Summer Opponent Preview: Arkansas Razorbacks – The Preview

The Arkansas Razorbacks was the opponent that let Texas Tech fans think that the season was going to be a long one. This year, the Razorbacks return almost the entire offensive line and a bevy of running backs. Let’s take a look at Texas Tech’s third opponent.

Quick Facts on Arkansas

Last Year’s Record: 7-6
Location: Fayetteville, AR
Coach: Bret Bielema
Returning Offensive Starters: 9 (QB Brandon Allen; OL Dan Skipper; OL Sebastian Tretola; OL Mitch Smothers; OL Denver Kirkland; RB Jonathan Williams; TE Hunter Henry; WR Keon Hatcher; WR Cody Hollister)
Returning Defensive Starters: 6 (DL JaMichael Winston; DL Taiwan Johnson; DB Jared Collins; DB D.J. Dean; DB Rohan Gaines)

RELATED: Summer Opponent Preview: Arkansas Razorbacks – The Numbers

Three Stars

  1. RB Jonathan Williams (6-0/224) and RB Alex Collins (5-11/224): Let’s talk about Williams first, the starter by name, who just ran roughshod over Texas Tech, 22 carries for 145 yards and 4 touchdowns. The 4 touchdowns was obviously the killer, capitalizing on mistakes of Texas Tech and scoring at will inside the redzone. Believe it or not, Williams could be human, having games where he only ran for 47 yards on 15 carries against Mississippi State and 55 yards on 18 carries against LSU. Those are some pretty good defenses, but Williams game against Texas Tech was arguably his best of the year. Collins also had his best game against Texas Tech (notice a trend?) rushing 27 times for 212 yards and 2 touchdowns. he didn’t come close to that mark for the rest of the year. Most of Collins’ games were of the variety that you might expect from a high level back-up, 80 yards or so and 15 carries. Make no mistake, he’s really good, but both Williams and Collins careered against Texas Tech.
  2. SS Rohan Gaines (5-11/195): Gaines’ stats really don’t jump off the page, although he was a freshman All-American a few years ago and he di finish with 59 tacles this past year, but he is one of the better returning defenders on the team and somewhat think that Arkansas may need to step up the pass defense, which was pretty good overal last year, but not a ton of turnovers, only 12 interceptions on the year, which was good for 55th in the country. Gaines could be a big part of that resurgence, along with Jared Collins, a cornerback who defended 13 passes last year. Wanna bet that Collins will be on the X-receiver against Texas Tech?
  3. DT Taiwan Johnson (6-2/273): Johnson is an undersized noseguard from Manvel of all places and I think he’ll be leading the charge on the defensive line. Last year, he was pretty good, notching 26 tackles last year (not bad from the noseguard position) and 8 tackles for loss along with 4.5 sacks. Johnson recovered that fumble against Texas Tech. As mentioned below, Arkansas graduates a lot of talent along the line, but Johnson will help, as will 4-star JUCO Jeremiah Ledbetter (6-4/270) and was on campus in December.

Five Things

  1. Anyone Have a GamePlan? For most of the offseason, I’ve been thinking about this game. Not necessarily about how this game was intended to be a battle of wills, the hurry-up-no-huddle vs. the ground-and-pound and it was painfully clear who won that philosophical challenge. The problem that I haven’t been able to get past is the idea that Arkansas lost just one offensive lineman and all of the important parts, the offensive line and the two running backs, all returned and I just don’t know what to do. I think, you sorta have to go back to the drawing board and hope that you can flip the script.There are two games that interest me on Arkansas’ schedule from last year, Texas A&M and Missouri, both of those teams beat the Razorbacks. Against the Aggies, Arkansas still ran for 285 yards and Allen still had 200 yards passing, but TAMU had just a little bit more offense, running for 137 yards and passing for 386. Kenny Hill was the #trill and it was big play after big play, as the Aggies had 9.4 yards per attempt passing. TAMU had the 102nd worst total defense and 109th worst run defense. The Aggies beat Arkansas with big plays despite a terrible defense.Against Missouri, the Tigers had a top 30 defense and the Tigers had a furious 4th quarter comeback, scoring 15 points in the 4th quarter. Although you couldn’t tell this against Texas Tech, the Razorbacks don’t literally score every time they touch the ball and for the entire second half, the Razorbacks couldn’t muster a single point.
  2. All of Your Offensive Line: This is just terrible. Arkansas returns four of five offensive linemen for a team that rushed for over 2,800 yards and ran for 31 touchdowns. Not only that, but Arkansas averaged 5 yards a rush. A rush. Against their opponents last year. I thought for sure that Branden Allen would be terrible and generally speaking, he didn’t light the world on fire. He’s a caretaker and much like Cody Thomas was generally not very good at throwing the oblong brown ball against Texas Tech, it didn’t matter if he couldn’t hit the broadside of a barn. He just had to hand the ball off. These offensive linemen aren’t just guys. Denver Kirkland is a preseason All-American, while Sebastian Tretola is an SEC preseason favorite as is the 6th offensive lineman, Hunter Henry.
  3. Losing Talent on Defense: Make no mistake, the Arkansas defense was pretty danged good last year but a large part of that interior defense goes away. Defensive standouts Darius Philon and Trey Flowers on the defensive line and Braylon Mitchell and Martrell Spaight at linebacker. That’s 10.5 sacks or so, nearly 40 or so tackles behind the line of scrimmage. That’s a lot of play makers missing from that defense and if you needed to game plan for part two, you would maybe try to give Mahomes as long as possible to score as quickly as possible to maybe force Arkansas to play the same way. Everybody has players to step up, but Arkansas was a top 10 defense last year and top 12 against the run. The offensive scheme seems to help with that some, but generally speaking they were terrific last year and I don’t want to discount the players that made so many plays for them last year.
  4. Passing Threats: I think that Hunter Henry really is a terrific option when he is utilized. When Texas Tech played Arkansas, they really hadn’t figured it out as he had only caught two passes in the two prior games and didn’t catch a pass in the Texas Tech game. It wasn’t necessary. But Hunter and the Arkansas offense did catch on much later in the season and became a 4 or 5 catch guy and could have some pretty spectacular games, 7 catches for 110 yards against Mississippi State, 5 catches for 92 yards against Georgia. He’s probably underutilized, says the Texas Tech guy that has seen the terror that a 6-4/250 tight end can do to opposing offenses, but he can have a breakout day. Keon Hatcher is the other big returning receiving threat and a lot like Henry, he can have a breakout game, but most of his games are the 4 to 5 catch games for 40 to 50 yards or so. Hatcher had one game of 100+ yards receiving and that was against Northern Illinois and pretty much everything after that was 50 yards or less.
  5. Redzone Offense: Sounds crazy when you consider this, but Arkansas was 91st in redzone offense and a very mortal 48th in the country in touchdown percentage in the redzone. That’s a little surprising to me and maybe an indication of the field getting a bit smaller and not being able to capitalize on those running plays. You can bring those safeties up and support the run a bit better without having to worry about a potential deep threat. Of course, against Texas Tech, Arkansas was 6 of 7 on scoring changes, all of them touchdowns. You take out that Texas Tech game, and Arkansas was 61% on touchdowns in the redzone. And don’t get me wrong, there were games where they were just as deadly inside the redzone, UAB they were 6 for 6, against Georgia, they were 5 of 6, but they were a lot more mortal against a majority of teams.
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