomes one-sided – redshirt freshman Brandon Allen (6-3, 212) should see plenty of action. ADVANTAGE Arkansas
Not a whole lot to get worked up about at this position for Jacksonville State, although there is some experience. Senior Alan Bonner (5-11, 168) returns after being the Gamecocks’ leading receiver in 2011, making 33 receptions for 582 yards and three TDs. Another starting receiver, senior Kevyn Cooper (6-1, 197), is Ivory’s cousin and a former high school teammate. In 2011, Cooper played in 11 games and had 19 catches for 265 yards and 4 TDs. Cooper’s backup, 6-5 senior Trey Smith, is not expected to play vs. Arkansas. He’s a transfer from Western Michigan. Junior tight end Denzel Cheeks (6-6, 215) caught one pass last season. … As we said earlier, Arkansas’ receiving corps has a new look, with senior Cobi Hamilton (6-3, 209), junior Brandon Mitchell (6-4, 230) and true freshman Mekale McKay (6-6, 190) as the starters along with senior tight end Chris Gragg (6-3, 236). We’ll see how much Arkansas decides to challenge Jacksonville State’s secondary by stretching the field – as they’ve preferred to do in the past. It sounds like there will be shorter passes to bigger receivers to keep the chains moving, but with a passing game that’s expected to have its way Saturday night, there’s no telling what we’ll see. This much is guaranteed – two new starters in Mitchell and McKay. ADVANTAGE Arkansas
A combined 56 starts along the line for Jacksonville State. Three of the five are sophomores, but they have some experience. Center Max Holcombe (6-3, 271) and right tackle Tarik Milner (6-3, 280) started every game last season as redshirt freshmen, while left guard Blake Burks (6-2, 310) had one start as a true freshman. Senior right guard Tori Mobley (6-3, 280) has made 23 consecutive starts and is a preseason All-OVC pick. Senior left tackle Odie Rush (6-3, 292) was a preseason all-conference pick last year, but he missed the season with an injury after starting 12 games in 2010. … Arkansas has two of the best linemen in the SEC in junior strong guard Alvin Bailey (6-5, 312) and junior center Travis Swanson (6-5, 305). We’ll also get to see three Hogs linemen making their first starts – sophomore strong tackle Brey Cook, junior quick tackle David Hurd (6-6, 300) and senior quick guard Tyler Deacon (6-4, 300). The bad news is that it’s unlikely the average fan will be able to tell too much about the talent level of the UA’s line, unless, of course, it doesn’t dominate as it’s expected to do. ADVANTAGE Arkansas
DeQuinta Jones appeared to have the best fall camp of Arkansas' defensive tackles.
Earlier this week, Crowe called senior defensive tackle DiMetrio Tyson “the core piece” on the defense. “Statistically, the only person returning on defense that was an every-down difference, make-a-play kind of guy on defense last year.” Tyson (6-2, 275) is the most experienced of the three defensive starters who play with a hand on the ground. He ranked 15th on the team in tackles (25) last season, including four tackles for loss and two sacks. Junior defensive end Mikel Whittier (6-3, 212), a former quarterback/linebacker, and sophomore nose guard Caleb Lawrence (6-0, 270) are expected to make their first career starts. … On the opposite side of the coin is Arkansas, which is deep, experienced and talented across the front. The defensive line is expected to be the strength of this defense, led by two seniors in the middle – tackles DeQuinta Jones (6-5, 299) and Byran Jones (6-2, 312). And the two players behind them on the depth chart – junior Robert Thomas (6-5, 308) and seniors Alfred Davis (6-1, 318) and Jared Green (6-0, 315) – are stout. Sophomore defensive end Trey Flowers (6-4, 243) has drawn plenty of praise from position coach Steve Caldwell, and deservedly so. It’s looked like Flowers could be on the verge of a huge season. Junior end Chris Smith (6-3, 251) is solid, too, and one of the leaders of the defense. ADVANTAGE Arkansas
