Freshman Alex Collins leads the SEC with 527 rush yards this season.Bret Bielema’s arrival from Wisconsin has signaled a change in Arkansas football. Gone are the pass-happy offenses of the past several years. This year no SEC team has rushed more times and for more yards than Arkansas. Arkansas’ run game faces its toughest test of the season Saturday against Florida (7 ET on ESPN2).
Arkansas Taking On Bielema’s Personality
Over the last four years, no SEC team ran the ball less than Arkansas. However, this year Arkansas has run the ball 65 percent of the time, ranking second in the SEC.
Arkansas Run Percentage Last 5 Years
Bielema has taken his ground-and-pound approach from his Wisconsin days, when the Badgers had the fifth-highest rush percentage in the nation, and brought it to Fayetteville this year – with a few wrinkles.
One key difference between this Arkansas team’s rushing attack from Bielema’s offenses at Wisconsin is play direction. From 2010-12 Wisconsin accumulated 48 percent of its yards on runs up the middle.
This year Arkansas has accumulated just 26 percent of its runs up the middle. The Razorbacks’ 874 rushing yards outside the hash marks lead the conference and are already more than their total from last season.
Inside the Razorbacks Rushing Attack
One key part of the Arkansas rushing attack is the big-play ability of Alex Collins and Jonathan Williams. Collins leads the SEC with 17 rushes of 10-or-more yards, and no SEC player has a longer run this year than Williams’ 75-yard touchdown scamper in the season opener.
The offensive line has been instrumental in opening up big holes for the running backs, with Collins and Williams both ranking in the top 10 in yards before contact among BCS-AQ rushers.
Arkansas Rushing SEC Ranks This Season
Opponents have been prepared for Arkansas’ run-reliant gameplan this season. The Razorbacks are seeing an average of 7.3 defenders in the box, the second-highest mark among SEC teams.
Williams and Collins have both excelled facing the extra traffic. Williams leads the SEC with 10 broken tackles and Collins is fifth among BCS-AQ running backs with 229 yards after contact.
The running game has also helped set up play action for the Razorbacks. Seven of Arkansas’ ten touchdown passes have come off a run fake, and another came on a Williams halfback option pass. Only Oregon State, Ohio State and Washington have more TD passes via play action than Arkansas.
Can Florida Stop Arkansas?
Florida’s defense leads the nation in run defense, allowing just 54 yards per game. Florida doesn’t stack the line to stop the run either, averaging only 6.5 men in the box per run play.
Florida did lose one of its best run stoppers - defensive lineman Dominique Easley - for the season last week in practice, but still has the ability to stop Arkansas’ high-powered run game.
The key to Florida’s rush defense is penetrating the backfield. The Gators have hit opposing rushers behind the line of scrimmage on an FBS-best 42 percent of their carries, and they have stopped opposing ball carriers for zero or negative yards 44 percent of the time, the highest rate in FBS.