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Opponent Preview - Piggies!

Arkansas enters 2018 with a new coach and a new outlook on life.

Fly, little pigs, fly.

Our opponent preview continues today with the Arkansas Razorbacks. Settle in and enjoy!


2018 enters with a whole new cast of characters for the Arkansas Razorbacks, led by their shiny new head coach in Chad Morris. The Hogs had an interesting, if unsuccessful, 2017 wherein they finished 4-8, and Bret Bielema got canned before he exited the field in their final game. Arkansas tried to flirt with Gus Malzahn, making that an annoying storyline leading up to the SEC Championship, but was ultimately spurned and had to look elsewhere.

They grabbed Chad Morris, who spent time at SMU, and who’s a former Dabo protege.

(This whole thing is like 30 minutes, only watch if you have nothing else to do.)

Morris led some high-flying offenses at Clemson, helping Dabo and company win at least ten games each year from 2011-2014. Then he went to SMU, where he went just 14-23 in three years in charge of the Ponies. Now, that’s not to say he won’t be good at Arkansas (we had our own struggling coach come in and win a title), but he’s got a lot of growing room and he’ll need to improve the Hogs quickly with a division full of heavy-hitters.

So, what does Morris have to play with in Fayetteville (or Little Rock)?

Not much.

The Hogs’ only wins last year came over Florida A&M, New Mexico State, Ole Miss, and Coastal Carolina, while the losses came by an average of 19 points per game. On offense, they lost the crux of their front line when center Frank Ragnow was drafted in the first round of the NFL Draft a few weeks ago, and running back David Williams was selected later, taking away 10 precious touchdowns from the 2017 output.

Let’s break it down.


Arkansas finished right in the middle of the pack (61st) in scoring with 28.8 points per game last season, so there’s the obvious chance for improvement with Morris’ offensive guru skills getting put to work right away.

The Razorbacks were 83rd in passing yards, 62nd in rushing yards, 59th in yards per carry, 94th in total offense, and 70th in turnover margin. There are obvious areas that the Hogs can get some improvement right away, and they won’t need to be spectacular in those areas to make an impact and improve that record.

At quarterback, Austin Allen is gone, but fortunately for Fayettevillains, sophomore Cole Kelley got plenty of playing time and established himself as a girthier Matt Jones at times. He showed off the running ability with his big ole frame and ended up throwing for over 1,000 yards and eight touchdowns with just four interceptions. In the end, his QB rating was only a few points lower than Allen’s.

However, many Arkansas fans think that Ty Storey may be the guy to take the reins under center and win the starting job. He’s a redshirt sophomore that saw time in three games last year and didn’t play particularly well, but the spring has seen the proverbial light bulb come on. He was a highly-rated pro-style quarterback out of high school, and he’s going to have a shot to win the job, although his ceiling may not be quite as high as Kelley’s.

Helping out in the backfield, Devwah Whaley is probably your starter at tailback after rushing for seven touchdowns and leading the team in carries last season. The 5’11, 215-lb back out of Beaumont, Texas has provided consistency over the past two seasons for Arkansas, and he’ll get a chance to shine in a more open attack this season.

He’ll have some guys to spell him when he gets tired though, so expect to see T.J. Hammonds and Chase Hayden (combined for almost 100 carries last year) receiving some touches in each game.

On the boundary, it’ll be a young group for the most part, but one bright spot will return to help in the form of senior Jared Cornelius, who missed most of last year with a torn Achilles and received a medical redshirt to come back for 2018. Cornelius has had a bevy of injury problems in the past (broken arm in 2015), and if he can stay healthy, then he’ll provide a solid go-to target for whoever wins the QB job. Additionally, Jonathan Nance, Deon Stewart, and Jordan Jones should make up a solid group for Morris to play with. The trio combined for over 90 catches and 11 touchdowns in 2017, so Morris’ offense will have some consistency on the outside. Don’t forget Cheyenne O’Grady at tight end, who snagged a 53-yard touchdown in the spring game, and the Hogs might actually turn out to be a pretty good passing team.

That is, if the offensive line can come together to block like a group.

If the spring game was any indication, the Razorbacks are going to have trouble up front, particularly in protecting the quarterback. The defense notched seven sacks in the scrimmage, but that is going against a line trying to find the right combination after Ragnow left. However, this was a theme in the losses in 2017 —

  • 28-7 L vs TCU - 4 sacks allowed
  • 50-43 L vs Texas A&M - 6 sacks allowed
  • 41-9 L vs Alabama - 5 sacks allowed
  • 52-20 L vs Auburn - 6 sacks allowed
  • 28-21 L vs Mississippi State - 4 sacks allowed

Arkansas had trouble protecting the quarterback last season, and it sounds like the results will be the same in 2018. From left to right, Colton Jackson, Hjalte Froholdt, Dylan Hays, Johnny Gibson, and Brian Wallace all saw time last year and also have starting experience, but they’ll need to improve in a hurry.

