NCF Nation: Garrett Uekman

What to watch in the SEC: Week 13

November, 23, 2011
It only makes sense that the most exciting weekend in the SEC will be the last one.

Here are some things to keep an eye on Friday and Saturday after that delicious turkey dinner:

1. National championship berths: Depending on the outcomes Friday and Saturday, we could see two SEC teams punch their tickets to the national title game. A win over Auburn on Saturday will likely send Alabama to New Orleans for the big game if LSU beats Arkansas on Friday. If the Tigers win, they too might be headed to the national title game, regardless of what happens in the SEC title game against Georgia. Arkansas has a chance as well. If the Hogs win and Alabama loses, Arkansas will play in the SEC championship game and a win there will send the Hogs to the national championship. Arkansas needs Alabama to lose because even if the Hogs beat LSU, the Tigers, not the Hogs, could still appear in the national title game.

2. Twenty-seven and counting: Derek Dooley might have reiterated to his team that what Tennessee did was “kick the [expletive] out of Vandy,” but the same rowdy speech could be given when talking about Kentucky. Tennessee has won 26 straight games against Kentucky. Total dominance. Kentucky has had a very disappointing season, but would love nothing more than to end a bowl-less season with a win over rival Tennessee. However, Tennessee’s quarterback has returned. Tyler Bray was rusty against Vanderbilt, but without him, Tennessee might not be in a position this week to become bowl eligible.

3. Ten SEC bowl teams?: Speaking of bowl eligible, the SEC has a chance to send 10 teams to the postseason for the second straight year. But it won’t be easy. Seven teams are eligible, but three have a chance to get to that critical sixth win in order to be considered for postseason play. Those teams are Mississippi State, Tennessee and Vanderbilt. The Bulldogs host 2-9 Ole Miss, Tennessee plays a Kentucky team it hasn’t lost to since 1984 and Vanderbilt travels to Wake Forest. Mississippi State and Tennessee probably have the best chances of getting to that sixth win, considering their opponents, while the Commodores will have to overcome their road woes to make it back to a bowl for the first time since 2008.

4. Heisman moment?: There is no question that the Heisman Trophy race is wide open. No player has yet to consistently stick out nationally, so this weekend will be big for one last Heisman moment for a few players. One of those players is Alabama running back Trent Richardson. The junior is the SEC’s top rusher (1,380 yards and 20 touchdowns), and has a strong case to be the nation’s best running back. He’s built like a tank, but can outrun some of the SEC’s most fleet-footed defenders. This weekend, all eyes will be on him as he takes on Auburn. Another strong performance on national television could keep Richardson at the top of some voters’ ballots. This is a revenge game and a national championship berth is on the line. Richardson will have no problem getting motivated.

5. Friends meeting in the Swamp: Neither Florida coach Will Muschamp nor Florida State’s Jimbo Fisher has really wanted to talk about facing each other this weekend. Everyone knows the backstory: They coached together at LSU under Nick Saban, are buds and own a beach house together. Now, they’re facing each other for the first time as head coaches in a very bitter rivalry. This game could help make both coaches’ seasons, considering the disappointments that have come along for both teams. Muschamp needs this win to finally notch another win over a rival, while Fisher needs to develop a winning streak over the Gators. This has the potential to be ugly on both sides offensively, but all anyone can wait for is the postgame handshake. Winner takes the beach house?

6. Curing those road woes: Vanderbilt has yet to get a win on the road this season, and that doesn’t bode well for a team looking to earn a bowl berth. The Commodores have to go to Wake Forest Saturday in a game that will determine if Vanderbilt makes it back to the postseason for the first time since 2008. There is no question that new coach James Franklin has one of the better, more exciting Vandy teams we’ve seen in a while, But the Commodores have seen the same results on the road and didn’t get that big, signature SEC win. A win over Wake would give the Commodores even more to be thankful for: bowl eligibility.

