Will Arkansas be better in 2018? Obviously, they have 9 starters returning on a defense that was the worst in the modern era of Razorback football history. Offensively, the past two seasons they could move the ball from 20 to 20 but not into the endzone. It is well noted also that new head coach, Chad Morris brings something totally different in all three realms of the game. His offense is one that will test the speed, agility and quickness of the opposing defense, find gaps that will expose holes in the opponent and try to score as many points as possible. The offense could be very well described as basketball on turf. How about the #fastest60.
At quarterback, Morris has stated he has no idea who will start or what the timetable to name a starter will be. He has not even pinpointed any one guy as a leader of the group. It’s really a logjam of sorts at the position. Cole Kelley (4 starts),Ty Storey (limited experience), Daulton Hyatt (RFreshman), Connor Noland (Freshman) and John Stephen Jones (Freshman) will all be vying to prove their worth as the starter of the Smashmouth Spread Offense Morris will employ.
At running back, a slim and trim Devwah Whaley (5’11, 209) looks to assert himself as the starter. It should not matter who starts due to the incredible depth the Razorbacks have at this position. With TJ Hammonds and Chase Hayden, these two can be considered lightning in a bottle. Their speed and quickness can help them elude the defender in one cut and head straight for six. They will be an exciting pair to watch this season. Along with Whaley, Maleek Williams and Rakeem Boyd who will bring the thunder. Without being afraid, they will run over somebody at will. Fear will not be a thing at running back under Chad Morris! Houston Nutt would say, “those boys are ball players. They will bring the wood!”
As deep as the Hogs are at running back, they will be as equal or deeper at receiver and tight end. Oh my, the talent they have at that position. With one of the best deep ball receivers in the country in senior receiver, Jonathan Nance, Coach Morris will get him the ball in space or the long ball early and often in 2018. Whether the receivers were underutilized in Coach Bielema’s offense or they have not lived up to their recruiting hype, Arkansas has a deep group at this position. With players like LaMichael Pettway, Jordan Jones, Deon Stewart and Jared Cornelius the Razorbacks are stockpiled with potential breakout talent at receiver. The tight end room has experienced talent in Cheyenne O’Grady, Austin Cantrell, Jeremy Patton and Grayson Gunter. Morris says he will use the tight end greatly in 2017. Arkansas should be set for this season and if they live up to their potential, the Razorbacks could be very good offensively.
As I previewed earlier, the offensive line has not been very good at protecting their quarterback or being able to make a push at the line of scrimmage.The starters should be Dalton Wagner at left tackle, Hjalte Froholdt at left guard, Dylan Hays at center, Johnny Gibson at right guard and Brian Wallace at right tackle. With the hiring of new strength coach, Tru Carroll, the big hogs up are slimmed up, stronger and have an easier blocking scheme this season.
The defensive line has not looked very stout the past two seasons. It ultimately cost Bielema his job. With the return of the 4-3 defense under new defensive coordinator, McTelvin Agim will be the anchor. Also, the addition of big time JUCO defensive end, Dorian Gerald (6’3 260), they will terrorize opposing quarterbacks and help win ball games in 2018. Briston Guidry, Billy Ferrell, Nicholas Fulwilder, Austin Capps, Armon Watts, T.J. Smith, Jamario Bell and Randy Ramsey provide great depth. Under Tru Carroll, these lineman also trimmed up and added strength in order to stop the run which they have not done well the past couple of seasons.
Arkansas has a duo of stud linebackers to help the defensive line. “Scoota” Harris and Dre Greenlaw are sure tacklers and will not let many offensive players get by them.
If the coaching staff can find a third linebacker, likely will be De’von McClure, Arkansas will be in good shape to help them turn the Razorback program around.
The best and deepest part of the defense is the secondary. With the return of Ryan Pulley and movement Chevin Calloway to the other cornerback slot will allow Arkansas to have their four best players on the field at the same time. Those other two are Santos Ramirez and Kamren Curl. Ramirez brings the experience of a fifth year senior and Curl brings a lot of talent and exposure in starting eleven games in 2017. If the defensive line can get to the quarterback, the secondary will not have to cover their receivers so long. Arkansas’ 2018 season will bring marked improvement under this first year coaching staff.
Overall, this coaching staff mixes experience and much youth together in hope that they can turn the ship around. How about we look at my predictions:
Sept. 1: Eastern Illinois Panthers
The Hog Call will be a plenty, the music will have the fans pumped and the Hogs will roll to victory in the newly renovated D.W. Reynolds Razorback Stadium over the overwhelmed Panthers.
