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Arkansas eyes bowl eligibility with Liberty coming to town

Sportsnaut
Sep 17, 2022; Winston-Salem, North Carolina, USA;  Liberty Flames head coach Hugh Freeze looks on against the Wake Forest Demon Deacons before the game at Truist Field. Mandatory Credit: James Guillory-USA TODAY Sports
Credit: James Guillory-USA TODAY Sports

Liberty coach Hugh Freeze will be guarding against complacency while Arkansas coach Sam Pittman expects the “best game” all season from Freeze’s Flames when the two clash Saturday afternoon in Fayetteville, Ark.

“There’s no doubt in my mind that he’ll have them ready,” Pittman said of Freeze. “They’ve had a bye week after their best game all year. I expect a really close, tight game and, hopefully, we can make enough plays to win.”

Pittman’s Razorbacks (5-3) are coming off a 41-27 victory at Auburn that was the Hogs’ first win in Jordan-Hare Stadium since 2012 and first win against the Tigers since 2015.

A win for Arkansas this weekend would make them bowl-eligible for just the second time in the last six seasons.

The Flames (7-1) had an open date after posting an impressive 41-14 victory over BYU on Oct. 22. Freeze welcomed the extra time to celebrate the win, which vaulted his team into the No. 23 spot in the AP Top 25 Poll but left it short of a spot in the first College Football Playoff rankings of the season, which were released Tuesday.

Freese called the AP ranking “pretty special,” and something worth celebrating, but also noted just how fickle the polls can be during the season.

“Arkansas is going to be favored this week and they should be,” Freeze said. “They’ve got better players and probably better coaches. So you can easily get knocked out of the Top 25.”

The Flames have won their last five games since an early 37-36 loss at Wake Forest despite playing an injury-induced game of “musical chairs” at quarterback. Utah transfer Charlie Brewer broke his hand after starting the opener, and Kaidon Salter got the next two starts before sidelined by a groin injury.

Johnathan Bennett has started four of the last five games, including last week when he enjoyed by far the best performance of his career. The junior threw for a career-high 247 yards and a pair of touchdowns in completing 24 of 29 passes.

Freeze said Salter remains doubtful. Brewer returned to practice this week, though Freeze said Bennett likely will start.

“I think they’re both really fine players,” Pittman said. “Both can throw the football. Both can command the offense.”

Pittman had both bad news and good news on the injury front for the unranked Razorbacks. He confirmed that Dominique Johnson, a six-game starter at running back in 2021 who has made only four appearances this year while going through rehab, tore the ACL of his previously injured knee during practice last week and will miss the rest of the season. He rushed for 575 yards last year.

But starting corner Malik Chavis returned to practice after not making last week’s trip to Auburn while recovering from a head injury. Pittman said Chavis will compete for playing time with converted wide receiver Quincey McAdoo at corner.

“The Hogs are going to be a handful for us,” Freeze said. “When you’re playing an SEC roster with a Group of 5 school, it’s tough. It’s hard. You can’t hardly make any mistakes if you want to have any chance to be in it.”

–Field Level Media