Arkansas Razorbacks vs. Ole Miss Rebels Saturday, November 9, 2013 at 11:21 am in Oxford, Mississippi.
by Shelby Rayburn – Published in The Local Voice #191 – Download the PDF here.
University of Arkansas Razorbacks
2013 RECORD: 3-6 (0-6 SEC – 7th WEST )
DIVISION: FBS (Southeastern Conference)
LOCATION: Fayetteville, Arkansas
STADIUM: Donald W. Reynolds Razorback Stadium (72,000)
2012 RECORD: 4-8 (2-6 SEC – 6th WEST)
The Arkansas Razorbacks (3-6, 0-5 SEC) played their fifth consecutive game against a ranked opponent on Saturday, November 2 when they faced off against #11 Auburn. This is the longest streak of games against top 25 teams for any team in the SEC since the 1992 expansion.
But it’s not just that they have been losing to good teams, it’s that they have been getting blown out by good teams. The Razorbacks have lost six straight games to Rutgers, Texas A&M, Florida, South Carolina, Alabama, and now Auburn. Their last four losses have been by double-digits. The last three loses have combined scores of 168-34.
Quick looks at the players in this tragedy of a season reveal a few of the reasons why Arkansas’ season has taken a nose dive since September.
The Razorback passing attack ranks near the bottom of the SEC in most categories. Accuracy problems and questionable decisions have plagued sophomore quarterback Brandon Allen, who ranks 12th in the SEC in passing yards, 14th in completion percentage, 10th in touchdowns, and is tied for 3rd for interceptions.
Coach Bret Bielema is known for his “power downhill football” style offense. During his time at Wisconsin, Bielema produced seven rushers with 1,000-yards. As any coach can tell you, power running begins with a powerful offensive line, and Arkansas isn’t known for this style. Nevertheless, freshman running back Alex Collins currently ranks 3rd in rushing yards in the SEC, totaling up 797 on 141 carries. Unfortunately, these high numbers have only resulted in four touchdowns, which is good enough to be tied for 29th among SEC running backs. Sophomore Jonathan Williams is the other half of the Razorback’s running back tandem. His 612 yards on 100 carries ranks him 7th among SEC backs.
Arkansas lost Mekale McKay, who was probably their most promising receiver, when he transferred to Cincinnati in August. So, senior wideout Javontee Herndon leads this group with 20 receptions for 330 yards and 4 touchdowns. He has had help from freshman tight end Hunter Henry adding 17 grabs for 318 yards and a score.
The one bright spot, if you will, in the Razorbacks’ scoring offense is senior kicker Zach Hocker, who entered the 2013 season as the SEC’s active leader in total points (42); extra points made (18), and total points per game. In 2012, Hocker led the nation with a 64.7 yard average in kickoffs.
The Razorback defense has been anything but good this season, ranking near the bottom of the conference in most team defensive categories. Currently, Arkansas ranks 12th in points per game and yards per game with 30.6 and 388.3, respectively. The have produced the SEC’s worst passing defense so far this year, giving up 1730 yards and 18 touchdowns through the air through 8 games. They have picked off 6 passes this year but returned none of them for touchdowns. When it comes to stopping the run, Arkansas ranks a respectable 5th in the Conference with 1376 yards given up on the ground.
Defensive tackle Robert Thomas broke his leg against South Carolina and will miss the remainder of the season
The defensive line is the strength of the unit, although noticeably weaker without Thomas plugging holes and stopping the run. Lack of depth at tackle has the potential for teams to run the ball and drain the players throughout the game. In place of Thomas, The Razorbacks use sophomore DeMarcus Hodge (6’1” 345) on running downs and freshman pass rusher Darius Philion (6’3” 284)in long yardage situations.
Arkansas has tried several different linebacker combinations this season in an attempt to get the passing defense numbers to look more like those of the running defense. Against Florida, Bielema and defensive coordinator Chris Ash decided on Jarrett Lake (6’3” 220), Braylon Mitchell (6’3” 229), and Martell Spaight (6’0” 225); and have been relying on them for the heavy workload since. “I think that’s our best three-linebacker combination for sure.” Bielema said. “You want guys that athletically compete and those three for sure probably give us the best chance athletically to be out there.”
The Arkansas secondary is arguably the worst in the SEC, allowing more passing yards than any other team. A lot of the problem is due to former coach Bobby Petrino’s apparent disinterest in recruiting the best athletes for defense, and some of the blame lies on a simple lack of fundamentals like tacking and taking the proper angles. Regardless of why, there is a void of SEC-caliber players in the secondary.
All of these statistics point to one thing, a bad football team. If the Rebels can take care of business on Saturday, October 9, then not only will the Rebs be bowl eligible for the second year in a row, but they will have also evened their SEC record at 3-3 with two chances to improve it against Missouri and Mississippi State.
REBELS: 35, ARKANSAS: 21