SEC: Arkansas Razorbacks

Ball security in the SEC

April, 18, 2014
Apr 18
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Turnovers are the great equalizer in football.

Teams that turn it over consistently don't win very often, and teams that force turnovers typically find ways to win.

Looking back at the SEC in the last three seasons, it's not surprising that Alabama and LSU lead the way in turnover margin. The Tigers are plus-36 and the Crimson Tide are plus-24 during that span. They've combined to win two of the last three SEC titles and played each other for the national championship in 2011.

Alabama has been especially good at not turning the ball over. The Crimson Tide haven’t turned it over 20 or more times in a season since 2007, Nick Saban’s first year in Tuscaloosa. Alabama and LSU are the only teams in the league that haven’t had a 20-turnover season at least once over the last three years. During that three-year span, Alabama has turned it over just 44 times.

By contrast, Ole Miss has turned it over 75 times during the last three seasons, which is the most in the league. Arkansas is right behind the Rebels with 74 turnovers, and the Hogs have forced the fewest turnovers in the SEC since 2011 (47). Ole Miss and Texas A&M are the only SEC teams to turn it over more than 20 times in each of the last three seasons, although Texas A&M was a member of the Big 12 in 2011.

In the last three seasons, South Carolina's defense has led the way when it comes to creating turnovers. The Gamecocks have forced 86 turnovers. LSU is second with 82. The Gamecocks have intercepted an SEC-high 52 passes in the last three seasons. Vanderbilt is second with 48 picks during that span.

Ole Miss has thrown the most interceptions (44) in the last three seasons, just one more than Tennessee (43). Alabama has thrown the fewest picks (18).

Below is the turnover margin for all 14 SEC schools in the last three seasons. Missouri and Texas A&M were in the Big 12 in 2011.

1. LSU: 82 gained, 46 lost -- plus-36
2. Alabama: 68 gained, 44 lost -- plus-24
3. Mississippi State: 78 gained, 55 lost -- plus-23
4. South Carolina: 86 gained, 64 lost -- plus-22
5. Missouri: 77 gained, 57 lost -- plus-20
6. Georgia: 77 gained, 66 lost -- plus-11
7. Vanderbilt: 77 gained, 69 lost -- plus-8
8. Florida: 62 gained, 61 lost -- plus-1
9. Kentucky: 52 gained, 55 lost -- minus-3
10. Tennessee: 60 gained, 64 lost -- minus-4
11. Ole Miss: 67 gained, 75 lost -- minus-8
12. Auburn: 55 gained, 65 lost -- minus-10
13. Texas A&M: 53 gained, 66 lost -- minus-13
14. Arkansas: 47 gained, 74 lost -- minus-27

SEC lunch links

April, 18, 2014
Apr 18
12:00
PM ET
Alabama, Auburn and Missouri will all hold their spring games this weekend. To get you ready for all the action, be sure to check out Friday’s lunch links.
Kentucky and Texas A&M both lost quarterbacks Wednesday, which means the race for their starting jobs is down to two.

SportsNation

Which team in the SEC has the most precarious quarterback situation in terms of talent, depth and experience heading into 2014?

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    25%
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    13%
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    11%
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    17%
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    34%

Discuss (Total votes: 3,776)

Jalen Whitlow is leaving Kentucky, and Matt Joeckel is leaving Texas A&M. Now, the reality might be that neither one of those guys was going to win the job. But in both cases, the Wildcats and Aggies are going to put a quarterback on the field in the fall who has very little experience.

They're hardly the only ones in that boat in the SEC.

Only three teams in the league are bringing back an established quarterback who started all or most of the season a year ago. Auburn returns Nick Marshall, while Dak Prescott is back at Mississippi State and Bo Wallace at Ole Miss. Fifth-year senior Dylan Thompson returns at South Carolina, but most of his work to this point has been coming off the bench in relief, although he did have the memorable performance against Clemson two years ago in a start when Connor Shaw was injured and couldn't play.

The bottom line: There aren't a ton of rock-solid quarterback situations in the SEC as we exit the spring.

