June 28, 2012
Wilson, Davis head potent offense under John L. Smith
In cooperation with the other SEC sites on Rivals.com, we take a look at five questions facing each team as preseason practice approaches. The series continues today with a report on the Arkansas Razorbacks from HawgSports.com's Trey Biddy.
1. Why will Arkansas be better or worse than the preview magazines predict?
The Razorbacks have generally been picked somewhere in the top 15 in preseason polls. If Arkansas' offense remains as potent as it has been the past few seasons, which is possible with pre-season All-America candidates at quarterback, running back and receiver to go with an improved offensive line, the Hogs have a chance to contend for an SEC Championship.
Arkansas' defense returned several starters in 2011 and was projected to be solid after finishing fifth in the conference in 2010. However, the Hogs finished ninth in the SEC, and as a result defensive coordinator Willy Robinson was fired after four seasons. The Hogs made all the necessary offseason moves to shore up the defense, starting with the hire of Ohio State co-defensive coordinator Paul Haynes as the new DC. He brought former Ohio State assistant Taver Johnson with him to coach the linebackers, and the Hogs made Kevin Peoples the defensive tackles coach while moving Bobby Allen from DT coach to cornerbacks coach. It remains to be seen if the moves make a big difference, but the bottom line is changes were needed and made.
|SEC: FIVE QUESTIONS|
In cooperation with the other SEC sites on Rivals.com, we take a look at five preseason questions facing each team. Here is the schedule for the series.
|Mon, June 25||South Carolina|
|Tue, June 26||Ole Miss|
|Wed, June 27||Georgia|
|Thur, June 28||Arkansas|
|Fri, June 29||Missouri|
|Mon, July 2||Auburn|
|Tue, July 3||Vanderbilt|
|Thur, July 5||Texas A&M|
|Fri, July 6||Tennessee|
|Mon, July 9 ||Alabama|
|Tue, July 10||Florida|
|Wed, July 11||Mississippi St.|
|Thur, July 12||Kentucky|
|Fri, July 13||LSU|
2. Which player(s) will Arkansas miss the most from last season?
Arkansas will really miss three players, including two at receiver in Jarius Wright and Joe Adams. Sophomore Marquel Wade has similar ability, but with his status up in the air following an off-season arrest, those players could be missed even more. Adams was a consensus All-American last season after returning four punts for touchdowns. Wright was first-team All-SEC last season after setting school records with 66 catches for 1,117 yards and 12 touchdowns. He had a school-record 168 receptions in his career. Both Adams and Wright were selected in the fourth round of the NFL Draft, as was fellow receiver Greg Childs, who was still recovering from a knee injury suffered in 2010. Senior Cobi Hamilton was a starter last season and has big-play ability, but the Hogs need more than two game-breakers at receiver in this offense.
Defensively, the Hogs will miss Jake Bequette at defensive end after he was drafted in the third round. Bequette was a four-year starter at Arkansas and racked up 10 sacks last season despite missing three games with a hamstring injury. Arkansas has some quality defensive ends on the roster, but the Hogs don't have a 6-5, 271-pound NFL player with four years of starting experience in the SEC.
3. Which newcomer(s) will make the biggest impact this season?
Arkansas is going to need backup support from newcomers in every level of the defense. The Razorbacks should be fine with the starting group, but the Hogs get thin after that in the second and third levels.
The biggest impact could come from junior college defensive end transfer Austin Flynn. He got more comfortable each practice in the spring and showcased good mobility and athleticism. In addition, look for one of several incoming defensive ends to slide into the fifth defensive end spot. A good candidate is incoming freshman JaMichael Winston, who was injured his junior year but exploded onto the scene as a senior with 17 sacks.
Incoming freshman safety Defonta Lowe is an impressive athlete who could have been an impact player at receiver but prefers defense. He is a big hitter with a seemingly endless supply of energy. The Hogs need a newcomer to help at safety, and he is the only one projected to play that spot in the incoming class. Cornerbacks Will Hines and Ray Buchanan Jr. should be looked upon to provide immediate depth. Hines was a highly regarded recruit, and Buchanan is the son of a former NFL star by the same name. In the spring, the Hogs had just four scholarship corners.
