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2010 NCAA Preview: Arkansas Razorbacks

Arkansas Razorbacks In A Nutshell

Houston Nutt led Arkansas to an 18-9 record in 06-07 and a top-15 ranking in 2006. It was Nutt’s best two seasons in Arkansas, yet Nutt couldn’t wait to get out of Fayetteville and take the HC job at Ole Miss when the opening came up. There seemed to be a lot of peripheral involvement while Nutt was at Arkansas which didn’t set well with the HC so he moved on. To me that left Arkansas in a lurch until they pulled off the unthinkable & lured a disheartened Bobby Petrino away from the Atlanta Falcons. Petrino took Louisville to heights it never really scaled before & made the Cardinals into a top-10 program before he left for the NFL. Despite losing Houston Nutt, Arkansas hit the jackpot and Petrino led them to an 8-5 record in only his 2nd season. The ’09 season was great given the circumstances, but Arkansas took a few close losses that prevented the season from being a memorable one. With 10 starters back on offense and Petrino in his 3rd year, expectations could not possibly be higher for the Razorbacks program.

Offensively Arkansas brings back the whole smash led by junior QB Ryan Mallett. Mallett is a 6’7/240lbs beast of a man with a cannon arm who could find himself as the #1 overall draft pick in the 2011 NFL Draft if he has a great year. He could potentially win the Heisman but he has to do better than completing 56% of his passes. He’s got ridiculous skill position players. He gets his top 3 WRs back in Greg Childs, Jarius Wright & Joe Adams. TE DJ Williams could potentially be an All-American. The offensive line returns 4 starters that did a fantastic job paving the way for Arkansas’s running game. Ronnie Wingo & Broderick Green will lead the running attack. Both are huge backs averaging 6’2.5/240lbs. Arkansas’s offense put up 36.0ppg last year in Petrino’s 2nd season at the helm. They return 10 starters with incredible talent and with another year of experience under Petrino. There is no reason to think they couldn’t score 40 points per game which would almost make them unbeatable.

Defensive Arkansas will still have problems. They averaged giving up 25.1ppg which was a big improvement over the 31.2ppg they gave up in 2008, but they still finished 12th in the SEC in passing defense & total offense. They have no real solid playmakers on defense outside of DE Jake Bequette who at 6’5/271lbs is a physically gifted defensive end who could be a big time surprise players in the SEC and one I’m looking forward to watching. The interior defensive line and linebackers are a bit small and the cornerbacks are experienced, but didn’t do so well last season. One of Petrino’s main concerns is building up the talent & depth of the defensive side of the football. He’s definitely getting there, but it’s a process. Arkansas is going to have to outscore their opponents to win football games. Still, if Petrino can simply get the defense to be average within the conference they’ll win big.

Arkansas schedule is tough with a capital T! They play in the SEC West so it’s not exactly going to be a picnic, and the Razorbacks get a neutral site game in Texas to take on a Texas A&M team with lofty aspirations this season. As for their tough road games, Arkansas has to play Georgia, Auburn & South Carolina on the road. That’s about as tough as it gets really. Arkansas also gets Alabama & LSU at home. There are landmines everywhere on that schedule and really there are only a couple of 2-week periods that are easy for the Razorbacks. They open up at home against Tennessee Tech & UL-Monroe. They also get back to back home games against Vanderbilt & Mississippi in late October. Those should be 4 wins making the season an 8-game slate in two different sets of 4. It’s an odd way to break it down, but the schedule works out that way & it’s an interesting situation.

BOTTOM LINE: Arkansas’s best case record is a perfect 12-0. Offensively they are that good. There is simply so much coming back. They have 10 starters returning from the most potent offense in the SEC. A team that scored 36ppg a year ago could easily put up 40+ per game, especially with Bobby Petrino being the mastermind behind the offense. Even the schedule works out well for them. They miss Florida from the SEC East and get LSU & Alabama at home. They do get Auburn, Georgia & South Carolina on the road, but Arkansas has the ability to beat those teams by outscoring them. Worst case Arkansas is 5-7. The defense simply isn’t there for Arkansas just yet. Petrino needs to upgrade the defense with depth & talent. He’s got the offense in spades, but he’s going to have to outscore opponents. I don’t want to discount Petrino’s ability to coach up teams. He improved his defense by 6-points from ’08 to ’09. If he did that in 2010 then Arkansas’s defense would allow 19ppg which means Arkansas has a legitimate shot at really going 12-0 this year. If you split the difference Arkansas is an 8-9 win squad. That’s 9-10 wins if you count a bowl possibility. That’s another year of improvement under Petrino. Arkansas will certainly take it.

