Friday, November 20, 2015

SPORTS STORY >> Ex-Devil rising up at U of A

Special to The Leader

FAYETTEVILLE – Nobody on the Arkansas Razorbacks’ defense plays any bigger than its littlest man.

At 6-0, 175, and that’s about 20 pounds up from him first walking on out of Jacksonville, third-year sophomore nickel back Kevin Richardson not only is Arkansas’ littlest defensive man but was the only defensive man that Arkansas coach Bret Bielema cited two weeks ago when Arkansas outlasted Ole Miss, 53-52, in overtime at Oxford, Miss.

Bielema cited Richardson, a game-leading 10 tackles, both as Arkansas’ Defensive MVP and Special Teams MVP for that epic in Oxford.

“Kevin Richardson is a kid that has been unbelievable since coming here as a walk-on,” Bielema said the Monday after Oxford. “He has earned himself into a starting role (and a scholarship awarded last August) and is one of our steadiest performers and one of our best disciplined athletes on the team as far as film study. What you see in practice is what you get. He had six tackles on special teams, five of which were inside the 20-yard line.”

Richardson played a lot against Spread formation Ole Miss. He wasn’t used as much, with nickel often subbed for a strongside linebacker, in last Saturday’s 31-14 victory over power offense LSU in Baton Rouge, La.

Still, he caught his coaches’ attention.

“He made a play the other night where he was on the opposite flat,” defensive backfield coach Clay Jennings said after Wednesday’s practice. “He went from the boundary hook and he made a play in the strong flat. What Kevin brings is energy. Fanatical energy.”

Energy the Razorbacks, 6-4, 4-2, will need hosting the Mississippi State Bulldogs, 7-3, 3-3, in Saturday’s 6 p.m. ESPN televised SEC West game at Reynolds Razorback Stadium.

Richardson will get his nickel’s worth against the Spread formation that Bulldogs coach Dan Mullen employs, operated by powerful (6-2, 230) Preseason All-SEC run-pass quarterback Dak Prescott.

Prescott is such a dual presence it takes two scout-team quarterbacks impersonating him, Richardson said.

“We have put Austin Cantrell (a 6-4, 250 redshirting freshman tight end) at quarterback to try to play the role of Prescott when he does run the ball,” Richardson said. “And then we have Ricky Town (the redshirting freshman quarterback transferred from the University of Southern California) back there throwing the ball like Prescott when they throw the ball.”

Arkansas has been hurt by dual threat run-pass quarterback threats this season, but on the run in the 24-20 SEC victory at Tennessee, contained big powerful Tennessee quarterback Joshua Dobbs to 16 yards on seven carries.

“We have to attack him because he is bigger than the Tennessee quarterback and he’s better,” Arkansas junior defensive end Deatrich Wise said. “We have to affect him running and throwing for us to have a good day.”

Bielema says Prescott’s sheer power on the run sets him apart as does his vastly-improved passing.

“He can throw throw the football very effectively and I don’t know if I would have said that as much last year,” Bielema said. “He is throwing the ball for unprecedented yardage and the ability he has to run the football is very, very good. It is a very thing to defense.”

Alabama, which has stopped everybody it has played except Ole Miss, and even then the Tide more stopped itself committing five turnovers, did sack Prescott nine times, bludgeoning the Bulldogs 31-6 last Saturday.

Expect a competitor like Prescott to shake that off, the Hogs say, though Wise notes nobody in mind or body likely completely flushes a memory like that within a week.

“I know it’s in the back of his mind and I know it’s in the back of his O-linemen’s mind,” Wise said. “So if we can go have our way with their O-line good things will happen.”

Certainly Wise, Bielema’s Defensive MVP post LSU, made good things happen for Arkansas in Baton Rouge. Of his six tackles against LSU, Wise recorded 2.5 sacks of quarterback Brandon Harris, officially hurried him into one incompletion and broke up two other passes.

Officially, Arkansas third-year sophomore defensive end Tevin Beanum of Forrest City had no stats against LSU, yet significantly impacted the game, Arkansas defensive coordinator Robb Smith said.

“He was disruptive,” Smith said. “I don’t know whether he got credited with it or not, but he certainly got his hands on a football that ended up bouncing around a few times. Tevin’s becoming a very disruptive guy for us.”