7. Slowing down that Clemson offense:
Clemson’s offense was all the rave earlier in the year, but after a blowout loss to N.C. State last week, the Tigers are battered and bruised heading into Columbia, S.C. Waiting for them will be a hungry defense looking to put an exclamation point on South Carolina’s season. The Gamecocks don’t win games with their offense, but it hasn’t mattered much with that defense patrolling the field. South Carolina is allowing 19 points a game, and Clemson is scoring 35. The Gamecocks are giving up less than 280 yards per contest, while Clemson is racking up 465 yards. There isn’t a lot of love when these two get together, so this one should be fun.

8. Atlanta success: Georgia doesn’t like Georgia Tech, and the feeling is mutual on the other side. What really frustrates the Yellow Jacket faithful is that Georgia hasn’t lost to Georgia Tech in Atlanta since 1999 – and that was an overtime thriller. Georgia Tech’s offense is having a special year, but the Bulldogs will be back in Atlanta next week for the SEC championship game. A loss won’t knock the Dawgs out of the title game, so the pressure is off Georgia. The Yellow Jackets must protect their house better then they have against Georgia. The thing is that Georgia Tech has yet to face a defense like Georgia’s this year.

9. Redemption song: Last year’s unbearable loss to Auburn still stings around Tuscaloosa, Ala. The Crimson Tide had video of Cam Newton’s valiant comeback inside Bryant-Denny Stadium running all around Alabama’s football complex during the spring and over the summer. You better believe that the Tide is out for redemption. Alabama blew a 24-point lead to the Tigers last year and football life just hasn’t been the same for the Tide. Another loss to Auburn would ruin a great season for the Tide.

10. Emotions flowing: There will be moments this weekend in the SEC that will be bigger than football. Friday, Arkansas will take on LSU without redshirt freshman tight end Garrett Uekman, who died suddenly Sunday. Arkansas players and coaches haven’t had much media contact this week as they continue to mourn, and no one can blame them. The Razorbacks will carry heavy hearts into Baton Rouge, La. Saturday, Alabama and Auburn will meet nearly seven months after the devastating tornadoes that ravaged the state of Alabama, including the city of Tuscaloosa. Both sides of the rivalry were affected by the devastation, but reached out to help one another. There will be times Saturday when Auburn fans and Alabama fans will embrace and set football aside before the game is played.
LSU coach Les Miles began his Monday news conference by paying his respects to Arkansas and the family of redshirt tight end Garrett Uekman, who passed away Sunday.

"I really want to express my condolences for my team and our school in recognition of the death of tight end Garrett Uekman," Miles said. "The loss of him to the Arkansas team and to his family is certainly felt."

Miles said that he placed a phone call to Arkansas coach Bobby Petrino, but it wasn't immediately returned, which Miles said was completely understandable considering the tragic circumstances.

"I wanted them to know that we share their pain and their grief," Miles said.

Miles added that he met Uekman when he visited LSU on a recruiting trip.

“He visited here and we thought the world of him," Miles said. "He conducted himself very well on our campus and I recall he came here with his mother. Again, it is very unfortunate."

Miles also sent his condolences to the Oklahoma State family, who lost women's basketball coach Kurt Budke and assistant Miranda Serna in a plane crash last week.

Miles was the head coach at Oklahoma State from 2001-2004.

"Those people are very special to me and that school is very special to me," Miles said. "Our families and certainly myself am very sad for those losses. I understand that there is a quality group of people there that are bound to do the things they needed to do certainly support those people that surround that tragedy.”

Several thousand also gathered for a candlelight vigil in Bud Walton Arena to remember Uekman Monday.

SEC Power Rankings: Week 13

November, 21, 2011
There is no question that the top of the SEC Power Rankings have remained one of the most consistent elements of college football this season:

1. LSU (11-0, 7-0): It took just 28 seconds for LSU to clinch its game at Ole Miss last week. LSU has been dominant before, but Saturday might have been the Tigers' most dominating performance of the season. It would have been hard to blame the Tigers for losing some emotion and energy after such a tough game against Alabama, but that just hasn't happened. Friday, LSU takes on arguably the conference's hottest team -- Arkansas -- in a game that will have a major impact on both the SEC championship game and the national title. LSU has come this far without a hiccup, it's hard to bet against the Tigers now.