Head Coach: Bobby Petrino: 13-12 at Arkansas, 3rd season as HC
Last Season: 8-5 (T4 in SEC West)
Bowl Game: Defeated East Carolina 20-17 in Liberty Bowl
Last 3 Seasons: 21-17
Last 5 Seasons: 35-28
Last 10 Seasons: 71-54
Last 5 Bowl Games: 2-3
AP/BCS National Championships: 0
Experience Level for 2010: Most experienced team in SEC (#2 in NCAA)
Turnover Margin: +15
NFL Draft Choices: 1 (RG Mitch Petrus-5th Rd)

This section will be up soon.

ARKANSAS OFFENSE

Returns: 73.7 % of rushing yards, 100.0% of passing yards, 89.9% of receiving yards
PPG: 36.0 (1st in SEC)
Rushing Offense: 132ypg (10th in SEC)
Passing Offense: 296ypg (1st in SEC)
Total Offense: 427ypg (3rd in SEC)

Starters Lost

RG Mitch Petrus: 13 starts, 2-Year Starter, 1st Team All-SEC

Returning Starters

QB Ryan Mallett/JR: 55.8%, 3,624yards, 30TD, 7INT
WR Joe Adams/JR: 29rec, 568yards, 7TD
WR Jarius Wright/JR: 41rec, 681yards, 5TD
WR Greg Childs/JR: 48rec, 894yards, 7TD
TE DJ Williams/SR: 32rec, 411yards, 3TD
OC Seth Oxner/JR: 13 starts
LG Wade Grayson/SR: 10 starts
RT DeMarcus Love/SR: 13 starts
LT Ray Dominguez/SR: 10 starts

Clearly Arkansas has a lot back on offense. This is bad news for SEC defenses seeing how Arkansas averaged 36ppg last season, which led the SEC! QB Ryan Mallet returns for his junior season after a tremendous season as a rSO last year. If he has another passing yard season this year like he did last year he’ll rank #2 all time in Arkansas history. If he sticks around for his senior year he’ll become the all-time leading passer in Arkansas history by a considerable margin, surpassing former Razorback great Clint Stoerner. Mallet is a 6’7/240lbs BEAST with a cannon for a right arm. He had a fantastic year last year throwing for 30TD/7INT & over 3,600 yards, but he completed only 56% of his passes and that needs to get ostensibly better. It was certainly a good move for him to have returned to Arkansas because it’ll likely catapult him into the first round if not the #1 overall pick depending on whether or not he has an incredible junior season. Suffice to say that Arkansas has the best QB in the SEC this year as far as NFL potential is concerned.

Arkansas also brings back all their skill position players. Broderick Green returns as the leading rusher but Ronnie Wingo might be the lead rusher this season. Both are huge rushers in the same mold as Michael Bush was when Petrino had him at Louisville. Wingo goes 6’3/230lbs while Green is 6’2/250lbs! Wingo averaged 6.5ypc last year so the Razorbacks could be in for an exceptional year at tailback. The O-line paved the way for 4.3ypc so despite Petrino’s reputation as a spread attack pass first guy, Arkansas should be able to run with the best of them. They also return their top 4 receivers including WRs Joe Adams, Jarius Wright, Greg Childs & TE DJ Williams. Those 4 combined for 150 receptions for over 2,500 yards & 22TD. Williams, Childs & Adams have 1st team All-SEC potential while Williams might be the best TE in the SEC. Needless to say Arkansas is absolutely loaded at the skill positions, plus Petrino keeps getting better and better athletes to improve the depth.

The Razorbacks also return 4 starters on the O-Line. Their only loss is RG Mitch Petrus who was a 1st team All-SEC player and a 5th round draft pick by the New York Giants. OC Seth Oxner, LG Wade Grayson, RT DeMarcus Love & LT Ray Dominguez all return. Grayson, Love & Dominguez are all seniors while the newcomer, RG Grant Cook is a junior himself. The line averages about 6’4/320lbs and should be a top-25 offensive line. The O-line did a great job run blocking last year but could be a little better in pass protection. Grayson & Love could be all conference performers.