One thing that may help out the Hogs is the change they’ll make in the pace game. Chad Morris helped to popularize the hurry-up no-huddle at Clemson, and continued to do it at SMU as well. In the spring game, Arkansas ran 104 plays, well above what they did last year. It’ll be a dramatic shift in tone from the plodding pace that we saw under Bret Bielema. Overall, I’d expect improvement from Arkansas, but depending on the offensive line play and the quarterback development, it may be gradual in year one under Chad Morris.


If you’re a new SEC head coach and you want to take something off of your plate, what’s the first move you make?

Call John Chavis.

Chad Morris hired Chavis to run the defense and effectively take half of the worry away so that he can focus on the offense. Chavis has coordinated defenses in the SEC for over two decades, and there are very few guys that you can turn to with a wealth of knowledge like he’s got.

And with as much as the offense struggled in 2017, the defense had a tougher time. Here are the pertinent numbers:

  • Scoring Defense - 36.2 ppg (115th)
  • Passing Defense - 242 ypg (93rd)
  • Rushing Defense - 196 ypg (98th)
  • Total Defense - 438 ypg (102nd)

Not to mention they ranked 82nd in turnovers on defense. This was a unit that got tore up from the floor up on a regular and daily basis a year ago, but they’ll have a calming presence in the form of the The Chief on the sideline leading the way.

What does Chavis have to play with though?

Last year Arkansas ran one of those fancy defenses that can wiggle between a 4-3 and a 3-4, with Randy Ramsey playing the “Razor” position and Gabe Richardson stepping up to play the “Hog” position. It should be a little more clear this year with a standard 4-3 coming out from Chavis. Up front, Bijhon Jackson is gone, but the rest of the starters on the front line are back.

McTelvin Agim is the biggest lock to start up front, providing the meat in the middle along with Armon Watts, TJ Smith, and Austin Capps. On the edge, Ramsey showed out in the spring game, and was second on the team with three sacks a year ago. He and Gabe Richardson should be the speed dudes from the outside, but there’s a lack of size on the defensive line and that could cause problems against teams that want to pound the middle.

In the next level, Arkansas’ linebacking corps returns its top two tacklers from a year ago — De’Jon Harris (115 tackles) and Dre Greenlaw (103 tackles) are back as upperclassmen, and they’ll be joined by either Hayden Henry (who backed up Ramsey in 2017), or D’Vone McClure.

And in the back end, the Hogs should get some help back in the form of Ryan Pulley returning at corner. Pulley suffered a pec injury in the season opener last year and missed the rest of the season, but he’ll return to man the outside and let everyone else flow back to their original jobs. Kamren Curl had to play at corner as a freshman, but he’ll likely be at strong safety this year next to Santos Ramirez, who finished third on the team in tackles last year at strong safety.

On the other side, Chevin Calloway will likely start after seeing time in every game last year, he recorded only ten tackles, but has improved in the spring.


If the spring game was any sign, special teams may have a tough time this season. Last year, Connor Limpert didn’t have to do too much, making 8-9 kicks and 33-34 extra points, but he seemed to have trouble this spring (especially in the weather). Blake Johnson should return to punt after averaging 38.6 yards per punt last season, but he too struggled in the spring game.

The return game should be fairly solid, with De’Vion Warren returning after averaging over 26 yards per kick return with a touchdown, and in the punt game, Jared Cornelius could be the guy that takes over that role to give it a little experience and calm.


Bottom line: Arkansas should improve in 2018, and they’ll join the rest of the league in moving forward with modern football instead of the outdated Big Ten style that Bielema brought with him and tried to implement. Morris will have a few teams on their toes with his pace, and they should reach bowl eligibility, but sticking with the big dogs in the West will be tough. The non-conference slate is really easy with Eastern Illinois, Colorado State, North Texas, and Tulsa, and the SEC schedule’s not terrible either. They’ll have three games to warm up before visiting Auburn, then they get Alabama and LSU at home. The crossover games are against Vanderbilt and Missouri, so it’s about as smooth a road as you can find.

We’ll get the word from the Arkansas folks later this week as they give us their predictions and outlook for the year. War Eagle!