Your homework assignment (the fans) is telling us who has the most precarious quarterback situation heading into the 2014 season. So go vote in our SportsNation poll, and we'll unveil the results in the next few days.

Obviously, the landscape can change pretty dramatically. Did anybody really know what Texas A&M had at quarterback with Johnny Manziel entering the 2012 season?

The five schools we've come up with as candidates all have some major question marks.

At Kentucky, sophomore Patrick Towles and true freshman Drew Barker are now battling it out. And at Texas A&M, it's down to a redshirt freshman (Kenny Hill) and a true freshman (Kyle Allen). Hill has already been in trouble this offseason, too.

Brandon Allen is the guy at Arkansas, but struggled through an injury-marred season a year ago. The Hogs finished last in the SEC in passing offense.

True freshman Brandon Harris outplayed sophomore Anthony Jennings in LSU's spring game, so this summer and the preseason should be quite interesting on the Bayou.

And at Alabama, the Crimson Tide's starter for the 2014 season might well be attending classes at another school. Jacob Coker is transferring from Florida State and won't be on Alabama's campus until he graduates from FSU in May. Fifth-year senior Blake Sims has taken the lead this spring in the Tide's quarterback derby as he adjusts to Lane Kiffin's pro-style offense, but will have to hold off Coker. Whoever wins the job at Alabama will have very little, if any, meaningful game experience.

SEC's lunch links

April, 17, 2014
Apr 17
1:00
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Let them eat a late lunch!
There's a saying that the Arkansas defense is living by this spring in hopes of becoming a better, more aggressive unit this fall.

It rings true with the mentality new defensive coordinator Robb Smith wants to instill in his group.

"Coach Smith stressed he can stand getting beat, but he can't stand getting 'beat up,'" senior defensive end Trey Flowers said.

[+] EnlargeTrey Flowers
Wesley Hitt/Getty ImagesSenior DE Trey Flowers and the Arkansas defense have a new attitude this spring.
The Razorbacks would prefer to be on the right side of both, but the effort is the key part of the equation. Given that, the unit is working this spring to become faster, more physical and more aggressive than before. Rather than read-and-react, it's more line-up-and-attack in Fayetteville, Ark., which is the what Razorbacks coach Bret Bielema is looking for.

"When Bret hired me, one of the things he wanted to do was be aggressive on defense," Smith said. "We're going to pick our opportunities to do that. We have a couple of wrinkles in right now, and we'll continue to build off of that. We've got to continue to get more precise with those things and keep getting better and keep improving."

The focus this spring, Flowers said, has been on physical play, stopping the run and creating turnovers. The Razorbacks were 11th in the SEC and 90th in the nation last season in yards-per-carry allowed (4.67) to opponents and were 11th in the league in rushing yards allowed per game (178.58). When it comes to turnovers, the Razorbacks had the worst turnover margin in the SEC (minus-9) and they created the fewest, too (14).

So the current defensive staff, which consists of one returnee (linebackers coach Randy Shannon) and three newcomers (Smith, defensive line coach Rory Segrest and secondary coach Clay Jennings) has honed in on getting the Razorbacks playing with the type of mentality desired.

"I think you do it a couple different ways," Smith said. "You practice it in terms of technique. You make sure you're physical tackling. You make sure that you're taking on blocks the right way. You can do it from a scheme standpoint. You make sure you're dictating daylight, things of that nature. You can pressure a little bit. I think all of that kind of builds to an aggressive mentality."

While the Razorbacks remain in a base 4-3 alignment, there are definitely wrinkles and differences in what they're doing this season. Segrest said the defensive line is transitioning to the attacking mentality.

"I think one of the biggest things, just looking back at least year, there was more of a read concept and I'm more of an attack guy when the ball is snapped," he said. "We still want to make sure we're attacking proper aiming points and not just running up the field, so there's an adjustment going from a pure read to an attack and react. That's been a little bit of a transition, but I think the guys have really come a long way as far as that goes."

Senior cornerback Tevin Mitchel, one of six starters returning on Arkansas' defense, said he completely buys into Smith's "I can stand getting beat, but I can't stand getting beat up," approach.

