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story.lead_photo.caption Arkansas receiver Deon Stewart reacts to scoring a touchdown during a game against New Mexico State on Saturday, Sept. 30, 2017, in Fayetteville. - Photo by Charlie Kaijo

FAYETTEVILLE -- Sometimes thinking out loud produces stupidity.

At least that's me sometimes it seems, including during last Saturday's Arkansas 42-24 victory over New Mexico State.

In a mumbled declaration to myself but loud enough to be heard nearby, this writer at the game's outset questioned coach Bret Bielema's patience sticking with Deon Stewart among his starting wide receivers.

Thereupon Stewart caught a bubble screen from quarterback Austin Allen, dodged two would-be tacklers and zoomed for a 38-yard touchdown for the game's first points.

"Guess he showed you," a colleague said in the Reynolds Razorback Stadium press box.

Guess he did, and I am unquestionably glad that he did.

Questioning Bielema for sticking with Stewart had zero to do with the player's character. The third-year sophomore from Hardy has exhibited plenty of character for being a team player while apprenticing the last two years.

Stewart has welcomed, mentored and nurtured the new cast of receivers last spring and summer as the cupboard of pass-catchers was restocked.

It made sense relying on Stewart's sophomore seniority after his two catches last season, rendering him the only University of Arkansas, Fayetteville, wideout with a catch last season going into the game against New Mexico State.

But Stewart's production for Arkansas' 1-2 start netted a fumbled kickoff return setting up TCU's final touchdown of its 28-7 victory and only three catches for 31 yards in all three games combined with zero catches during the 50-43 SEC overtime loss to Texas A&M.

It seemed Stewart was among the receivers not getting open, causing Allen to be sacked and harassed.

Junior college transfer Jonathan Nance (15 catches, 258 yards and four touchdowns) appeared the lone wideout stepping up.

Stewart and redshirt freshman Jordan Jones changed all that on Saturday. Bielema named them his Co-Offense MVPs.

Stewart logged a career-high four catches for 71 yards, including his trend-setting touchdown. Jones caught four for 84 yards.

Bielema on Monday explained Stewart's turnaround.

"Unfortunately, Deon had been kind of nicked since fall camp," Bielema said. "He'd twisted his ankle. Actually, I go back to the bowl game [last December's Belk Bowl loss to Virginia Tech]. We had a plan that was probably going to try to get him about six to eight touches but his first touch, [a 19-yard catch] he tweaked his ankle. Unfortunately, it shut that window. This year the same thing, more foot than ankle."

Stewart played well on Saturday, "finally healthy," Bielema said.

"That bubble screen he put that right foot on the ground accelerated and dashed through those two defenders," Bielema said. "I think that's a very good indication of what he can do."

And a very good indication of sticking with a struggling but high character talent these coaches knew would do better.

Sports on 10/04/2017

Print Headline: Stewart proves Bielema right, doubters wrong

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