- Chris Low, ESPN Senior Staff Writer
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Despite playing eight games against top-20 teams, Arkansas won four of its last six, shutting out LSU and Ole Miss after 17 straight SEC losses. The Hogs have a top O-line, and they’ve improved defensively under DC Robb Smith. “Last year wasn’t a landing point, it was a launching point,” coach Bret Bielema says.
How the Razorbacks beat you: Bielema revels in pounding teams into submission and then taking his shots in the passing game, and the Hogs recorded the most time of possession in the SEC last season. They return two 1,000-yard rushers in Jonathan Williams and Alex Collins, along with four starters on a mammoth offensive line that should be as good as any in the conference. Fifth-year senior QB Brandon Allen was healthy in ’14, and it showed—he threw just 5 INTs on 339 pass attempts. Look for more play-action passing under first-year coordinator Dan Enos, especially targeting junior TE Hunter Henry, who led the SEC in first-down catches at the position (26).
How you beat the Razorbacks: Stretching the field is a must; Arkansas had just 29 catches of at least 20 yards last season, 98th in the FBS. “The system allows guys to line up in a lot of different places, and it’s a system we’ve used at several different places,” says Enos, whose recent stops have been Cincinnati, Michigan State and Central Michigan, where he was head coach. The hope is that newcomer Dominique Reed can be a deep threat as defenses crowd the line to stop the run game. Leading receiver Keon Hatcher is back, but the Hogs don’t have a wealth of proven playmakers on the perimeter.
How the Razorbacks beat you: No SEC team improved more on defense last season than the Hogs, who did it with tough, physical play from their front seven. They cut their yards allowed per game from 413.4 in ’13 to just 323.4 last year, second best in the conference. Replacing end Trey Flowers, tackle Darius Philon and linebacker Martrell Spaight won’t be easy, but junior end Deatrich Wise Jr. is healthy after playing hurt for much of last season, and junior tackle Taiwan Johnson has beefed up to 273 pounds, sliding into Philon’s spot. Additionally, junior Brooks Ellis (72 tackles) moves from middle linebacker to the weak side. “He is one of the more fluid linebackers I’ve ever been around,” Bielema says.
How you beat the Razorbacks: With finishers like Flowers and Philon gone, there will be even more pressure on the linebackers and secondary to make plays in space. It remains to be seen whether the Hogs have improved their speed on defense enough to match up with the playmakers they’ll see in the SEC. The coaches like the young talent at linebacker and defensive back, but finishing games has been a problem. The Razorbacks gave up 107.8 ypg in the fourth quarter in ’14, and Bielema is 0–7 at Arkansas in games decided by a touchdown or less.
Despite playing eight games against top-20 teams, Arkansas won four of its last six, shutting out LSU and Ole Miss after 17 straight SEC losses. The Hogs have a top O-line, and they’ve improved defensively under DC Robb Smith.