2. Alabama (10-1, 6-1): LSU hasn't missed a beat since topping the Crimson Tide on the road, but Alabama sure has. The Tide was sloppy against Mississippi State and took a while to get things going against Georgia Southern. Still, Alabama is a win away from most likely clinching a berth in the national championship -- even if the Tide doesn't go to the SEC championship. In fact, it would benefit the Tide more not to go to Atlanta. But Alabama must beat hated rival Auburn before it can even think about heading to New Orleans for one last party. Last year's heartbreaking loss to the Tigers is surely still weighing on the Tide, and Saturday is a chance for redemption.

3. Arkansas (10-1, 6-1): Quietly, the Razorbacks have put themselves right in the middle in the national championship conversation. The Hogs are playing their best football right now and are a win away from possibly clinching a spot in the national title game. The Razorbacks enter their much-anticipated game with No. 1 LSU Friday with heavy hearts after the passing of freshman tight end Garrett Uekman Sunday. This should truly be an emotional week for Arkansas players and coaches, who have to figure out a way to get ready for a football game at the end of the week. The emotional toll can go either way for teams in these situations, and Arkansas' veteran leadership will be responsible for helping this team transform its grief.

4. Georgia (9-2, 7-1): The Bulldogs were counted out from the beginning and are now the SEC Eastern Division champs. But what a way to end SEC play. Instead of rolling over Kentucky with the momentum it garnered from a blowout win against Auburn, the Bulldogs came out shaky and could only muster 19 points against a struggling Kentucky team. Still, Georgia captured the East and will make it back to Atlanta for the first time since 2005. Georgia could still throw a wrench into the national championship picture with a stunning win next week, which still makes this a very dangerous team.

5. South Carolina (9-2, 6-2): This has been a tough season for the Gamecocks. What started off as a promising season will end with South Carolina watching the SEC title game instead of playing in it for a second straight year. For everything this team has been through, you have to commend the Gamecocks for finishing as strong as they have. The defense has more than made up for the offense's major shortcomings. Now, the Gamecocks will look to get to double-digit wins by upsetting rival Clemson on Saturday. South Carolina gets the Tigers at home in front of what should be a pretty electric crowd.

6. Auburn (7-4, 4-3): What a season the Tigers have had. After losing pretty much every component to last season's national championship squad, Auburn pulled out victories we never saw coming. This team is blanketed with youth, but never let that get the best of it during close games. There have been plenty of growing pains that have held the Tigers back, but seven wins is pretty good for a team having to totally rebuild this year. Now, the Tigers have a chance to ruin Alabama's season. It wouldn't matter if Auburn had zero wins heading into this weekend. A win against Alabama would cure everything.

7. Florida (6-5, 3-5): Year 1 of the Will Muschamp era almost took a major turn for the worse when the Gators had to scrap together a comeback victory against FCS foe Furman at home Saturday. It proved once again that this team is out of whack on the field, but the Gators certainly fought back after getting down by two scores. It had to be tough on Gators' fans eyes to witness Saturday's near-meltdown, but the win made the Gators bowl eligible for the 21st consecutive season. Florida State is next on the schedule. The Seminoles haven't been too impressive either, which will hurt the national feel of this once proud rivalry. But this is a very important game for Muschamp. He needs this victory to get his second win against a Florida rival.

8. Tennessee (5-6, 1-6): Like the walkers from the Walking Dead, Tennessee regenerated over the weekend with a crucial win against Vanderbilt. There was some controversy to go with it, but the Vols notched their first conference win of the season and are a win away from going back to a bowl game. A loss to the Commodores would have been devastating for this team and coach Derek Dooley, but now they don't have to worry about that. This has been a very tough season for this program. Injuries have ravaged the offense and youth has led to inconsistency. However, making it to a bowl game with a win against Kentucky could make things right with Vols Nation.

