FAYETTEVILLE — Cause for the hospital visit he posted on social media, reportedly an appendectomy, likely prevents graduate transfer defensive nose tackle John Ridgeway from debut starting in Arkansas’ 1 p.m. Saturday season-opener against the Rice Owls at Reynolds Razorback Stadium.
Ridgeway, the 6-foot-6, 320-pound transfer from Illinois State, was listed to start on the depth chart the Razorbacks released Monday morning, but coach Sam Pittman said at his Monday noon press conference that fourth-year junior Isaiah Nichols of Springdale, starting seven games last season, and third-year sophomore Taurean Carter rate one-two at nose for Saturday’s game with versatile defensive end/tackle Eric Gregory also nose tackle available.
“Doesn’t look good for that (Ridgeway playing against Rice) to happen,” Pittman said. “He’s doing fine, but I don’t look for him to be ready this week.”
Pittman was asked minus Ridgeway the Hogs still have sufficient interior D-line depth freely to substitute on what could be a sweltering Saturday afternoon.
“I think we do,” Pittman said. “Certainly we have Isaiah Nichols and Taurean Carter. I think they’ll be fine if he’s not able to play. And Eric Gregory could also move into that spot if we needed him to.”
Pittman said Nichols is among the team’s veteran leaders and that Carter ran first team nose tackle in spring ball when Ridgeway was at Illinois State.
Both know what they need to do in defensive coordinator Barry Odom’s scheme, Pittman said.
“So I have really good confidence that we can do whatever Barry’s game plan is there,” Pittman said. “I don’t think we’re going to end up not doing anything that we had planned for this game because Ridgeway may not be able to go.”
Pittman remains uncertain if Preseason First-Team All-SEC receiver Treylon Burks, not practicing recently, will be fit to play against Rice.
“I still think that’s day by day,” Pittman said. “He’s progressed over the weekend. I think we’re going to progress him a little bit today (Monday’s practice), probably a little bit more tomorrow. And then we’ll see what happens. We’re going to play if he’s ready, and if he’s not, we’re not.”
Jaquayln Crawford, the transfer via the Oklahoma Sooners, is listed to start if Burks can’t play.
At the other two receiver posts, senior De’Vion Warren and freshman flash Ketron Jackson are listed 1-2, and senior Helena native and Fayetteville High grad Tyson Morris starts ahead of junior Trey Knox.
“He (Morris) had a really good camp,” Pittman said. “He’s gotten a lot stronger. He’s catching contested balls.”
And catching them consistently.
“Tyson was non-consistent,” Pittman said. “You just didn’t know what you were going to get each day at practice with him a year ago. This year, he’s attacked every day. I’ve been really proud of him. We talked about if he’s ever going to get on the field on a consistent basis, you’ve got to be consistent in practice. And he certainly did that.”
At some positions that Pittman has listed highly contested, senior Ty Clary, moved throughout the offensive line because of injuries to others, will start at right guard ahead of third-year sophomore Beaux Limmer while incumbent third-year sophomore Brady Latham starts at left guard ahead of fourth-year junior Luke Jones.
On defense fourth-year junior right cornerback LaDarrius Bishop of Ashdown lists ahead of third-year sophomore corner Hudson Clark.
Pittman doesn’t fret his only starting either-or. Bumper Pool and Hayden Henry, both stellar senior weakside linebackers with Henry also spelling senior All-American middle linebacker Grant Morgan, are both destined to play plenty regardless the starter.
Pittman assessed the strength of coach Mike Bloomgren’s Owls of Conference USA, 2-3 last year playing just five games because of COVID cancellations highlighted by 20-0 victory at then 7-0 15th-ranked Marshall.
“They’ve got a physical team, a lot of starters coming back,” Pittman said. “They’re going to try to run the ball. I call it bully ball. They’ll probably try to bully us a little bit with their offensive line. They have a lot of experience there. Defensively, they play multiple fronts. They fly to the football. Really good on special teams. I thought they got better as the year went on last year, and they were very competitive in almost every game they played.”