FAYETTEVILLE - For the third time in four years the Arkansas Razorbacks start picking up the pieces off a SEC overtime loss to Texas A&M.
This time Coach Bret Bielema’s 1-2 Razorbacks pick up pieces upon losing their best and most experienced receiver/punt returner perhaps for the season while their defense must pick up confidence lost after gaining confidence their previous game.
Regarding senior receiver/returner Jared Cornelius injuring his leg during the 50-43 overtime loss to the Aggies Saturday at the Dallas Cowboys’ AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas, Arkansas Coach Bret Bielema postgame Saturday said, “It doesn’t look good.”
Bielema said it appeared Cornelius’ injury possibly involved his Achilles heel.
The coach is expected to elaborate on Cornelius’ status Monday when he and offensive coordinator Dan Enos and defensive coordinator Paul Rhoads meet with media.
Since missing the Belk Bowl loss to Virginia last December off an injury during the 2016 final SEC game loss at Missouri, Cornelius missed spring ball with a pulled hamstring and most of the August preseason with a back injury rendering him ineffective when counted upon during the 28-7 loss on Sept. 9 to TCU.
The leading returning receiver from 2016, 32 catches for 515 yards and 4 touchdowns, worked incessantly losing 10 pounds through the open date week and A&M game week.
Cornelius came back in form against the Aggies with 3 catches, including a touchdown, for 35 yards after absorbing a helmet-to-helmet hit fielding the game’s first punt compelling the offending Aggie to be ejected for targeting.
But Cornelius would soon leave, too, unable to bear weight on his injured leg which appears a blow hard to bear for this struggling team.
It is a blow, but one they can overcome insists Jonathan Nance, the junior college receiver stepping up against A&M to catch 3 passes netting 100 yards including a 44-yard touchdown from quarterback Austin Allen. Nance’s 49-yard catch from Allen netted Arkansas’ touchdown against the now 4-0 nationally ninth AP ranked TCU Horned Frogs.
“Jared is a big centerpiece to what we have going,” Nance said. “But we still have plenty of weapons. People are just going to have to step up and start making more plays and getting more reps.”
Many recruiting gurus regarded Nance as the Arkansas tag-along to more touted junior college teammate receiver Brandon Martin but with various injuries, Martin still hasn’t played a Razorbacks game.
Meanwhile Nance, 9 catches for 200 yards, leads the Razorbacks in receiving.
“He has really good hands,” Bielema said. “A very intelligent player and a guy that is deceptive. He can kind of pull away when that ball is in the air. I’m very excited about him.”
And while “crushed” by Saturday’s outcome, Bielema was excited to see his team, shut out in the second half of the final 2016 games vs. Missouri and Virginia Tech and this season, too, against TCU, score 22 second half points. Arkansas tallied four touchdowns from 6 yards or less against the Aggies, finally snapping a string of goal-line failures dating back to last year’s closer than the final score 45-21 loss to Texas A&M.
Arkansas netting 226 rushing yards was a vast improvement for the line and the backs over the TCU game. And though sacked seven times, Allen never turned it over until A&M safety Armani Watts’ interception in overtime.
Defense, so effective for over three and a half quarters against TCU keeping that game at 14-7 until under the final 3:00 when the Horned Frogs scored twice, got burned big-time in Arlington by annual Arkansas nemesis Christian Kirk. The A&M junior receiver whose overtime touchdown catch beat Arkansas in 2015 among his 8 catches, and caught a TD last year, Kirk caught 5 passes for 110 yards Saturday including an 81-yarder from quarterback Kellen Mond for A&M’s first touchdown and the 10-yard overtime TD that ultimately won the game.
In between on special teams Kirk returned a fourth-quarter kickoff for a 100-yard touchdown.
Mond hurt the Hogs passing, 12 of 25 for 229 yards with the two TDs to Kirk against an interception, and running, 10 for 109, while A&M running back Keith Ford netted, 104 yards and 2 touchdowns on 14 totes.
The big plays that Arkansas’ defense stopped against TCU again bedeviled the Hogs when operated by the Aggies.
Now with all the coaches hot-seat websites turning up the heat on Bielema’s seat, the Razorbacks are beset by another group of Aggies.
These are the New Mexico State Aggies coming to Reynolds Razorback Stadium for Saturday’s 11 a.m. SEC Network televised nonconference game.
And while these Aggies are from the Sun Belt and not the SEC, they lost only 37-31 in their Aug. 31 season-opener at the Arizona State. Arizona State knocked off then No. 24 Oregon last Saturday night while New Mexico State was trouncing UTEP, 41-14.
Arkansas fans did not start this season regarding these New Mexico State Aggies as a big game.
But they didn’t regard The Citadel in 1992, Louisiana-Monroe in 2012 and Toledo in 2015 as big games, either until Arkansas lost them.