Junior “Will” linebacker Rashad Smith (6-1, 210) was the team's leading tackler last season, but the five guys right below him on the tackles chart are gone. Sophomore middle linebacker Ben Endress (6-1, 200) is expected to make his first start after playing in 10 games last season as a true freshman. Junior “Bandit” James Powell (6-1, 210) played in the first seven games last season, making one start. Senior Brooks Robinson (6-1, 201) is a converted safety and former QB who’ll be making his first start at linebacker. … In theory, Arkansas’ starting linebackers should be pretty good this season. In reality, we don’t really know yet because the two stars haven’t been on the field much. Senior middle linebacker Tenarius Wright (6-2, 252) has made the move from defensive end, but he’s been limited while dealing with concussion-like symptoms. Senior Will linebacker Alonzo Highsmith (6-1, 223) led the team in tackles for loss in 2011, but because of a torn pectoral tendon and a hamstring problem, his snaps since then haven’t been much more than a handful. Junior outside linebacker Jarrett Lake (6-3, 223) is poised to make his first start after appearing in 18 games. ADVANTAGE Arkansas
If there’s a stud in Jacksonville State’s secondary, it would be sophomore strong safety Pierre Warren (6-1, 195), who had some FBS offers coming out of Prattville (Ala.) Marbury High in 2010. He played in all 11 games last season as a true freshman, leading the team in interceptions (three), and is on the watch list for the CFPA Defensive Back Award. Junior free safety Robert Gray (5-11, 195) has played in 22 of the past 23 games and started the first three last season. Senior cornerback Francis Duncan (5-11, 167) has also played in 22 of the past 23 games and has starting experience. Sophomore cornerback Rashod Byers (5-8, 170) was a running back until just before the midway point of the 2011 season. … As is the case at linebacker, there are some experienced and talented players here for the Hogs, just not a lot of experienced guys behind the starters. Games like Saturday’s should help with that. Cornerbacks Tevin Mitchel (soph., 6-0, 192) and Darius Winston (sr., 6-0, 191) have appeared in a combined 42 games and have a combined 19 starts. Junior free safety Eric Bennett (6-0, 206) and senior strong safety Ross Rasner (6-0, 212) have appeared in a combined 62 games and made a combined 16 starts. ADVANTAGE Arkansas
If the Gamecocks manage to get some breaks on special teams – and get some turnovers – their cause will be helped. But it will be hard to win this battle. Blanchard averaged 37.0 yards on 53 punts, with three longer than 50, and dropped 20 inside the opponent’s 20-yard line. Sophomore kicker Griffin Thomas handled kickoffs last season, but he’s adding field-goal and extra-point duties to his responsibilities this year. Thomas averaged 68.2 yards per kickoff and had four touchbacks. Bonner returned 19 kickoffs for 333 yards and averaged 9.9 yards on his 21 punt returns last season. … Arkansas returns one of the top punters in the nation – senior Dylan Breeding – and one of the top kickers – junior Zach Hocker. Breeding was second-team All-SEC last year, averaging a conference-best 45.3 yards on 53 punts with a long of 70. He had 17 longer than 50 yards and dropped 16 inside the 20. Hocker set the UA single-season record for points by a kicker (118) and connected on 21 of 27 field-goal attempts. He averaged 67.8 yards per kick with 40 touchbacks. The return game is a question mark for Arkansas because two of the stars from 2011 – Joe Adams and Marquel Wade – are gone. But Johnson is back returning kickoffs. He’s the SEC’s active leader in all-purpose yards (4,104), career kickoff return yards (2,475) and total return yards (2,475). He’s been working as a punt returner, too, but Smith has said there’s going to be a surprise there for fans. That could mean true freshman Nathan Holmes (6-1, 175) or sophomore Keante Minor (6-0, 205) will be the main guy. Holmes is listed second on the depth chart at kickoff return, behind Johnson. ADVANTAGE Arkansas
Arkansas vs. itself
Turnovers, blown assignments and being ill-prepared mentally are about the only things that could keep this game from being decided early. There’s no line on this game – the Vegas boys steer away from FBS vs. FCS matchups – but the 10th-ranked Razorbacks are the overwhelming favorites. A true victory for the Hogs is more than just a winning score, however. A true win goes something like this – have the starters dominate from the get-go; have Wilson, Davis, Hamilton and the other stars click early and spend at least the second half watching from the sideline; and have good reps from the backups.