Arkansas finished the 2016 campaign with a 7-6 record. In its regular season finale, the Hogs led Missouri 24-7 at halftime before falling 28-24. The Belk Bowl followed trend as Bret Bielema’s team jumped out to a 24-0 lead against Virginia Tech. The Hokies went on to score 35 unanswered for the win. For those keeping score at home, Arkansas was outpaced 63-0 in the second halves of its final two games.
Is Bret Bielema truly on the hot seat? Without an unforeseen melt down in 2017, I don’t think that’s the case. He brought in former Iowa State head coach Paul Rhodes to institute a 3-4 scheme with the hopes of resurrecting a lenient defense. In his Media Days remarks, Bielema referenced the 3-4 as a philosophy that allows players to rely more on athletic ability and adapts well to multiple formations and schemes that Arkansas will face in the SEC West.
Arkansas opens the season with home games vs. Florida A&M and TCU before an odd, week three open date that precedes a matchup with Texas A&M in Arlington. That game will be critical for both Bielema and beleaguered Aggie head coach Kevin Sumlin. The road schedule offers no favors as Arkansas must travel to Alabama and LSU.
-Head Coach: Bret Bielema, 25-26 at Arkansas
-2016 Record: 7-6, lost 35-24 to Virginia Tech in Belk Bowl
-Opening Game: Florida A&M
Offensive coordinator Dan Enos returns the SEC’s 2nd ranked passer in Austin Allen. Allen does not draw the attention as other SEC QBs, but threw for 3,430 yards and 25 touchdowns a year ago. Enos’ offense suffered a major blow when the Hog’s leading rusher Rawleigh Williams announced that he was retiring from football due to reoccurring neck injuries. Williams contributed 1360-yards and 12 touchdowns in 2016. Devwah Whaley expects to get the bulk of the carries after rushing for 602 yards and 3 touchdowns in 2016.
After losing four receivers, Jared Cornelius will become Allen’s primary target. Cornelius topped 100 yards in three consecutive games and finished last season with 32 catches. JUCO receivers Brandon Martin and Jonathan Nance and a host of tight ends should provide other pass catching options. Center Frank Ragnow leads an offensive line that returns four starters but struggled in run blocking a year ago.
Returning Individual Statistical Leaders
–Returning Starters: 5
-Passing: Austin Allen 245/401, 3,430-yards, 25 TDs, 15 INTs.
-Rushing: Davwah Williams 110 carries, 602-yards, 3 TDs
-Receiving: Jared Cornelius 32 catches, 515-yards, 4 TDs
2016 Offensive Statistics
-Scoring 30.3 ppg (SEC 8th)
-Rushing 164.2 ypg (SEC 11th)
-Passing 264.2 ypg (SEC 3rd)
-Total 428.4 ypg (SEC 8th)
Paul Rhodes’ challenge of rebuilding and branding his own defensive unit will not be an easy task as it returns just one front-seven starter. Safety Josh Liddell’s 63 tackles led the team a year ago. Rhodes’ new scheme will be built around sophomore defensive end McTelvin Austin who impressed during spring practice. Due to scheme change, linebacker roles will adjust which could benefit Dre Greenlaw who is one of the better backers in the league. Safety Josh Liddell will lead the secondary which returns three starters and is expected to be the unit’s strength. It will get a boost when CB Kevin Richardson returns. The former starter missed 2016 due to an injury sustained in the season opener.
Returning Statistical Leaders
-Returning Starters: 6
-Tackles: Safety Josh Liddell-63
-QB Sacks: Defensive End McTelvin Agim-2.5
-Interceptions: Cornerback Ryan Pulley-2
2016 Defensive Statistics
-Scoring Allowed 31.1 ppg (SEC 10th)
-Rushing 205.5 ypg (SEC 10th)
-Passing 221.1 ypg (SEC 8th)
-Total 426.6 ypg (SEC 8th)
IMPACT ON KENTUCKY
Plays Ole Miss at home the week prior to the Rebels traveling to Lexington. Arkansas’ physical nature could wear down Mississippi’s fast break skill players.