There are several candidates at linebacker, but even with the opportunity to impress a new position coach none seemed to rise to the occasion in the spring. Arkansas ended up moving senior Tenarius Wright from starting defensive end to starting inside linebacker, which gives it another leader in the middle to go with senior Alonzo Highsmith. After that, there are a lot of other players who have not separated themselves from the pack. Arkansas could look to a fresh face with incoming recruit Otha Peters, whom Rivals.com rated the No. 6 inside linebacker prospect in the nation in 2012.
Offensively, the Razorbacks do not need much help, but two players to keep an eye on are tight end Demetrius Dean and running back Jonathan Williams. Dean is a 2011 signee who did not arrive until this past spring. He showed impressive hands and feet in the spring while seeing action in the rotation with the first and second teams. The Hogs return three highly experienced running backs, including All-America candidate Knile Davis, but Williams, a four-star incoming freshman, may be too good not to give a look in some capacity.
4. What is the biggest question mark heading into preseason practice?
How will this team respond without Bobby Petrino as head coach? The major focus of Athletic Director Jeff Long for the interim hire of John L. Smith was to keep a team that was built for winning on the same track with as little change as possible. How much did Petrino's intuitive play-calling and style play a role in Arkansas' success? Three times last year when the Hogs were away from home in a rough spot in the second half Petrino made the right calls for the Hogs to come away with narrow wins.
Smith was with the program the past three years before briefly leaving to take the head coaching job at Weber State, his alma mater. The staff remains intact, and while the defense is undergoing a needed overhaul, offensive coordinator Paul Petrino will run the same offensive attack with the same terminology as his brother.
In addition, the Razorbacks have strong leadership from within in senior All-America quarterback candidate Tyler Wilson, Davis and a wealth of experienced and vocal seniors. With the same culture and system in place on an experienced team, Arkansas may be able to hold onto a good thing for at least another season.
5. How does the schedule set up for Arkansas?
The Hogs get both Alabama and LSU, the only two teams they lost to last season, at home in 2012. Arkansas has gone toe-to-toe with LSU both home and away several times the last few years (not so much in Baton Rouge last year, however), but Alabama has won five in a row over Arkansas, including three convincing wins.
Life in the SEC in 2012 means road trips to College Station, Auburn, Columbia and Starkville. The Hogs have had Texas A&M's number the past three seasons, including narrow wins the last two meetings. Those games were at a neutral site in Arlington's Cowboys Stadium. The Hogs have won two of the last three at Auburn and won handily in Fayetteville last season. The 2010 game, an Auburn win in Jordan-Hare Stadium, was one of the most entertaining matchups in the college football season.
Arkansas has beaten the Gamecocks three seasons in-a-row, including 41-20 at Williams-Brice Stadium in 2010. In addition to hosting Alabama and LSU in Fayetteville, the Hogs get Kentucky there and host Ole Miss in Little Rock.
Arkansas' premier out-of-conference game was Texas A&M, so the Hogs were left scrambling for an opponent when the Aggies joined the league and will now play host to Rutgers in Fayetteville.
Bonus question: What is the best-case scenario (and/or worse-case scenario) for Arkansas this season?
The best-case scenario for Arkansas is an SEC Championship, and that typically comes with a chance to play for the national championship. That goal seemed a lot more popular among pundits before Petrino's scandal. The schedule shapes up nicely, no team will have a better offense in the conference, changes were made on defense and leadership is strong in the wake of much adversity.
A lot of stock is put into head coaches in this league, and Petrino was one of the best. Many are waiting to see how big a difference that could make in this year's team. The biggest fear for Arkansas fans is the situation that unfolded at Louisville when Petrino left there after the 2006 season. Seventeen starters returned from a 12-1 BCS Bowl team that was preseason Top 10. The result under first-year coach Steve Kragthorpe was a 6-6 campaign, and Kragthorpe was fired within three years. Arkansas is not doing an overhaul, but no doubt the national title talk has quieted since Petrino was fired in the spring.
The worst case scenario for the Hogs would be losing to the two most talented teams on the schedule at home in Alabama and LSU and struggling on the road at some tough venues. A&M wanted their game changed to a home-and-home, and playing at Kyle Field is no picnic. At some point, a talented South Carolina team is going to overcome its struggles against the Hogs, and even the most average Auburn teams are scary in Jordan-Hare.
For additional Arkansas coverage, visit HawgSports.com.
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