Arkansas football preview for 2016, including keys to success for the Razorbacks, best players and season prediction.
What You Need To Know About The Arkansas Offense
It’s not exactly going to be back to life in the ground-and-pound attack Bret Bielema teams have become famous for, but it’s not going to be a fun-time air show last year’s offense cranked up, either.
There’s no quarterback battle with Austin Allen being named the starter early on in spring ball, and while he has the ability to push the ball deep, his job will be to keep things moving. If he’s hitting his third down throws, he’ll be doing his job.
Star back Alex Collins is gone, but the ground attack won’t have a problem with Rawleigh Williams and Kody Walker keeping the thump going behind yet another massive Hog line. Only two starters are back up front, but you know what you’re getting – it’s going to be a big front five that crushes everything in its path.
Tight end Hunter Henry is gone, but four of the top five receivers are back to balance out the offense and make the passing game efficient. Arkansas might not throw the ball around the yard like it did last year, but it’s got the weapons to do it if needed.
Biggest Key To The Arkansas Offense
Just be Arkansas. Being able to pound away with the ground game didn’t necessarily mean an automatic win, but it got the Hogs close. Yeah, they lost to Texas Tech and Texas A&M after running for over 200 yards in each game, but when the running attack didn’t work – even when the passing game was rolling – it was a big problem. They lost to both Alabama and Mississippi State – in two entirely different games – when they didn’t hit the 100-yard rushing mark. Bielema teams are all about controlling games and keeping the ball for a long, long time. That’s what the power running attack does.
What You Need To Know About The Arkansas Defense
Wildly inconsistent last season, that should change this time around. Experience usually equates to more solid performances, and this year’s D has a nice combination of veterans and talent.
The end combination of Deatrich Wise and Jeremiah Ledbetter will camp out in the backfield on a regular basis and should provide the pressure needed after the Hogs came up with just 20 sacks. Crank up the plays behind the line, get more big plays. Under Bielema, Arkansas is overdue to start hitting the quarterback more.
The secondary that was a total disaster last season at least gets back enough experience that six of the team’s top ten tacklers return to the defensive backfield. Can it all mean something better than allowing 275 passing yards per game? If the pass rush is better, yeah.
The linebacking corps has the potential to be terrific with Brooks Ellis on the inside and Dre Greenlaw on the outside likely combining for over 200 tackles, and they’ll get plenty of chances if the interior of the line isn’t a positive.
Biggest Key To The Arkansas Defense
The secondary has to be far more effective. The Hogs couldn’t get their defense off the field, and they couldn’t come up with enough meaningful stops partly because the defensive backfield was too leaky. They allowed just 2,714 passing yards in 2014 and gave up two 300-yard days, losing both games. Last year they allowed 3,577 passing yards with quarterbacks connecting on over 64% of their passes and five 300-yard games. The biggest difference? They allowed 6.9 yards per pass two years ago and 8.2 per try last year. Everything changes if …
Arkansas Will Be Far Better If …
There’s more of a pass rush. The talent is there to start doing even more. Wise came up with eight sacks last season and should be a star again, but the front seven has to come up with more pops on quarterbacks that had way too much time to operate. On the plus side, the production improved late with 12 sacks over the final four games including five in the stomping of LSU, but there were just eight coming over the first nine games.
Best Arkansas Offensive Player
TE Jeremy Sprinkle, Sr. – Hunter Henry turned into one of the nation’s top tight ends – winning the Mackey Award – with the ability to block, catch, and do all the little things right on the way to 51 grabs for 739 yards and three scores. He was taken with the 35th pick overall by San Diego in the 2016 NFL Draft. Sprinkle might not be as good an overall football player, but he’s got better pro tools with size, speed, and the upside to put up massive numbers as the new safety valve target.
Best Arkansas Defensive Player
DE Deatrich Wise, Sr. – The pass rush hasn’t been anything special in the Bret Bielema era, but Wise is the one star who changes all of that coming up with eight sacks last season and turning into the type of star who can take over games. Combining with Jeremiah Ledbetter, the Hogs have a dangerous outside tandem that’ll camp out in opposing backfields.
Key Player To A Successful Season
QB Austin Allen, Jr. – The defense is full of veterans, the receiving corps will be a solid, and the ground game will pound away. But can Allen produce like his older brother, Brandon Allen? The 3,440 yards and 30 touchdowns from Brandon last season was one of the shockers of the SEC season, and while Austin won’t do that, as long as he’s around the 65% completion rate he’ll be doing his job.
The Arkansas Season Will Be A Success If …
It wins nine games. 2011 was the last times the Hogs won more than eight games, and it’s been a crazy ride both on the field and on motorcycles. This is Bielema’s best team yet, but it’ll take a few key wins over some of the SEC stars, and against TCU, to have any shot at a double-digit win season. Winning eight regular season games and a bowl would make it a good, strong campaign.
Oct. 15 vs. Ole Miss – It took one of the greatest games in the history of college football highlighted by a wild and crazy finish to shock Ole Miss last season. The Hogs have won two in a row in the series, and this year they get the Rebels at home a week after dealing with Alabama. With a not-that-bad finishing kick, win this, and there could be a nice run over the second half of the season.
2015 Arkansas Fun Stats
– Time of Possession: Arkansas 34:23 – Opponents 25:37
– Fumbles: Opponents 14 (lost 7) – Arkansas 15 (lost 3)
– Punt Return Average: Arkansas 13.3 yards – Opponents 6.9 yards