5 Reasons Auburn Should Be Worried About Arkansas, Part 2


Nov 29, 2013; Baton Rouge, LA, USA; Arkansas Razorbacks running back Jonathan Williams (32) fights off LSU Tigers cornerback Jalen Mills (28) in the second half against the Arkansas Razorbacks at Tiger Stadium. LSU defeated Arkansas 31-27. Mandatory Credit: Crystal LoGiudice-USA TODAY Sports

Yesterday, we discussed the first reason that Auburn should be worried about Arkansas as the Tigers prepare to open the season August 30 against the Razorbacks. The second?

2. These Hogs Can Run

Despite struggling to win games in 2013, Arkansas had one of the best rushing offenses in the Southeastern Conference. Statistically speaking, the Hogs had the third best rushing offense in the SEC and 21st in the nation after running for 208.7 yards per game. Arkansas had a little less success against SEC opponents, but still averaged 190 yards on the ground in conference play, which tied for fourth.

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A big reason for that rushing success is that Arkansas has one of the league’s best running back trios – junior Jonathan Williams and sophomores Alex Collins and Korliss Marshall.

Both Williams and Collins eclipsed 900 rushing yards last season, with Collins running for 1,026 as a true freshman – and backup – on his way to being named the SEC Freshman of the Year by the Associated Press. Marshall, who moved to running back from safety, only carried the ball 17 times, but he averaged 8.6 yards per carry, was a standout kick returner, and is one of the fastest players in the SEC.

However, there is more to the Arkansas rushing attack than their three talented ball carriers. The Razorbacks have an offensive line that is very underrated. Sure, Auburn, South Carolina, Alabama, Texas A&M and LSU all possess one of the game’s top ten offensive lines. But, Arkansas is not far behind. In fact, according to noted college football analyst Phil Steele, Arkansas has the third best O-Line in the SEC behind the Tigers and Gamecocks, tying with Alabama for that third spot.

Yes, the unit returns only three starters from last season, and they lost All-SEC center Travis Swanson. But, there is tremendous upside.

Dan Skipper, a 6-foot-10, 315-pound monster moved into a starting role at left guard last year as a true freshman. He received his first start in the conference opener against Texas A&M last year and never relinquished his role the rest of the season.

Sep 28, 2013; Fayetteville, AR, USA; Arkansas Razorbacks running back Alex Collins (3) rushes against theTexas A&M Aggies during the second quarter at Donald W. Reynolds Razorback Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Nelson Chenault-USA TODAY Sports

Skipper is as athletic an offensive lineman as you will find, which is very important for his size. Six-foot-ten is not an ideal height for a run-blocking offensive lineman. Generally, the role in a power rushing offense relies on one-on-one battles with defensive linemen in which the lowest man usually wins. It’s very difficult for a man as tall as Skipper to get lower than a defender – yet he often does.

Of course, Skipper’s height came in very handy on special teams as he blocked three field goal attempts last year.

After the season, head coach Bret Bielema moved Skipper to left tackle and he is likely to start every game there for at least the next two years, when he will decide whether or not to leave early for the NFL.

Another player that started the season’s final eight games as a true freshman was right guard Denver Kirkland. Much wider than Skipper at 348 pounds, but still with a 6-foot-5 frame, Kirkland is a tailor-made run blocker. Senior Brey Cook, once a top-five offensive line recruit, returns to right tackle where he started eleven games last season. Cook is yet another giant human being at 6-foot-7 and 328 pounds. That talented trio, much like the one in the backfield, is as good as you’ll find in the conference.

But, you say, every team’s running backs and offensive line can look good on paper – so what?The Razorbacks are confident they can run the ball against the Tigers because they did it last year.

The Razorbacks are still searching for a center and left guard, and shuffled Grady Ollison, Mitch Smothers and Luke Charpentier through the positions this spring. However, highly touted junior college transfer Sebastion Tretola and UNLV graduate transfer Cameron Johnson – a three-year starter for the Rebels – will join the team this fall. It would not be a shock to see the pair claim the last two starting spots in fall camp. Also in the mix will be true freshmen Frank Ragnow and Brian Wallace.

But, you say, every team’s running backs and offensive line can look good on paper – so what?

A quick look at least season’s box score will tell you why it is important. In all, the Razorbacks ran the ball 47 times in the game last November for 222 yards and a respectable average of 4.7 yards per carry. Only three teams ran for a higher total against the Tigers last season, and Arkansas was within nine yards of the leader.

The Razorbacks are confident they can run the ball against the Tigers because they did it last year. Expect more of the same in 2014.