"I love that saying because as a corner, you can tell that he understands that you're going to get beat. That's just the game of football," Mitchel said. "He can stomach that, he can deal with that. But he cannot stomach getting beaten up. I'm down for that. I'm doing my best every practice not to get beat. My job is to defend my man from the ball and be more physical than the other man."

Smith stressed that there's a long way to go before the Razorbacks are where they want to be defensively and that the defense is still "a work in progress." But the players seem to have the kind of attitude he and his staff are seeking, and they hope that translates to results in the 2014 season.

"It's just instilling that attitude, being a championship defense," Flowers said. "That's with everything from running to the ball, smart swarming, tackling, creating takeaways and just being physical. That all-around attitude is one we just want to hang our hat on and get better at during the spring."

SEC lunchtime links

April, 16, 2014
Apr 16
12:00
PM ET
Finish your taxes on time? Then sit back and enjoy Wednesday’s lunch links.

SEC lunchtime links

April, 11, 2014
Apr 11
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Spring games galore this weekend! Florida, Georgia, Mississippi State, South Carolina, Tennessee and Vanderbilt will be in action on Saturday. But news isn't just on the field; there's plenty off the field, too:
Brandon Allen isn’t shying away from the competition. Despite starting 11 games at quarterback for Arkansas last season, he knows nothing is guaranteed. There are others ready to take his spot at the drop of a hat: AJ Derby, who started one game and saw action in seven contests; Rafe Peavey, a four-star prospect who enrolled early so he could participate in spring practice; even Allen's younger brother, Austin, who redshirted last season.

When coach Bret Bielema said prior to spring practice that Allen would be with the first-team offense “in theory,” he essentially threw down the gauntlet: “Who gives us the best chance to win next year’s opener against Auburn will be at that position. If it’s B.A. that’s great. If it’s not, hopefully that next person is ready.”

[+] EnlargeBrandon Allen
Chris Graythen/Getty ImagesBrandon Allen says he has a better grasp of Arkansas' scheme and how to be a leader.
Allen sounds ready to keep fighting for his job.

“My mindset is I’m the starter and I need to go out and prove to everyone that I’m still the starter,” Allen told ESPN.com on Wednesday. “Obviously the competition fuels all of us, especially with me. It makes me want to perform better than everyone else.”

Allen wasn’t far and away better than everyone else last season. Though he started strong -- 388 yards, five touchdowns and one interception in Arkansas’ first three games, all wins -- he didn’t end that way, finishing with an underwhelming 13 touchdowns and 10 interceptions. His 49.6 completion percentage left something to be desired, falling well behind league leaders Johnny Manziel (69.9 percent), Bo Wallace (64.8 percent) and even Austin Carta-Samuels (68.7 percent).

The good news is Allen is only beginning to come into his own. Last spring he was a sophomore trying to learn an entirely new offense. This year he’s much better prepared to execute what coaches ask of him.

“I have a lot more confidence,” Allen said. “Playing that whole year, just getting the experience of SEC football and getting that under my belt, has been huge for me, especially coming into the spring and making myself more of a leader. I think that whole confidence level for me has been a huge boost.”

Bielema has noticed. After Allen completed 17 of 20 passes for 247 yards, a touchdown and one interception in Arkansas’ first scrimmage last Saturday, Bieliema told reporters he has seen a change in his quarterback ever since the start of spring practice.

“He looks different physically. He plays different. He has got so much composure,” Bielema said. “What I love there -- not that I wanted to see it -- but when we had a couple of guys jump offsides he really let the huddle have an awareness of what we needed to do and what was expected. You like to have your quarterback step up in that fashion.”

Allen said he’s gotten bigger, faster and stronger in the weight room this offseason. And that has translated to more durability and better arm strength, he explained. But it becomes clear even in the briefest of conversations that he’s more interested in control of a different kind. He wants to lead.

“As an offense, we need to be clicking on all cylinders,” Allen said. “We can’t be making little mistakes -- jumping offsides, doing little things that hurt ourselves. I think if we clean up those details and finish up the spring on track, we’ll be a tough offense to stop. Really it’s all about not hurting ourselves and doing the right things.”

Allen knows that he had quite a bit to work on as well. He watched the film and saw where he could have done better.