All in all this should be an incredible offense. It’s only Petrino’s 3rd year in Fayetteville so the team should be getting more & more comfortable with the offensive schemes. Arkansas returns 10 starters from an offense that scored 36ppg a year ago. It’s entirely possible that this team averages 40ppg which would make them incredibly tough to beat even if their defense was terrible! Only once last season did Arkansas give up more than 40ppg which means if they can score 40 per game they could have been looking at a 12-1 record a year ago! The only thing that might be able to stop this offense is if Arkansas beats themselves.

ARKANSAS DEFENSE

Returns: 72.1% of tackles, 66.0% of sacks, 59.3% of tackles for loss, 67.7% of pbu, 69.2% of int
PPG: 25.1 (9th in SEC)
Rushing Defense: 153ypg (9th in SEC)
Passing Defense: 248ypg (12th in SEC)
Total Defense: 401ypg (12th in SEC)

Starters Lost

DE Adrian Davis: 50tkl, 5.5sks, 5tfl
DT Malcolm Sheppard: 33tkl, 2.5sks, 8.5tfl, 3pbu, 2nd Team All-SEC
LB Wendel Davis: 79tkl, 1sks, 7.5tfl, 3pbu, 1int
SS Matt Harris: 71tkl, 1tfl, 2pbu, 1int

Returning Starters

DE Jake Bequette/JR: 39tkl, 5.5sks, 3.5tfl, 2pbu
DT Zach Stadther/JR: 42tkl, 0.5sks, 0.5tfl
LB Jerico Nelson/JR: 74tkl, 2.5sks, 4tfl, 2pbu, 1int
LB Jerry Franklin/JR: 94tkl, 1.5sks, 3.5tfl, 3pbu, 3int
CB Rudell Crim/SR: 43tkl, 2tfl, 4pbu
SS Elton Ford/JR: 65tkl, 1tfl, 2pbu

Obviously the defense is what is going to determine the season. In Petrino’s 1st year Arkansas averaged allowing 31.2ppg and that improved to 25.1ppg in his 2nd year. If Arkansas improves their defense by another 6 points, they’ll be at 19ppg while the offense is simply incredible. I don’t think expectations could be any higher with this potential combination. Arkansas has DE Jake Bequette & DT Zach Stadther back on defense. Bequette is an interesting player. He’s a 6’5/271lbs DE in a 4-3 scheme. That’s some legitimate NFL type size. He wreaked a little havoc last year with 5.5 sacks & 3.5 tackles for loss despite missing 5 games. If you adjust for games missed, Bequette has 9 sacks. He also started 11 games as a rFR in 2008. He’s a possible All SEC selection and could be a real sleeper this year in the SEC. Stadther is a 6’1/290lbs DT who is decent. He’s a little undersized at DT, but has 16 starts in his career. Arkansas loses Malcolm Sheppard at DT who was a 2nd Team All-SEC player. Sophomore DeQuinta Jones replaces him. Tenarius Wright is the other DE at 6’1/241lbs. Outside of Bequette, the D-Line is a bit small and not overly talented. It’ll be easy for opposing offenses to neutralize Bequette and the interior defense might not be good enough to really stop elite level SEC rushing attacks.

Arkansas returns 2 starters at LB, OLB Jerico Nelson & MLB Jerry Franklin. Franklin was a 3rd team All-SEC player a year ago. Both are a bit undersized to be playing, but Franklin led the team in tackles a year ago with 94 including 3 interceptions! Departing LB Wendell Davis was 2nd on the team in tackles a year ago. Replacing him will be senior Freddy Burton who at 6’2/240lbs has the best size of any of the linebackers. Austin Moss was a highly recruited kid out of high school who is in the 2-deep but for the most part, this is an area where Arkansas isn’t very good and Petrino hasn’t recruited well so far. Franklin & Nelson are solid tacklers and pretty decent in pass coverage as well, but for the most part they’ll have to play exceptionally well to help out a sub par offensive line.

The real strength of the Arkansas defense could be their secondary. They return 2 cornerbacks in senior Ramon Broadway & senior Rudell Crim. Both had 4 passes broken up in ’09, but neither of them had an interception. They also have a ridiculously talented CB in sophomore Darius Winston. SS Elston Ford also returns and is joined by FS Anthony Leon who replaces Matt Harris. It’s actually a secondary with pretty good size, but outside of Winston, there isn’t a tremendous amount of talent, nor has their been crazy success defending the pass. There is definitely some experience coming back, but Arkansas ranked dead last in the SEC in pass defense so essentially Petrino is bringing back below average talent for more of the same disappointment. The secondary is the strength of the defense which is more like saying it’s the only part of the defense that can potentially be average.

