UA Receivers Need A Replay

LITTLE ROCK -- With Arkansas quarterback Matt Jones hobbled enough to be mostly a pocket passer in the 24-21 win at Mississippi State last Saturday, the spotlight fell on an underrated UA corps of receivers.

That same group could be a key against a talented LSU secondary when Arkansas plays host to the Tigers this afternoon.

While Jones personally converted 8 of 13 third-down situations and 2 of 4 fourth-down attempts with his passing or running despite the strained hamstring -- in perhaps his grittiest performance as a Razorback -- he received nice assists from Arkansas' wideouts, flankers and tight end.

Steven Harris caught six passes for 71 yards; Cedric Washington had five grabs for 101 yards; Marcus Monk and tight end Mason Templeton caught two passes each.

That didn't surprise Arkansas receivers coach James Shibest.

"I think they've all played well as a group this season," Shibest said. "They've been consistent, they've made some critical catches and they haven't dropped very many."

Shibest figures the Hogs have a score to settle against LSU today.

"I didn't think we played very well against them last year (a 55-24 loss)," Shibest said. "We have a lot of respect for LSU's secondary, but we do have, with Monk, some size and speed this time."

Since emerging as Arkansas' go-to receiver around the time of Carlos Ousley's departure, the 6-foot-6 Monk has affected opponents' defensive game plans with his big-play ability.

"Marcus has great hands and a natural feel for the game," said Shibest of the Hogs' all-time leading freshman receiver (34 receptions and counting). "But if teams try to double-cover him, like Mississippi State did, we have other guys who can make plays."

Harris, seven inches shorter and 45 pounds lighter than Monk at 5-foot-11 and 180 pounds, caught several key third-down passes from Jones.

"Steven has almost as many stats as Marcus," said Shibest, a former UA standout receiver in the 1980s.

LSU, which held Ole Miss to just 254 yards in a 27-24 win last week, will come after the Hogs' receivers with an aggressive defense featuring cornerbacks Corey Webster and Travis Daniels and free safety LaRon Landry, who leads the Tigers with 80 tackles.

"They'll come out in a press and get in your face," Shibest said. "LSU uses their safeties for run support a lot, and they'll blitz with their cornerbacks a lot of times. They're very good and very confident. I can't see them changing too much. It will be a challenge for us."

Much depends on the mobility of Jones, who rarely gets sacked when 100 percent healthy. Two Bulldogs sandwiched him last week, but the hard hit didn't faze him.

"I was really impressed with Matt," Shibest said. "Everybody says he's not a dropback passer, but that's because when he runs it's such a big advantage for us. He sat in the pocket all day (at MSU) and found his receivers. It was neat to see.

"We always knew he had a great arm, but he showed he doesn't just throw well when he's scrambling. He stayed in the pocket and went through his reads."

Six Razorbacks had at least one catch, including running backs DeCori Birmingham and Peyton Hillis.

"Everyone plays a role," Shibest said. "(Receiver) David Thompson has done a great job blocking and has been really solid with his pass patterns --he just hasn't gotten to catch the ball. And, of course, running the ball helps take the pressure off."

De'Arrius Howard gained 125 yards on 29 carries last week, picking up some of the running load that Jones normally assumes.

Arkansas coach Houston Nutt reminded, however, that LSU's defense was a big key to its national title run last season.

"Their front seven is so good that their cornerbacks don't have to cover too long," Nutt said.

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