TIGER RAG PREVIEW: Arkansas Razorbacks

Houston Nutt

Today is the second installment of a 15-part series in which Tiger Rag previews LSU's opponents and other members of the SEC. Today, we spotlight Arkansas. Tomorrow, we focus on Auburn.

A year ago, the Arkansas Razorbacks surprised the South Eastern Conference by taking what many thought would be a mediocre year and went on a 10-game win streak.

 

The Hawgs rose all the way to the top of the SEC West and represented the division in the conference championship game.

 

Since then, controversy off the field have been frequent around the program, including the conflict between quarterback Mitch Mustain and head coach Houston Nutt that led to the quarterback transferring.

 

Even with Mustain gone to USC, the Arkansas faithful are looking to Heisman candidate running back Darren McFadden, the winner of the 2006 Doak Walker Award, to raise the bar even higher than the one set by the Hogs last season. They enter the fall as the Scout.com preseason No. 8 team in the country.

 

Arkansas' schedule could present a challenge for the Razorbacks in 2007 as well, as they must travel to a revived Alabama team during the second week of the season and then play road games against Tennessee and LSU down the stretch.

 

In 2006, the Hogs dropped the season opener to the USC Trojans 50-14 in Fayetteville, but went from there to win their next 10 games, including seven SEC match-ups, to clinch the top spot in the division.

 

The team then finished the year on a three-game skid with losses to LSU, Florida, and Wisconsin, all three of which finished the year ranked in the top 10.

 

Only two players return to the Arkansas offensive line from a last year, which paved the way for Hog running backs to accumulate 3,199 yards and 26 touchdowns on the ground.

 

Junior center Jonathan Luigs and senior guard Robert Felton will serve as the veterans in the offensive front in 2007, while junior Jose Valdez and senior Nate Garner are probable replacements at the tackles after serving as backups last season.

 

The running back duo of juniors McFadden and Felix Jones was one of the most potent running tandems in the country last season, with McFadden rushing 1,647 yards and 14 touchdowns while Jones added 1,168 yards and six scores. McFadden finished the season as the runner up for the Heisman trophy and, with both backs returning this year, he could bring the trophy home in 2007 as Arkansas is in a position to be one of the nation's top running teams once again.

 

Also returning to aid in the rushing attack is senior fullback Farod Jackson, who rushed for 24 yards while serving as a blocking back last season.

 

Coming back to the helm of the offense this year is junior quarterback Casey Dick, who started at QB in five games last season while sharing time with the now departed Mustain. Dick completed 65 of 132 passes for 991 yards and nine touchdowns with six interceptions in 2006, while Mustain accounted for 894 yards and 10 touchdowns.

 

Senior receiver Marcus Monk, will be a key returnee in the receiving corps this season after catching 50 passes for 962 yards and 11 touchdowns as a junior.

 

Joining Monk at wide out looks to be senior Robert Johnson, who began last season at quarterback before making the switch and finishing the year as the team's starting flanker, catching four passes for 46 yards to lead all Hog receivers in the Capital One Bowl.

 

Filling in the vacant spot at tight end will likely be sophomore Andrew Davie, who saw action in every game last season while making two starts.

 

Defensively, the Razorbacks allowed just 299.6 yards of total offense per game last season, but will need to replace starters at six positions, including defensive end Jamaal Anderson, a first-round draft pick by the Atlanta Falcons who had 13.5 sacks last season.

 

Filling in for Anderson could be senior Chris Wade, who served as the backup last year and accumulated 15 tackles and one sack.

 

Joining Wade on the front line will likely be junior Antowin Robinson, who had 68 tackles and 8.5 sacks last year, at the other end, and junior Ernest Mitchell, who had nine starts last season, at left tackle.

 

Junior Cord Gray is the top candidate for the job at right tackle, recording 20 tackles in 13 game appearances last year.

 

At linebacker, Arkansas must replace Sam Olajabutu, who led the team in tackles last season. Picking up the slack will be senior Weston Dacus, who the 2006 campaign with 95 tackles and one interception. Joining Dacus in the linebacker unit could be junior Mark Bonner, who made 11 appearances last season, and sophomore Adrian Davis who played in 13 games in 2006.

 

The Hog defensive backfield will be without tackle-leader Randy Kelly at strong safety and pass defense leader Chris Houston this season, but will welcome the return of corner Matteral Richard and free safety Michael Grant, though they sometimes opted to play without the free safety last season; adding a third corner. Grant had three interceptions for Arkansas last year, the most of any returnee.

Junior Jamar Love will also play an expanded role in the secondary this year after earning one start and playing in every game a year ago.

 

In the kicking game, junior place kicker Jeremy Davis will once again serve as the starter for the Razorback; making 46 of 48 extra points and going 6-13 on field goals last year with a season-long of 44 yards.

 

Punter Jacob Skinner, who handled all 61 punts for the Hogs last year, leaves a void needing to be filled on special teams. Davis was the second punter on the depth chart last season, and may get the nod to punt, though the job may also go to sophomore Joe Hall.

 

Felix Jones and McFadden shared the kick return responsibilities last season, each returning one kick for a touchdown, while junior Reggie Fish was Arkansas' lead punt returner with an average of 6.1 yards per return. All three athletes will return in 2007.

