Arkansas’ Morgan emerges as top WR option after injuries
FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. (AP) Even first-year Arkansas offensive coordinator Dan Enos admitted wide receiver Drew Morgan was considered more of a role player than playmaker by his coaches last spring.
That role player is now something much more for the injury-riddled Razorbacks (1-3, 0-1 Southeastern Conference), who will try and end a three-game losing streak when they face Tennessee (2-2, 0-1) on Saturday.
Arkansas entered last week’s overtime loss to No. 14 Texas A&M without three of its top wide receivers, with Keon Hatcher (foot injury), Cody Hollister (foot) and Jared Cornelius (arm).
Despite the missing personnel, the Razorbacks led 21-13 late in the fourth quarter, thanks in large part to the performance of Morgan. The often overlooked 6-foot-1, 195-pound receiver nearly equaled his output from last season in the loss, finishing with career highs of eight catches for 155 yards and a touchdown.
The game was a culmination of hard work and taking advantage of an opportunity for the junior, though he expects it to be just the beginning of his contributions.
”I feel like I’ve gained not just the outside world’s respect, but my team’s respect,” Morgan said. ”The wide receiver group looks at me as the go-to guy now.”
Morgan appeared well on his way to becoming one of Arkansas’ top targets last season following a strong showing during a preseason scrimmage.
However, his knack for confrontation with defensive players earned him some strong words from coach Bret Bielema, and he finished last season with only 10 catches for 141 yards in limited action.
Morgan’s emergence as a top target for quarterback Brandon Allen continued at times during scrimmages before this season, but he was still behind Hatcher and Cornelius on the depth chart.
Hatcher suffered his foot injury during a surprising loss to Toledo, a game in which Morgan had five catches for 77 yards, and Hollister’s injury happened during practice that following week. A week later, during a loss to Texas Tech, Cornelius broke his left arm – leaving Morgan as the most proven and able-bodied target left on the outside for the Razorbacks.
And that was just fine with Bielema.
”I’ve been a huge Drew Morgan (fan) from Day 1,” Bielema said. ”He lacks nothing in confidence … I think he’s a gamer-type kid and he’s extremely competitive.”
That competitiveness, which Morgan said applies to everything in his life from football to tic-tac-toe, is what he said what kept his confidence high while he was struggling to find a place on the field.
It’s also what has helped earned that respect he talked about from teammates and none other than Enos, who said Morgan’s name ”wasn’t mentioned” among Arkansas’ top playmakers when he was hired away from Central Michigan following last season.
”No one ever talked poorly on him or said he wasn’t a good player, but it was more, `He’s got a role, and he’ll get in there and make a play or two,”’ Enos said. ”He certainly has seized the moment and seized his opportunity.”
Enos said he tracked Morgan’s rise this season back to a dropped pass during the preseason, after which he was chided by Bielema for a lack of focus during practice.
Following his breakout performance a week ago, Morgan now leads the Razorbacks with 18 catches for 303 yards and three touchdowns this season – exactly how he always saw his career headed, even if others didn’t.
”He kind of thinks like a (quarterback), and then that helps me and him be on the same page when we’re throwing,” Allen said.