Editor’s note: We’re taking steps to get you ready for every one of Alabama’s regular season opponents. Every Friday we’ll go through each week of the schedule, starting with the season opener against West Virginia and closing with the finale against Auburn.
The rundown: Arkansas Razorbacks
2013 overall record: 3-9
2013 SEC record: 0-8, seventh in the Western Division
Record all-time against Alabama: 7-17
Last meeting: Lost 52-0 in 2013
Offense: 7; Defense: 8; Kicker/punter: 1
QB Brandon Allen, RB Alex Collins, RB Jonathan Williams, TE Hunter Henry, DE Trey Flowers, DL Darius Philon
C Travis Swanson, FB Kiero Small, DE Chris Smith, DL Bryan Jones, WR Julian Horton
2013 statistical leaders (* returners)
Rushing: Alex Collins* (1,026 yards)
Passing: Brandon Allen* (1,552 yards, 13 TD, 10 INT)
Receiving: Javontee Herndon (437 yards)
Tackles: Alan Turner* (97)
Sacks: Chris Smith (8.5)
Interceptions: Alan Turner* (2)
What they’re saying:
“A year ago at this time, we were getting to know these kids, trying to know their names. … Now a year into it we have 88 kids who are going to partake in practice, and 84 of them you’ve seen before,” said Arkansas coach Bret Bielema.
Three things to watch:
1. Developing a passing game: Coaches this spring were overwhelmingly positive about the growth of quarterback Brandon Allen. Bielema said he liked Allen’s physical improvements most of all; he was bigger, stronger and leaner. Allen, in turn, said it was translating to the football field where he believed he had more behind his throws. But under the microscope of the spring game he faltered, reverting to his 2013 form by completing 12 of 21 passes for 108 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions. Simply put, that won’t cut it. Alex Collins, Jonathan Williams and the rest of the running backs have the chance to be special, but until the passing game evolves into a real threat, it will all go to waste.
2. New-look defense: Losing a disruptive pass-rusher like Chris Smith is difficult enough. Watching a veteran safety like Eric Bennett move on is similarly depressing. But when the losses on the field spill over into the coaching staff, you’re looking at possibly too many moving parts. Defensive coordinator Robb Smith, defensive back coach Clay Jennings and defensive line coach Rory Segrest were all hired since January. And while they have the potential to improve a lackluster defense from a season ago, it’s a lot to ask so soon. The good news, however, is that Trey Flowers and Darius Philon are two good defensive linemen to build around.
3. Year 2 adjustments: To be fair, Bielema walked into a mess last season. Arkansas had lost its identity in the sudden shift from Bobby Petrino to John L. Smith. When Bielema took over, there wasn’t much else to do but start over. While Year 1 obviously wasn’t successful as the Hogs went winless in the SEC, there was finally a clear direction. Just as he’d done at Wisconsin, Bielema was determined to play power football by running between the tackles and being physical on defense. With the right players, you could see it having some success. The question in Year 2 is how they build upon the foundation. Can the passing game become enough of a threat? Can the defense start forcing turnovers? Can those former recruits develop and become difference-makers?