9. Mississippi State (5-6, 1-6): The fight we expected from this Bulldogs team just hasn't been there. This was supposed to be a possible dark horse in the SEC West race, but has struggled to consistently develop a solid offensive game since its Week 2 loss to Auburn. That game might have changed everything for Mississippi State. Even with the struggles, the Bulldogs are still a win away from making it back to the postseason. Mississippi State takes on lowly Ole Miss in the Egg Bowl on Saturday. Dan Mullen is 2-0 against Houston Nutt, and while neither team looked great over the weekend, you have to think that the Bulldogs have the edge with Ole Miss a game away from saying goodbye to its head coach.

10. Vanderbilt (5-6, 2-6): For all of the talk about this being a new Vanderbilt team, the Commodores sure haven't figured out how to beat an SEC team on the road. And the struggles against Tennessee just continue to pile up. There is no question that this is a more impressive and exciting Vanderbilt team to watch, but the execution against bigger SEC teams just isn't there when it counts. Costly turnovers haven't helped, either. Vandy was a win away from getting back to a bowl game for the first time since 2008, but lost to Tennessee in overtime. Now, the 'Dores have to beat Wake Forest on the road in order to become bowl eligible. The road hasn't been kind to this team thus far.

11. Kentucky (4-7, 1-6):
Kentucky fought all the way until the end against Georgia, but at the end of the day it just didn't have enough going for it on offense to pull off the shocker. Kentucky has struggled with its offense all season, and when the Wildcats needed a play here or a play there, there was nothing. That's been the story of a team that lost a handful of offensive weapons from a year ago. The Wildcats can only get to five wins this season if they beat Tennessee, meaning the chance at six straight bowl game has faded away. This was supposed to be a tough season, but it was hard to envision the offense looking this bad for so long.

12. Ole Miss (2-9, 0-7): You have to give a lot of credit to Ole Miss' fan base for coming out excited for the LSU game. Minutes before kickoff, Vaught-Hemingway Stadium was rocking and it actually felt like an intimidating venue for an instant. That lasted for all of 28 seconds when LSU's Ron Brooks took a poorly thrown pass by Zack Stoudt 46 yards in for the score. The student section began to clear out almost immediately. But this has been a disaster of a season for the Rebels, who will part ways with their coach after the Egg Bowl. The offense took a step back and the defense just never had enough plays in it. This program will go into total rebuilding mode with its new coach, but could get some momentum with an upset of Mississippi State on Saturday.

Arkansas mourns death of Garrett Uekman

November, 21, 2011
Arkansas lost a member of its football family Sunday when redshirt freshman tight end Garrett Uekman was pronounced dead at Washington Regional Medical Center in Fayetteville, Ark.

The cause of death wasn't immediately known, but Uekman, 19, was found unconscious and unresponsive in his dorm room at approximately 11:15 a.m. Sunday. He was last seen playing video games by a roommate approximately an hour earlier.

“Garrett’s loss is a terrible shock for the University of Arkansas and the Razorback program,” Arkansas athletic director Jeff Long said in a statement. “Our sincere condolences go out to his family and to all of those who knew him. He will be missed by many friends, teammates and others throughout campus. The well-being of our student-athletes is at the very core of our mission and when a tragedy like this happens it is a tremendous loss to the entire campus community. We will work with various campus services to provide support for the Uekman family, our student-athletes, coaches and staff during this difficult time.”

Uekman hadn't received much publicity this season and hadn't recorded any stats as a backup tight end, but that didn't take away from the person he was around those who knew him -- if only briefly.

The consensus was that he was legitimately a genuine person who found it hard not to smile. Coming from Little Rock, Ark., Uekman was one of those instate kids who always dreamed of playing for Arkansas, and while his high school numbers were impressive, he wasn't a boaster or a bragger.