I'm making myself more of a perfectionist, just not making many mistakes is what I'm trying to pride myself on.

-- Arkansas QB Brandon Allen
There were highs, he said, pointing to close games where it could have gone either way. There were lows, too, where he and the offense struggled to hold up their end of the bargain.

Proving he’s ready to be the starter once again is about getting over the hump.

“I’ve taken things I’ve learned from last season and applying it, even to the new things we’re installing,” he said. “I’m making myself more of a perfectionist, just not making many mistakes is what I’m trying to pride myself on.”

The starting job is ostensibly Allen’s to lose. Just don’t tell him that.

Derby didn’t distinguish himself in limited time last season. There were plenty of opportunities for Bielema to pull the redshirt off of his two freshmen, but he didn’t for a reason. And Peavey, talented though he may be, is still far too young to be expected to grasp an offense and run with it.

Allen thinks of himself as the starter, but at the same time he’s not taking it for granted. As he said, “You can’t make mistakes in a competition.” When you do, someone is always there to take advantage.

“Everyone wants to be the top guy, but there can be only one,” he said.

SEC lunchtime links

April, 10, 2014
Apr 10
12:00
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Plenty going on as spring practices continue in the SEC. We have pro days, coaching talk, players adapting to new positions and even reality TV news in today's lunch links:

SEC's lunch links

April, 9, 2014
Apr 9
12:00
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Ten of the Top 25 tailgating schools reside in the SEC, including all of the top six. Does this surprise anyone?

SEC's lunch links

April, 8, 2014
Apr 8
12:00
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The SEC has been pumping out internet memes lately. Over the weekend there was Gene Chizik staring down his daughter's prom date. Then during Monday night's basketball national championship game, rapper Drake's many sports allegiances (Kentucky among them) were on display. Oh, and the kid Cats lost to UConn and then acted like they'd never heard of the NBA draft.

Let's swim back into the friendlier waters of SEC football, shall we?

SEC's lunch links

April, 7, 2014
Apr 7
12:00
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There were 80 fires put out and 21 arrests in Lexington on Saturday night after Kentucky defeated Wisconsin to reach Monday night's college basketball national championship game. Whatever happened to "Act like you've been there before?"

SEC's lunchtime links

April, 4, 2014
Apr 4
12:00
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LSU and Ole Miss will hold their spring games on Saturday, with six more teams set to play their games next Saturday. As spring practice winds to a close at many of the schools around the conference, let's take a look at some of today's headlines.
Brandon Allen. Nick Marshall. Bo Wallace.

That’s it. That’s the list.

Only three quarterbacks who started double-digit games last season return to the SEC this fall, and one of them isn’t even guaranteed to be a starter.

[+] EnlargeNick Saban
Kevin C. Cox/Getty ImagesLes Miles and Nick Saban are in no hurry to name their starting QBs for the fall.
Everywhere you turn in this league, there’s a quarterback competition underway, from Alabama to Georgia, Arkansas to Kentucky, LSU to Texas A&M. Maty Mauk is surely the presumptive starter at Missouri, but even he's not a sure thing. Gary Pinkel says he wants competition, never mind that there were times when Mauk looked better than former starter James Franklin.

But not every coach in the SEC approaches the quarterback position the same way. A quick glance across the league shows a variety of opinions about how to pick a starter.

Mark Stoops is the most urgent-minded coach of the bunch, and given the inconsistency Kentucky had at quarterback last season, it’s easy to understand why. Entering his second season, Stoops said: “I’d love to come out of spring with a clear-cut starter.” That means everyone is in the mix. Maxwell Smith can’t practice while he recovers from shoulder surgery, but Jalen Whitlow, Reese Phillips, Patrick Towles and even true freshman Drew Barker are in the hunt.

Barker, a four-star prospect according to ESPN, “has a very good opportunity to take control of it,” Stoops said, praising his maturity for such a young quarterback.

“He’s a guy [who] has high expectations [for] himself, and he’s OK with the pressure that comes along with playing that position,” Stoops said. “He’s excited about the opportunity, and I’m excited to see what he can do.”

