When Arkansas takes the field at War Memorial Stadium in Little Rock against Toledo on Saturday, the Rockets will technically be playing their first game of the season hoping to live up to the hype of being a preseason media pick to win the Mid-American Conference's West Division.
The Rockets' season opener last Thursday against Stony Brook was cut short due to inclement weather. Two quarters were in the books but the game was called after a three-hour delay with the Rockets up 16-7.
Arkansas on the other hand got a full four quarters in against UTEP, winning 48-13 behind a somewhat surprising dominant passing attack and a defense that held the Miners to 204 total yards, but was far from midseason form. Razorbacks quarterback Brandon Allen completed 14-of-18 passes for a career-high 308 yards with four touchdowns and no interceptions and running back Alex Collins had an easy day, carrying 12 times for 127 yards with a touchdown.
Toledo head coach Matt Campbell will not be playing with his full assortment of offensive weapons after running back Kareem Hunt was suspended for the first two games of the season. The junior tailback was one of the nation’s leading rushers in 2014 with 1,631 yards and 16 touchdowns, while averaging 8.0 yards per carry. With Hunt out, Damion Jones-Moore had an impressive start to his season running for 70 yards on five carries in just two quarters.
Toledo vs. Arkansas (Little Rock, Ark.)
Kickoff: 4 p.m. ET
Network: SEC Alternate
Line: Arkansas -21.5
Three Things to Watch
1. Arkansas’ run defense vs. Toledo’s rushing attack
Rockets starting quarterback Phillip Ely got very little work in under center last year, appearing in two games and completing 41-of-68 passes for 541 yards with four scores and a pick. Toledo’s top two receivers are back, Alonzo Russell and Corey Jones, but Ely struggled early against Stony Brook, connecting on just 8-of-17 for 81 yards with an interception.
If Ely cannot complete a few early passes against the Arkansas defense, this puts the weight of the offense on Jones-Moore to produce yards in Hunt's absence. Expect Arkansas to put seven or eight in the box, forcing Ely to beat the Razorbacks with his arm.
2. Toledo’s pass defense vs. Arkansas’ passing attack
New Arkansas offensive coordinator Dan Enos has legitimate weapons on the outside to attack opposing secondaries with. Even though Allen has been known more as a game manager than a gunslinger who can beat you with his arm, it's hard to not be impressed by what he was able to do last week against UTEP. If Enos and company can produce similar results through the air against Toledo, it will make the Razorbacks' running that much more dangerous moving forward.
3. Will the real Arkansas defense please stand up?
The Hogs looked like a team playing their first game of the season last week against UTEP at different times. There were some missed assignments and a lot of missed tackles. On the plus side, the Arkansas defense, and special teams unit, forced three Miners turnovers and recorded 11 tackles for a loss with one sack.
Can Arkansas’ front seven gel a little more before getting a potentially bigger test in Week 3 against Texas Tech? Finding a consistent pass rush off the edges and especially with the front four without committing a player from the back seven, will be a challenge all season until this unit figures it out.
The Razorbacks are loaded at key positions but still need to work second-team players into the mix so the staff knows who they can count on going into SEC action and which players may need a little more seasoning before being key contributors. Arkansas will mix the pass with the run but will look to get the inexperienced players in late in the third quarter and throughout the fourth if possible.
Toledo may makes some noise in the MAC this year, or even give Iowa State a run for its money next weekend at home with Hunt back, but that means nothing for Saturday's contest. The Rockets are heading into a buzz saw against a Hogs team that should have little trouble moving to 2-0.
Prediction: Arkansas 41, Toledo 10
— 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.