FAYETTEVILLE — Arkansas got more bad news Monday as standout center Frank Ragnow and stellar freshman running back Chase Hayden are now likely to miss the rest of the season with injuries.
The update from coach Bret Bielema was another blow for a team that has lost three straight games in blowout fashion and seven of its last nine overall.
The Razorbacks (2-5, 0-4 Southeastern Conference) were already without injured starting quarterback Austin Allen, who has missed the last two games with a shoulder injury, as well as top running back Rawleigh Williams, whose career was ended in the spring following a second neck injury.
Also, top wide receiver Jared Cornelius was lost for the season with an Achilles injury he suffered against Texas A&M last month.
"To have running back, wide receiver, quarterback, maybe the best player on our team (Ragnow) ... It's not anything more than reality," Bielema said. "You've got to step up and play and see where it goes from there."
Ragnow suffered a high ankle sprain during the second quarter of Saturday's 52-20 loss to No. 19 Auburn. Bielema said his recovery is expected to take 12 weeks. The 6-foot-5, 317-pound center was a preseason All-Southeastern Conference first-team selection, and Bielema said he should recover in time to be fully prepared for the NFL combine and draft.
The Minnesota native played in nine games as a freshman in 2014 before becoming a full-time starter at right guard as a sophomore. Ragnow moved to center as a junior last year and considered leaving school early for the NFL during the offseason before deciding to return for his final season.
Now he'll be forced to watch the rest of what's been the most difficult season of his Arkansas career from the sideline.
"The sad part is he was playing absolutely unbelievable football," Bielema said. "I've had a handful of offensive linemen drafted in the first round, and he is at their level — if not even higher."
Bielema said the Razorbacks will look to junior Zach Rogers and senior Jake Raulerson to fill Ragnow's role at center.
Hayden suffered a lower leg fracture after being tackled from behind on a 40-yard run in the first half against Auburn. The 5-foot-10, 191-pound freshman is tied for the rushing lead this season for Arkansas with 326 yards and a 5.3-yard per carry average, and he had a career-best 120 yards rushing in a season-opening win over Florida A&M.
Bielema said Hayden is expected to miss 4-6 weeks with the injury, putting an end to his regular season — though there is a chance he could return for a bowl game if Arkansas is able to win four of its final five games to guarantee a postseason spot.
"Our thoughts and prayers go out to those two guys in particular who were playing at a high level and unfortunately won't be able to continue that," Bielema said.
As for Allen, the senior did some light throwing before last week's game. Bielema said freshman Cole Kelley will continue to get the majority of the first-team work at practice this week unless Allen makes significant enough progress to return later in the week. Arkansas plays at Mississippi on Saturday.