Bret Bielema isn’t outwardly putting a timetable on anything at Arkansas, but he’s encouraging everyone to compete. Allen started 11 games last season but was up and down, with 13 touchdowns and 10 interceptions.

Bielema was about as no-nonsense as any coach gets about the situation.

“In theory, the first time we yell out for the [first string, Allen is] going to step out there,” Bielema said before the start of spring practice. “But really, in our program, the competition brings the best out of people.

“So B.A. is going to be the first guy in with the ones, but there will be other guys who get opportunity,” he continued. “Who is able to produce and run the offense effectively and who gives us the best chance to win next year’s opener against Auburn will be at that position.”

Similar to the case at Kentucky, Bielema isn’t counting out his true freshman. Rafe Peavey, another highly-regarded four-star prospect, is going to be allowed to sink or swim. Bielema loves his talent and praised him as a “football junkie.” But he’s not pampering the rookie.

“It’s no different between the right tackle or the quarterback or the safety,” Bielema said. “It’s all about what a freshman can handle, how they adjust to adversity and how they enjoy success.

“The quarterback gets a lot of attention. They’re usually really pretty, really smart, and everybody likes them. But in reality, they’re like everybody else. Those that play well will play and those that don’t will sit.”

While Bielema and Stoops are anxious for a battle, other coaches around the league are more inclined to sit back and wait.

[+] EnlargeKevin Sumlin
AP Photo/David J. PhillipWho will replace Johnny Manziel as Texas A&M's QB? Kevin Sumlin isn't saying anything right now.
LSU coach Les Miles said he has a good sense of the competition between Anthony Jennings and Brandon Harris. “But it always plays out,” he said, harkening back to when Matt Flynn and JaMarcus Russell duked it out eight years ago. It looked like Flynn had the job in hand after winning a bowl game and watching Russell come into camp out of shape in 2006. But Flynn's body faltered down the stretch and Russell kept going, eventually winning the job.

"I want all the quarterbacks to know that it’s going to be given to no one,” Miles said. “[It’s] earned by the one that plays."

Texas A&M and Alabama are taking similar approaches to replacing Johnny Manziel and AJ McCarron. In fact, both Kevin Sumlin and Nick Saban are somewhat defiant about holding the cards close to the vest.

Sumlin has gloated before that when people assumed Jameill Showers would beat out Manziel in 2013, "I didn't name a starter [after spring]; y'all did."

So while we watch Matt Joeckel, Kenny Hill and Kyle Allen jockey for position, don’t expect a starter to be named until close to the season.

Saban, for his part, doesn’t want to hear anything about it. His quarterback competition is essentially on hold until the fall, when Florida State transfer Jacob Coker arrives. Before the start of spring practice, Saban laid out his plan, saying, “Let me be very clear about this: We’re not going to be in a hurry to decide who the quarterback is.”

“You guys are going to ask me at least 1,000 times between now and the first game who's the first-team quarterback,” he added, “and I'm telling you right now you're probably going to get a 1,000 'We're going to wait and see.’ ”

The only place in the SEC that doesn’t have to be patient in the matter is South Carolina. Coach Steve Spurrier named Dylan Thompson the starter well before spring practice ever began.

Replacing Connor Shaw won’t be easy, but Spurrier said that Thompson was the guy for the job, no question. A fifth-year senior with plenty of in-game experience, Spurrier didn’t have a doubt in his mind.

“I didn’t know there was any question about it,” he said. “Someone said, ‘You’re just naming him the starting quarterback?’ Well, I just said, ‘Of course I am. Why wouldn’t we?’ ”

Spurrier did it his way. Saban and Sumlin are doing it theirs. Stoops is anxious, and Bielema and Pinkel are only interested in the competition.

Recruiting a quarterback is the furthest thing from an exact science. Finding out who’s ready to start is even more inexact.

This might be the season of new quarterbacks in the SEC, but everywhere there’s a different sense of which way the wind blows.

SEC's lunchtime links

April, 3, 2014
Apr 3
12:15
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It's not exactly like the fall, but at least we'll have some football (spring) games this weekend. Let's take a quick spin around the SEC and see what's happening as the final spring scrimmages approach at some of the league's schools.

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