Arkansas wins 52-10. 1-0
Sept. 8: @ Colorado State Rams
This will be the first road game for the new coaching staff. In a new stadium, Colorado State will be have the place packed and ready to roll with the Hogs in town. This game also replaces the one that Michigan pulled out of. Whether that was for the better or not is yet to be known. It will be a challenging game through two and a half quarters but the Hogs will prevail in the end.
Razorbacks win 37-17. 2-0
Sept. 15th: North Texas Mean Green
The Mean Green will be quite the challenge for this new defense. They are very uptempo and will give Arkansas a run for their money. North Texas should be competing in the AAC but will give it all they have against a rebuilding SEC team. The Mean Green give the Hogs all they can handle for a bit but ultimately their lack of quantity depth will show after halftime.
Arkansas wins 40-21. 3-0
That is about where the majority of fans have the Hogs. Here comes the toughest part of the schedule.
Sept. 22nd: @ Auburn
The first SEC road game for Coach Morris and his Razorbacks. Auburn Head Coach, Gus Malzahn, taught Morris everything he knew about the HUNH. The teacher will defeat the student this go around.
Auburn wins 35-24. 3-1 (0-1)
Sept. 29th: Texas A&M @ AT&T Stadium
The Razorbacks will be looking to get back on track against the Aggies and if they do it will come against new head coach Jimbo Fisher. Fisher was very successful at his last stop at Florida State but with a new ten year/72 million dollar contract, the Aggie fans and board will be looking for wins from the get go. Arkansas has lost six straight to Texas A&M but will not make it seven. Morris will look to beat his alma mater and defensive coordinator looks for blood against his former school.
Arkansas wins 35-27. 4-1 (1-1)
October 6th: Alabama
The 2018 Crimson Tide team will be very young and lacking more experience than teams before them. That will make them ripe for an upset but it will not be this time. Alabama coasts to a victory in a hard fought game.
Alabama wins 38-24. 4-2 (1-2)
October 13th: Ole Miss @ War Memorial Stadium
The Rebels find themselves under NCAA sanctions. With a lot of talent transferring out there is still some left on the cupboard. By this time in the season, they could be spent physically and not playing sound football will cost them. If one thing Bielema did right as head coach, it was beat Ole Miss the past four years. The Hogs will continue that string of wins.
Arkansas wins 47-20. 5-2 (2-2)
October 20th: Tulsa
The Golden Hurricane were 2-10 last season. There is not much to say here though because Arkansas will roll early and often. Many freshman will play this game since the new redshirt rule is in place. The rule allows freshman to play up to four games without losing a season of eligibility.
Arkansas wins 52-7. 6-2 (2-2)
October 27th: Vanderbilt
Under Coach Derek Mason, the Commodores were trending up until 2017 came along. Vanderbilt lost their last nine games. They also have lost their leading rusher, Ralph Webb as well. Arkansas will get going early and often be riding high heading into the Golden Boot Rivalry in two weeks.
Arkansas wins 41-17. 7-2 (3-2)
Arkansas really could be 7-2 heading into their bye week. This is realistic but is it possible?
November 10th: LSU
This will be a big game for the Hogs. LSU will be coming off a physical game against the Crimson Tide. Arkansas will be ready to win “The Boot” back from LSU. This could put Coach Ed Orgeron on the hot seat. If he could not win enough games at Ole Miss in three seasons, he will definitely feel the heat for not winning ten games in 2018. LSU is on the down swing and Arkansas on the up.
Arkansas wins 31-16. 8-2 (4-2)
November 17th: @ Mississippi State
The cowbells will be in full force because of senior quarterback, Nick Fitzgerald and a stingy defense. The Hogs will joy find a victory here this season due to the Bulldogs fighting for a spot in a New Years Six bowl game. The Razorbacks will fight to the finish in a close game.
Mississippi State wins 35-28. 8-3 (4-3)
November 23rd @ Missouri
The offense was prolific last season and with the promising return of senior quarterback, Drew Locke, the Tigers have hope for 2018. Missouri lost offensive coordinator, Josh Huepel, to UCF and brought in former Tennessee head coach and Dallas Cowboy assistant, Derek Dooley. This will be a high scoring affair between two teams ready to leap into the next level of the SEC. Arkansas is due for a victory in the Battle Line Rivalry.
Arkansas wins 45-42 9-3 (5-3)
I am aware many people will disagree with me but crazier things have happened. Take 1998 for example. Houston Nutt took over a team who had been 4-7 the two seasons before. There was plenty of talent in Fayetteville there and the seniors were very hungry. The storyline is the same for 2018 this season. Arkansas could be 5-7 or 6-6. Anything better than 4-8 will be welcome in Fayetteville in 2018.
Go Hogs! Beat somebody!