Mid-Season Changes

FAYETTEVILLE -- Arkansas coach Houston Nutt's worst fears were realized Tuesday night when he was told right tackle Zac Tubbs would miss the rest of the season after sustaining a broken left ankle.

The news came the same day junior receiver Carlos Ousley requested a release from his scholarship after being demoted from the first-team offense. The Razorbacks also lost true freshman running back Peyton Hillis because of a rare lower back injury two days earlier.

So much for Arkansas' plan for rest and relaxation during its off week.

"This is the strangest (off week)," Nutt said. "I've never had one like this."

The Hogs' offense boasted a sideline full with weapons and a line playing better than anticipated en route to a high-powered start this season. But the depth chart has changed dramatically in three days. The Razorbacks enter next Saturday's game at No. 6 Auburn missing key contributors to an offense that leads the Southeastern Conference in scoring (37.8 points) and total yards (459.2).

Nutt said Arkansas will need every bit of the next week-and-a-half to adjust to the differences. But right guard Gene Perry said the Hogs haven't lost confidence despite the strange events that have taken place this week.

"We're still confident," Perry said. "The main thing is we've got to keep holding everything together and keep believing. That's what the coaches keep stressing to us. We've got to stick together no matter what."

That won't be the easiest thing after the season-ending injury to Tubbs.

Trainer Dean Weber said the junior suffered a "left fibula fracture with associated ankle ligaments tears" during Tuesday's practice and stares at a recovery time that'll last about six months. The 6-foot-6, 351-pound Tubbs has seven career starts and was Arkansas' most experienced lineman.

Redshirt freshmen Matt Gilbow and Nate Garner will work in Tubbs' place and one will earn the starting job against Auburn. The 6-foot-6, 300-pound Gilbow got the bulk of the first-team repetitions Wednesday. Nutt said the tackles -- who haven't earned significant snaps in their careers -- will be asked to stay in Fayetteville and attend cram sessions this weekend while most teammates go home.

"If you're going to have to plan for an injury, we were fortunate that it happened at this (off week)," Nutt said. "It's such a downer. But it's just football. In the past two years, we haven't really gotten anybody hurt on the offensive line. We've been lucky.

"It's just hard. But we have to get Matt Gilbow and Nate Garner ready."

The Hogs decided to get freshman Marcus Monk more involved Monday, a plan that resulted in Ousley's quick departure. The 6-foot-6, 225-pound Monk is Arkansas' second-leading receiver with 12 catches for 201 yards and 4 touchdowns

Shibest expects Monk's transition should be smooth at split end, but he'll expect more production from sophomores Chris Baker, Cedric Washington and David Thompson. The trio has combined for 15 catches, 319 yards and 2 touchdowns.

"We haven't talked much about it, but I think it's understood in football that when somebody goes down, somebody steps in and fills that duty," said receiver Steven Harris, who moved to flanker. "That's why we were all recruited here to play. You prepare yourself for the next play and prepare for your next opponent.

"It's going to take a little while, but we have two weeks and we'll be fine."

Tailback De'Arrius Howard said the running backs have the same attitude without Hillis, who led the team with 6 touchdowns and averaged 49.4 all-purpose yards a game. Howard will handle goal-line and short-yardage carries, while Nutt said little-used juniors Kyle Dickerson and Dedrick Poole must provide larger contributions.

Dickerson turned in two big catches for 16 yards in relief of Hillis last Saturday.

"I've never seen anything like it before," Dickerson said about the numerous changes on the depth chart this week. "Whoever went down, whoever the backup is has to be ready to step up. Just like when I got my number called last week. They always tell us to be ready just in case somebody goes down.

"We've always been hungry and we'll show it on the field."

Arkansas ran into a similar setback last October when Howard and leading-rusher Cedric Cobbs were sidelined with injuries. The Hogs offense were plagued by the loss of their two top tailbacks during a three-game losing streak, but Arkansas found an important contributor when DeCori Birmingham moved from receiver to tailback and rushed for 549 yards in seven games.

Everyone knows a few growing pains will go along with the adjustments on offense the Hogs have to make after losing three key contributors. But Howard believes Arkansas will discover plenty about itself in the process.

"We're going to get closer as a group," Howard said. "I think this is going to bring us closer together. We lost three good players. It's going to be tough.

"We'll have to make some adjustments but we know we've got guys that can step in and get the job done."

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