“Garrett Uekman was a special member of our family, and we are all saddened by his passing,” coach Bobby Petrino said in a statement. “His loss is a terrible shock, and it makes you realize how precious life is. Garrett was a great teammate and loved being a Razorback. My sympathies are with his entire family during this incredibly trying time, and I share in their grief. Our team will honor and show our respect to Garrett.”

Now, the Razorbacks must find a way to keep their emotions in check this week as they prepare for a huge game against LSU Friday. Uekman's coaches and teammates will carry heavy hearts into the game and could use their grief as a rallying point, but this is a time in which it's OK to think of football as secondary.

For all the hype and excitement Friday's game has received and will receive in the coming days, we must remember that when the clock hits 0:00, a game will have just ended and nothing more. There are things much more important in this world than the battle of top-three opponents.

Uekman's passing brings that reality to light.

Friday will no doubt be filled with both happiness and sorrow on both sidelines and within both fan bases. There might be bitterness felt between these two teams and the fans that support them, but there is also a mutual respect that comes with all of this.

Swords should momentarily be put down before the game between both sides when they meet in Baton Rouge, La., as respect is paid to Uekman and his family.

The game will of course bring out the enormous emotions that come with such a big game, as it should, but that time will come. The time to squabble about who is the best and where a team should be ranked will come after Friday's game, as well.

Now is the time for thoughts and prayers to go out to Uekman, his family and the Arkansas family. And now is the time to hold those who you love just a little closer and a little tighter.

Recruiting rewind: Arkansas

February, 4, 2010
Arkansas Razorbacks

The class

Recruits: 25 (25 high school seniors, one enrolled early).

Top prospects: The Hogs signed one ESPNU 150 player, offensive tackle Cam Feldt. He’s rated as the No. 8 offensive tackle prospect in the country. Calvin Barnett is the No. 21 defensive tackle prospect nationally, while Daunte Carr is the No. 24 safety prospect in the country.

Sleepers: Bobby Petrino really likes Marquel Wade’s ability to make things happen in the open field even though he doesn’t have blazing speed. He’s also a dangerous return man. Garrett Uekman is a pass-catching tight end who may have a chance to play early for the Hogs.

Needs met: The Hogs needed some more muscle in the offensive line and found it in Feldt, who has big-time potential as a run-blocker at both tackle and guard. Petrino thinks 260-pound Jatashun Beachum has a chance to be a Michael Bush type of player. It remains to be seen how much the Hogs helped themselves on defense. Are there enough linebackers and pass-rushers in this class, guys who can make plays, to bolster a defense that's given up far too many points the last two seasons?

Analysis: There weren’t a lot of big names in this class and only two four-star players, but Petrino likes the overall athleticism of the class. Byran Jones and Barnett were must gets at defensive tackle. The Hogs were able to get Barnett away from Oklahoma State. Eduardo Camara is one of the top 5 kickers in the country, and Arkansas can certainly use a boost in special teams. The offense is in place for the Hogs to do big things, especially next season. But it still gets down to stopping people, and the Hogs are still very much an unknown on that side of the ball.

Scouts Inc. grade: B-

What Bobby Petrino said:

  • "The last week gets a little bit wild. I think it continues to change. Recruiting is continuously changing, the early the commitments, the not staying committed, who the commitments are. The one thing we have to do is continue to work and have to have a good plan. We do a good job with our ranking system. We try to rank them and try to go get the number one guy on our list and then we work our way down the list. It’s quite the process. It’s a lot of fun. It’s a lot of stress but it’s rewarding when you stand up here at the end of the day."
  • "I think we really helped ourselves on defense. That was certainly an emphasis. We understand that we are going to improve on defense. We have a lot of young guys coming back, but we needed to add some guys who could come in and contribute right away. On the defensive front, the size and the athleticism of the guys coming in on defense will certainly do that. We do feel like some of the guys in the secondary will come in and compete. The best part about it is that they are going to have to compete."