 

 

QUICK FACTS

ARKANSAS RAZORBACKS

 

All-Time Series vs. LSU: LSU leads 33-17-2

First Meeting: 1901, LSU 15, Arkansas 0

Last Meeting: 2006, LSU 31, Arkansas 26

 

Location: Fayetteville, Ark.

Stadium: Fayetteville/Reynolds Razorback (72,000); Little Rock/War Memorial (53,727)

Head Coach: Houston Nutt, 67-44, 8th year; 103-66 overall, 14 years

 

 

2006 IN REVIEW

 

2006 Record: 10-4, 7-1 SEC (1st, West)

Final '06 Ranking: 15th (AP); 16th Coaches; 12th BCS

Returning Starters: 10; 6 offense, 4 defense

Last Bowl Appearance: 2007 Capital One Bowl – Wisconsin 17, Arkansas 14

Last Conference Championship: 1989, Southwest Conference

 

 

2006 STAT BREAKDOWN (SEC/NCAA)

 

Total Offense: 378.0 ypg (4/29)

Rushing Offense: 228.5 ypg (1/4)

Passing Offense: 149.5 ypg (11/108)

Scoring Offense: 28.9 ppg (3/31)

Total Defense: 299.6 ypg (4/29)

Rushing Defense: 114.6 (4/33)

Passing Defense: 185.1 ypg (7/36)

Scoring Defense: 18.3 ppg (5/24)

 

 

RETURNING LEADERS

 

Rushing: Darren McFadden – 284-1647, 14 TD, 5.8 ypc, 117.6 ypg

Passing: Casey Dick – 132-65, 991, 9 TD, 6 Int., 99.1 ypg

Receiving: Marcus Monk – 50-962, 11 TD, 68.7 ypg

Tackles: Weston Dacus – 95

Interceptions: Michael Grant – 3

Sacks: Antwain Robinson – 8.5

Tackle for loss: Antwain Robinson – 14.5

 

 

2007 SCHEDULE

 

Date                 Opponent                                 '06 Result

S-1                  TROY                                ---

S-15                at Alabama                         W, 24-23

S-22                KENTUCKY                          ---

S-29                NORTH TEXAS                     ---

O-6                  CHATTANOOGA (LR)             ---

O-13                AUBURN                              W, 27-10

O-20                at Ole Miss                          W, 38-3          

O-27                FLA. INTERNATIONAL            ---       

N-3                  SOUTH CAROLINA                 W, 26-20

N-10                at Tennessee                       W, 31-14

N-17                MISSISSIPPI STATE (LR)        W, 28-14        

N – 23             LSU                                     L, 26-31

 

 

The Arkansas Perspective

 

Offense at a glance:

 

No one in the league can match the offensive backfield the Hogs have with Darren McFadden, Felix Jones, Michael Smith and Peyton Hillis.The offensive line must be rebuilt, but there is at least an anchor.

 

All-SEC center Jonathan Luigs seemed to excel as new offensive coordinator David Lee installed 18 various pass protections he brought from his last gig, the Dallas Cowboys.

 

The Hogs didn't do much with the running game in the spring. Lee threw out the old passing game playbook in favor of something similar to what the Cowboys and Colts of the NFL ran last year. That doesn't mean the Hogs will be pass happy in ‘07, but they should be improved with Lee's system featuring option routes based on coverage reads.

 

Casey Dick will be the quarterback. If he is only average, the Hogs could be spectacular on offense. If he is below that, the Hogs might spend more time than last year in what was called the Wildcat Package featuring McFadden as the shotgun quarterback.

 

Hillis seems to be the key in the backfield. He was the missing ingredient down the stretch. He sustained a season-ending thigh bruise against Tennessee and the Hogs were not the same the rest of the way. He was and is the Hogs' third-down back and the best blocker for McFadden.

 

Back to the tackles. On offense the replacements are Jose Valdez  on the left side and Nate Garner on the right. Valdez played most of the bowl game when Ugoh was injured, with solid results. Garner has started before and was solid in the spring.

 

 

Defense at a glance:

 

Defensively, the Hogs were thin at tackle and started a walk-on at one slot in the spring game.

 

Harrison is expected to return in early September, but remains a question mark. Ernest Mitchell and Fred Bledsoe were outstanding in the spring as the regular tackles.

 

Elsewhere on defense, the Hogs lost their key playmakers in Jackson, end Jamaal Anderson, outside linebacker Sam Olajubutu and cornerback Chris Houston. Coordinator Reggie Herring likes the young talent being plugged into those holes, but knows it is going to take time to get things to mesh.

 

"We do have a nice blend of experience and youthful talent and we will be  fine in time," Herring said.

 

Defensive end Malcolm Sheppard, nicknamed "The Wood," will take  Anderson's spot and is destined for stardom. Jerell Norton will take Houston's cornerback spot and may be as talented as any corner the Hogs have ever had.

 

Young linebackers Ryan Powers, Chip Gregory and Wendell Davis have SEC speed. Herring thinks that group will be solid before the season's end.

 

- Clay Henry, Hawgs Illustrated

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