As someone who has been to Texas Tech recently, Arkansas secondary coach Clay Jennings knows all about the atmosphere and what the Razorbacks will be set to face on Saturday in Lubbock.
Jennings went there as an assistant with TCU last season with the Red Raiders downing the Horned Frogs 20-10 while winning with North Texas back in 1997.
“Great environment,” Jennings said. “ I think that staff and those players, they've done a great job of getting the community support, and also the student body support. I think it's one of better venues to play in the state of Texas. To go in there and try to get a win is a tall order, but hopefully we'll be up for the challenge.”
Jennings feels like it is a big game for both teams with the Big 12 vs. SEC angle working into things.
“I think they get fired up to play us, but our kids are fired up to play them, too,” Jennings said. “Predominantly the Big 12 resides in the state of Texas, and we have a few kids of our own from that state. I think we have a lot of kids that are excited about the chance to go back. I think it's about a battle between the conferences and bragging rights. If we get a chance to get one, we'll have about 365 days to brag on it until it's time to go again. And it puts another notch on the belt of the conference.”
He feels like it could also be a statement game for the Razorbacks that their program is headed in the right direction.
“You hate to say that it's a benchmark game, because I think all the wins weigh the same,” Jennings said. “But for our guys to have a little bit of success, I think they're thirsting for a little bit more. It would be great for our guys to go in there and compete and come with one. I think it would be a great boost for morale, and it springboards us into the next one.”
Jennings also believes that Arkansas' revamped recruiting efforts in Texas would get a boost from a win over the Red Raiders.
“I think it would be great for us in recruiting,” Jennings said. “Some of those guys over there that are on their team, I've known from past years, and I know coaches on the staff as well, too. To have a chance to go into that state — which is a fertile area for us — it doesn't matter where you go in the state, if you can get a win in Texas, I think it helps boost recruiting for us.”
It will help that Jennings will be taking an restocked and maybe improved secondary to Lubbock with safeties De'Andre Coley and Davyon McKinney as well cornerback Tevin Mitchell all returning from injury and several freshmen having logged significant snaps last week in the win over Nicholls.
They'll face a talented receiving corp Bradley Marquez, Devin Lauderdale, Jakeem Grant and the three Davises – Grant, Reginald and Jordan Davis.
“The more bodies that we have the better,” Jennings said. “It keeps guys fresher. The one thing is those guys over there do a great job in the passing game. Those receivers are coached up great between Marquez, Lauderdale and Grant and Reginald Davis and Jordan Davis, they have got some vertical presence over there. They catch the ball well in traffic. Marquez probably has just as strong of hands as some of those guys we played at Auburn. It will be a great test for us.”
Mitchel is a senior that has missed the first two games due to hamstring issues.
“The last couple of days have been enjoyable to have him around,” Jennings said. “Guys have been practicing with a heck of a lot more energy and I think having a win under their belt those guys have some confidence and are excited. Tevin did some good things. He is running around pretty good. We are fired up to have him.
Mitchel's snaps will be limited as he has to fight through starters Carroll Washington and Jared Collins as well as sophomore D.J. Dean and freshmen Henre' Toliver and Cornelius Floyd for time.
“It depends upon the situation,” Jennings said. “He is a good player but I tell you what, we have had some other guys that have been playing decent out there on the edge. So to bring him in and say we are going to throw him in out there in front of those other guys have been busting their tail, I can't promise you that. But he will be part of the game plan.”
Jennings did note that the plan now is to redshirt true freshmen Santos Ramirez, who has seen practice time at both cornerback and safety.
Liddell got about 35 of the 70 snaps last week and has established himself as a value asset at safety. He worked at both free and strong safety last week, but will settle in at strong now with Coley back.
“We have the three main guys this past week: Liddell, Turner and Gaines and I believe we will probably have De'Andre Coley back,” Jennings said. “He is running around as well. We are pretty excited having him back. It's fun almost to be totally healthy.”
Jennings believes he has a special one in Liddell and he wants to keep bringing him along.
“We played 70 snaps and Josh played about 35 of them,” Jennings said. “He made a couple of freshman mistakes. The good thing is none of them came up to bite him. The one thing he has done this week he has corrected those and had a pretty good week.”
Jennings is happy with the effort he is seeing in practice this week.
"The kids are busting their behinds and trying to get in the right place," Jennings said. "We just have to put it all together, and we have to pay attention to detail. I think that's big for us.”
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