Arkansas Football: 2018 Razorbacks Preview and Prediction

The Razorbacks rank No. 59 in Athlon's Top 130 for 2018

The Arkansas Razorbacks are a team in transition. Chad Morris' innovative offense and recruiting ties to the state of Texas should help the program move forward in the brutal SEC West. However, the switch from a pro-style offense to a spread will require an adjustment period. Arkansas left spring without a starter at quarterback, and a line that struggled in 2017 still has major question marks. The strength of the offense is at running back with Devwah Whaley and Chase Hayden. The defense has ranked last in the SEC in yards per play allowed for three straight years but is likely to take a step forward with seven returning starters under new coordinator John Chavis. The schedule is manageable -- Vanderbilt and Missouri in crossover games -- but the Hogs will still have a tough time reaching bowl eligibility.

 

Previewing Arkansas Football's Offense for 2018

 

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Chad Morris has installed a power spread up-tempo offense, a stark contrast to the Razorbacks' previous ball-control pro-style attack that was run by the previous staff.

 

A ton of skill position talent and linemen return, but they'll be directed by a quarterback other than an Allen brother for the first time in five years. Junior Ty Storey and sophomore Cole Kelley, who started four games late last season, will battle for the job. Morris says he won't name a starter until the fall.

 

Guard Hjalte Froholdt is the veteran leader of an offensive line that brings back tackles Colton Jackson and Brian Wallace but has struggled much of the last two seasons. Johnny Gibson and Jalen Merrick are battling at right guard, and Dylan Hays and Ty Clary are the top contenders at center.

 

The backfield has a combination of power backs such as Devwah Whaley and Maleek Williams and speedsters T.J. Hammonds and Chase Hayden. Hammonds averaged 8.2 yards per carry in limited duty last year. Transfer Rakeem Boyd, a former Texas A&M signee, will join the crew this summer.

 

Receiver Jared Cornelius is back for his senior year following Achilles tendon surgery, joining leading receiver Jonathan Nance, whose emergence last year was a bit of a surprise over more celebrated junior college teammate Brandon Martin. Nance led the team in receptions (37), yards (539) and TD catches (five).

 

Previewing Arkansas Football's Defense for 2018

 

Veteran coordinator John Chavis, now at his fourth SEC stop, expects to get better pressure on the quarterback in a return to a 4-3 front that will be built around pass rushers such as Randy Ramsey, Gabe Richardson and the versatile McTelvin Agim. The Hogs were last in the SEC a year ago in both sacks (19.0) and tackles for a loss (48.0).

 

The return to a 4-3 scheme should help middle linebacker De'Jon Harris, who had 115 tackles last season but had to contend with more interference from offensive linemen. Dre Greenlaw is back at the weak-side linebacker spot at which he had a solid freshman debut in 2015.

 

The secondary returns plenty of experience, but things might look quite different in 2018. Two starters from last fall are at new spots -- Santos Ramirez has moved from strong to free safety and cornerback Kamren Curl is now at strong safety. Ryan Pulley, who missed all but one game with a torn pectoral muscle, is back in the lineup. This unit received a boost in May, as Kevin Richardson was awarded a sixth year of eligibility.

 

Previewing Arkansas Football's Specialists for 2018

 

Connor Limpert had a strong season after winning the placekicker job in Week 3. The left footer went 8-of-9 on field goals, including a game-winning 34-yard boot at Ole Miss. The Razorbacks need to be better at punter after first-year starter Blake Johnson averaged 38.6 yards per kick. The Razorbacks should be more dangerous on special teams with De'Vion Warren on kickoffs and Cornelius likely handling punt returns again.

 

Final Analysis

 

It would be unreasonable to believe the Razorbacks could go from 1-7 in conference play to a contender in the SEC West in the course of one offseason. Quarterback play will likely go a long way in determining whether the offense builds up steam in Morris' debut. And the defense -- which gave up a staggering 7.1 yards per play in SEC games -- needs major help at all three levels. The debut of Morris should provide some splash and dash, but the Razorbacks need a further injection of speed and depth across the board to make a significant move in the brutal SEC West.

 

NATIONAL RANKING: 59
SEC WEST PREDICTION: 7

Event Date: 
Thursday, May 24, 2018 - 14:31

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