It is officially game week, which means Auburn’s attention must turn towards the first opponent of the 2014 season: the Arkansas Razorbacks.
There was a common theme among Southeastern Conference teams that did not qualify for a bowl game in 2013. All four teams that finished the season ranked in the bottom four in the league in total offense – Florida, Kentucky, Tennessee, and Arkansas – were the four SEC schools that also finished the year with losing records.
Arkansas head football coach Bret Bielema was hired in the off-season prior to 2013 and wholly transformed the Razorbacks’ offensive philosophy following the Bobby Petrino and John L. Smith eras. Such a stark change was certainly a factor in the team’s struggles.
The most noticeable difference was the inability the Hogs had to throw the football. From 2009 to 2012, when Petrino was in charge, Arkansas threw for more than 3,000 each season. Last year, the Razorbacks had less than 1,800 passing yards. Arkansas was the worst passing team in the conference last season, averaged only 148.5 yards per game through the air, and Razorback quarterbacks completed around 50% of their passes all year.
That is not to say that Bielema’s viewpoint is to run, run, run, and never pass. The Hogs just didn’t pass all that often in 2013, and when they did, they weren’t very good at it. However, Bielema does want to be a run first offense, to control the line of scrimmage and the clock. He wants his team to be physical at the point of attack. And his style can win in the SEC.
He is also attempting to change the overall culture of the program, which has suffered tremendously since Petrino’s fated motorcycle ride led to his dismissal, and the lost season of 2012 under Smith.
As bad as last season was – a 3-9 record, including 0-8 in conference play, there were bright spots. The team ranked third in the league with 208.7 rushing yards per game. That means they finished ahead of both Alabama and LSU – two winning programs known for running the football. The Razorbacks finished 21st nationally in rushing yards per contest.
Expect those rushing numbers to be similar in 2014, if not better. The Razorbacks return their three best running backs, and a trio of starting offensive linemen. But, the offense is unlikely to really take off until Arkansas can prove they can throw the football consistently. Until they do, defenses will continue to load the box with eight or nine defenders to attempt to control the running game.
That imbalance was a big reason Arkansas finished 11th overall in the league in total offense, amassing only 357.2 yards per outing. And it also meant they purely could not score enough points to win. The team’s scoring offense was the school’s worst since 1997. The Razorbacks scored an average of 20.7 points per game – a mark that ranked 107th in the country.
Arkansas Offensive Depth Chart
|POS||No.||Player||Class||Ht., Wt.||No.||Player||Class||Ht., Wt.|
|QB||10||Brandon Allen||Junior||6-3, 216||8||Austin Allen||Redshirt Freshman||6-1, 215|
|RB||32||Jonathan Williams||Junior||6-0, 223||3||Alex Collins||Sophomore||5-11, 216|
|FB||24||Kody Walker||Junior||6-2, 246||40||Patrick Arinze||Senior||5-10, 253|
|WR||4||Keon Hatcher||Junior||6-2, 210||80||Drew Morgan||Sophomore||6-0, 193|
|WR||85||Demetrius Wilson||Senior||6-3, 186||1||Jared Cornelius||Freshman||6-1, 192|
|TE||84||Hunter Henry||Sophomore||6-6, 251||11||AJ Derby||Senior||6-5, 246|
|LT||76||Dan Skipper||Sophomore||6-10, 315||79||Cameron Jefferson||Senior||6-6, 300|
|LG||75||Luke Charpentier||Senior||6-4, 320||73||Sebastian Tretola||Junior||6-5, 315|
|C||65||Mitch Smothers||Junior||6-4, 313||72||Frank Ragnow||Freshman||6-6, 292|
|RG||55||Denver Kirkland||Sophomore||6-5, 348||68||Austin Beck||Junior||6-7, 312|
|RT||74||Brey Cook||Senior||6-7, 328||60||Brian Wallace||Freshman||6-6, 315|