Arkansas does return 7 starters on defense, but it’s a tough sell for me. The defensive line isn’t very good outside of Jake Bequette at DE. The linebackers are a bit small and undersized. The secondary does come back almost intact, but it wasn’t very good to begin with. I think there is a certain mythology with regards to defense in the SEC. While it is true that both Florida & Alabama have incredibly world class defenses, for the most part the rest of the SEC teams do not so there is a chance to win with a dynamite offense. Arkansas is going to fit into this category. They can and certainly should score 35-40 points a game which should put them in the 8-10 category, but if Petrino is going to make his mark, then he’s got to improve the defense. He’s made great strides so far statistically and if he can get the boys to make the same improvements, then Arkansas could be looking at an incredible season. He’s doing a little better on the recruiting front, but there is still work to be done. Certainly the defense will probably be the deciding factor in how great Arkansas can truly be.

ARKANSAS SCHEDULE

Tennessee Tech
Louisiana-Monroe
@Georgia
Alabama
BYE
Texas A&M (in Arlington, TX)
@Auburn
Mississippi
Vanderbilt
@South Carolina
UTEP
@Mississippi St.
LSU (in Little Rock, AR)

It’s not the easiest SEC schedule in the world. They miss both Kentucky, Tennessee & Florida from the SEC East. Would have been great for Arkansas to get Kentucky on the schedule instead of playing on the road at South Carolina. They also get Auburn & Georgia on the road which isn’t the easiest of roads, plus they get Alabama in the 4th game of the season. The non-conference schedule is fairly easy except for a game in Arlington against Texas A&M. That’s a rough one.

The schedule has a helluva run from September 18th through October 16th. In that span Arkansas plays at Georgia, returns home for Alabama, has a bye, then travels to Arlington to play Texas A&M and then on the road again against Auburn. After the Auburn game they get two home games against Vandy & Mississippi where they should get a couple of wins, but then go on the road to Columbia to take on South Carolina. They return home to play UTEP which should be a win before going to Starkville to play Mississippi St. before playing their last game at home against LSU.

It’s tough to gauge because it’s the SEC for crying out loud. There are really only 5 guaranteed wins on the schedule, but no question Arkansas has the ability to score on anyone and score in bunches. Like I wrote earlier, if the offense can score 40ppg and the defense can keep it under 40, then Arkansas would have been 12-1 a year ago with their only loss coming in a 52-41 shootout against Georgia in the 2nd week of the season. Still, it’s a rough schedule with a brutal month in the middle.

ARKANSAS SUMMARY

I think Arkansas’s best case scenario record is a perfect 12-0. They miss Florida & the only other uber-elite team in the conference is Alabama, but Arkansas gets them early at home which could give Arkansas enough of an edge to possibly eek out a win. Alabama beat Arkansas 35-7 last season in Tuscaloosa, but Alabama did lose quite a bit on defense while Arkansas returns almost everyone on offense. There is no other team on the schedule who Arkansas can’t score on. They’ll score on anyone at any time.

Worst case record is 5-7. The problem last year with Arkansas is that the defense was on the field entirely too long which prevented the offense from being on the field plus wearing out the defense which caused Arkansas to give up too many points. I think the losses could potentially come against Georgia, Alabama, Texas A&M, Auburn, South Carolina, Mississippi St., & LSU. I might be giving Mississippi St. a little too much credit, but Dan Mullen seems like the real deal as a head coach. He took MSU to a 5-7 record last year and has 14 starters returning. The game is in Davis Wade Stadium so anything could happen in my opinion. The other games are simply going to be tough games that Arkansas could potentially lose.

If you split the season you get an 8-9 win Arkansas team. If you count the bowl, then Arkansas could be looking at an 9-4 or 10-3 season which seems about right given the deficiencies Arkansas should have on defense. Still, if the line is 9-wins, I’d probably bet the over only because I think Petrino is an exceptional coach and that the defense can be average. The SEC is becoming a crazy good conference when it comes to coaches. If Petrino builds up Arkansas the way he did Louisville, then Urban Meyer & Nick Saban are going to have some company atop the SEC which only means the rest of the SEC is getting more and more screwed. Don’t be surprised to see Arkansas rip off a 10-2/11-1 season this year. Will it be enough for an SEC West crown?

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August 20, 2010 - Posted by | Arkansas, Previews

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