Razorback Nation has been through this before, a season started off with promise and then slowly stripped away one embarrassing loss at a time. In 2012 Arkansas started the season ranked in the top 10 but quickly fell apart under interim head coach John L. Smith, tumbling to 4-8 after an 11-win season the year before. The 2013 season, head coach Bret Bielema’s first, was not much better but signs of improvement sprouted in a 3-9 season, but what is to come in 2015?
The 35-24 loss to Texas Tech in Week 3 was frustrating, especially with the faint reminder of the 49-28 drubbing the Razorbacks gave the Red Raiders a year ago in Lubbock. The Hogs entered the season with nine starters back on offense and five on defense from a 7-6 Texas Bowl-winning squad. Now all Arkansas fans want to know is all lost?
College Football Podcast: Week 3 Recap and Analysis
Three things were learned about Arkansas on Saturday could help put 2015’s puzzle piece together.
1. Arkansas’ defense is really young and perhaps a step slow
Texas Tech quarterback Patrick Mahomes did not overwhelm Arkansas’ defense in the yards department but instead picked them clean, completing 26-of-30 passes for 243 yards with one touchdown. On the upside the Hogs did pickoff Mahomes twice. On the downside Brandon Allen threw a pick and starting running back Alex Collins handed over the ball on the Hogs’ last drive putting the takeaways at a 2-2 standstill.
Where Mahomes hurt Arkansas the most was on the ground, odd to believe but true. Mahomes avoided pressure and avoided being sacked, scrambling for 58 yards and two scores. The Razorbacks' defensive ends were too slow to contain or track down Mahomes allowing him to turn busted plays, hurries or potential sacks into positive gains.
2. Arkansas found its running attack but... it was against Texas Tech
The Hogs rushed for 228 yards on Saturday with Collins leading the way. Collins ran with a different purpose and determination than he had in his previous two games, racking up 170 yards on 28 carries with one touchdown. Junior running back Kody Walker was held out due to injury, putting true freshman Rawleigh Williams into a bigger role with eight carries for 31 yards and two receptions for 20 yards.
The bad news is Texas Tech has the nation’s No. 112 defense, out of 127 teams, allowing 492 yards per game. Toledo, statistically, has an even worse defense (No. 115) than Texas Tech but that did not help the Hogs pick up a win last week either. Another team Arkansas has played, UTEP, is the third worst in the nation at No. 125. Luckily Auburn (No. 100) comes to Fayetteville on Oct. 24 or the season could really get out of hand.
The big question is, can Arkansas continue to run the ball effectively for the rest of the season?
3. Passing offense lacks punch in big plays and in the red zone
Some stats do lie not telling a complete story, but with Arkansas’ red zone statistics there is no way around bending the truth like a politician for a more favorable outcome. Again, out of 127 FBS teams Arkansas is No. 119 in the nation in turning red zone trips into points. In 14 trips they have three rushing touchdowns, two passing touchdowns and four field goals made, leaving five opportunities on the field without a positive outcome.
One spin doctor attempt in Arkansas’ favor, whoever upset the refs calling the Hogs’ games this season needs to go apologize, and quickly. The Razorbacks had two ticky-tack penalties called in the Toledo game, bringing back scores and had another one against Texas Tech, taking another six points off the board. The calls are not drive stoppers or of the five-yard variety but game and potential season-changers.
Allen has been on fire and accurate this season. He fell back down to earth after back-to-back games with career highs in passing yards, only getting 196 yards, as the running game once again took priority. Allen completed 16-of-21 of his attempts but has trouble connecting with his wide receivers when the passing lanes shrink. This falls on new offensive coordinator Dan Enos to fix something three years reoccurring... if possible.
With three injured Arkansas receivers out for an extended period of time (Keon Hatcher, Jared Cornelius and Cody Hollister), the youngsters with a lot of potential are now in the starting lineup. On Monday the Razorbacks released their depth chart, which lists redshirt freshman Jojo Robinson and sophomore Kendrick Edwards as starters. Both have been in the proverbial doghouse all season but both could be difference makers this season.
What all we learned means for Arkansas the rest of the way?
In Bielema’s first two campaigns in Fayetteville, the Hogs were a much better team in the second half of the season. No reason this trend cannot be true again in 2015 but don’t start racking up potential victories just yet.
There is enough experience on the offensive line to control games and a strong enough passing attack to help move the chains but not win games. The defense has not come along as quickly as many had hoped and that unit is taking a lot of lumps early. Defensive coordinator Robb Smith is still tinkering with his lineup, giving true freshman Dre Greenlaw a start at “Will” against the Aggies in Week 4.
A potential eight-win season for Arkansas is now trending to a questionable-bowl-invite-type of season. Will the defense find its grove before the season is a wash preparing for 2016? Lack of team speed at defensive end and linebacker could make this a tough year for the Hogs. Hopefully some of the tinkering will prove fruitful.
The schedule does not get any easier over the next three for the Hogs with three road games against Texas A&M, Tennessee and Alabama. Back-to-back home games against Auburn and UT Martin look a long way off with a tough November stretch against Ole Miss, LSU, Mississippi State and Missouri.
Arkansas fans can only hope a few modifications and a couple more games of experience can help the lightbulbs go off for the younger players. WPS!
— Written by Ryan Wright, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and an established media professional with more than two decades' worth of experience. Over the years, Wright has written for numerous sites and publications and he recently started his own recruiting site, www.recruitingnewsguru.com. Follow him on Twitter @HogManInLA.