Favorite

Big questions for Arkansas football 

Bret Bielema - BRIAN CHILSON
  • Brian Chilson
  • Bret Bielema

August. Finally.

When the last seconds of Arkansas's exceedingly dominant Texas Bowl victory over the Texas Longhorns ticked away just before 2014 went into the annals, the countdown to an otherwise undistinguished month commenced. No fan base has ever felt better about a six-loss squad that was about to lose three of its defensive anchors to the NFL Draft. The signs that the Razorbacks were reborn were abundant, strong and lasting.

As we've done here in the past, we will break down the schedule over three ensuing columns. But this week, we ask five big questions about whether Arkansas genuinely is prepared to assert itself in the always-rigorous SEC West, some that hopefully haven't been asked:

1. Does Taiwan Johnson take flight? Last fall, Darius Philon developed so much that he made an ill-advised leap to the pros. Johnson's got that kind of playmaking ability on the defensive line, and he's already been visible in that capacity. The problem now is that the opposing focus that may have been devoted to protecting quarterbacks from Trey Flowers' speed rush is probably more geared toward softening the center of Arkansas's imposing front with a power run game. We saw Missouri patiently stay with it until it paid dividends in a comeback win to cap the regular season, and it was also the central theme of the Hogs' undisputed worst loss last year, the drubbing by Georgia in Little Rock.

Johnson can be good for several fumbles forced and recovered, a few sacks, and several lost-yardage drive-killers if he builds on the reputation he well earned from mid-October forward. Among all of the talented contributors set to become All-SEC types this fall on the defensive side, he may have the highest ceiling.

2. Can Dan Enos' play design make the team more potent without resulting in more mistakes? There's no question that the Hogs earned their stripes last season by improving their once-miserable turnover ratio. But Jim Chaney had such curious play calls at such inopportune junctions that those strides ended up somewhat negligible in the end.

Enter Enos, taking a step down from the head coaching ranks at Central Michigan to bring both stability and a sense of flair to an offense perceived as stodgy and grinding. Brandon Allen's growth last year was evident in his lack of errors, but would the Hogs give up a few more picks here and there in exchange for substantially more scores? No question. It wouldn't be upsetting to see the senior throw double-digit interceptions if they weren't situationally crippling, and if he chucked 25-plus touchdowns. The belief is that the weapons, protection and maturity are all there for that to occur, but Enos cannot ask Allen to be too much, too quick.

3. Will Kody Walker shine in what seems like his 15th junior year? Walker came onto campus blocked by Roland Sales and Gary Anderson ... I kid, of course. But the star-crossed career of this young man and his unbelievable commitment in the face of all the injuries and various challenges brings him back for what will be the fifth of a six-year stint in Fayetteville. Granted, he's not going to get the touches that Alex Collins or Jonathan Williams command, but his piece in this offense is immensely vital.

One, Walker catches the ball relatively well, certainly better than Collins, and he's still a physical back despite a couple of harrowing, career-threatening collisions his first two years. Two, Korliss Marshall's inability to stay clear of the doghouse means that the third back is Walker, no ifs or buts, and he's got so much size and open-field skill that he cannot be overlooked. But third and perhaps most importantly, he's the third back in a system overseen by Bret Bielema, who has arguably gotten more literal mileage out of the No. 3 running back than any other coach in the country the past decade. If Walker is good for 20 to 25 catches and about 100 carries as a change-of-pace guy, he softens the inevitable blow of losing Williams and perhaps Collins come April.

4. Are the special teams taking a step forward? Adam McFain solved an apparent placekicking crisis last fall, and though Aussie punter Sam Irwin-Hill took his big leg and fake-punt dramatics elsewhere, Blake Johnson comes in with excellent credentials as a likely replacement. The return game will miss Marshall's burst but maybe improve by way of that subtraction due to the week-on, week-off mystery that shrouded his status once he and Bielema started their eventually irreparable head-butting.

Bret Bielema - BRIAN CHILSON
  • Brian Chilson
  • Bret Bielema

Jared Cornelius looks like a potential gem in the return game with his build and his discipline. He did a lot to impress late last fall, and if he isn't Joe Adams, it's no sin whatsoever. The big play can remain the domain of the tailbacks and tight ends, so long as they get the chance to take the field after Cornelius, Keon Hatcher and other returners protect the ball and generate positive yards.

5. Does Arkansas's quiet offseason signal that it has perhaps overtaken LSU for the short term? The Hogs throttled the Tigers on the field last year, which was overdue and beautiful even in a sloshy, chilly game in mid-November, but it may have signaled something else.

Once again, LSU had an offseason fraught with negative headlines, namely an incident involving onetime starting quarterback Anthony Jennings. Les Miles had another decent recruiting class in 2014, but it could also be perceived as one of his least potent since he arrived in Baton Rouge. Last year, Pearls correctly predicted the Hog uprising against the Tigers in Fayetteville and noted it would be the first five-loss LSU team in six seasons, and lo and behold, that prognostication was accurate. The sheen is missing and even with Leonard Fournette coming back, how functional will this offense be with several gaping holes in it? If the Hogs can win in Death Valley, notching back-to-back triumphs against their rival for the first time since 2007-08, then that alone could cause enough disenchantment down South to put Miles' job status in the crosshairs come December.

Favorite

Speaking of...

  • Belk bowling, b-ball

    December 8, 2016
    Before Pearls breaks its brief silent treatment about Razorback basketball's latest bid to shake off listless irrelevance, we'll spend a word or two on the Belk Bowl, where the football team draws a Dec. 29 matchup with Virginia Tech in Charlotte. /more/
  • Woeful

    December 1, 2016
    On Thanksgiving night, Bret Bielema could settle into his bed knowing that after a rather miserable 2013 inauguration, he had slipped comfortably into his job and the results were bearing some small but edible fruits for this ravenous fan base. He was only 25-24, but 18-10 with two bowl wins over his last 28 contests, a smattering of takedowns of ranked teams, and a stabilized roster that showed off the staff's endeavors to enlist and develop a caliber of player that would lead to better days ahead in a rugged conference. /more/
  • Deflated

    November 17, 2016
    Foolish consistency, per Emerson, is the hobgoblin of little minds. What commentary he would've offered about the Arkansas Razorbacks' 10 weeks of wild inconsistency is for debate, but he might've been more profane than pithy if he had to sit through this madness. /more/
  • After Auburn

    October 27, 2016
    I'm not one for hyperbole, but the mere mention of "56-3" changes things. /more/
  • Lessons learned

    October 20, 2016
    Picture Bret Bielema pole-vaulting for a minute. Then, once the laughter subsides, hear me out with this absurd analogy. /more/
  • UA faculty member apologizes for cursing football coach

    October 11, 2016
    The University of Arkansas faculty member who was arrested after cursing Hog football coach Bret Bielema following the Razorbacks' loss has apologized for his actions. /more/
  • On to Alabama

    October 6, 2016
    With War Memorial Stadium's mystique and alleged efficacy dying by the year, it was at least comforting to watch Arkansas finally devour a purported cupcake there. Bret Bielema boosted his Little Rock record to 2-3, with those two wins coming against Football Championship Subdivision schools, after the Hogs pummeled Alcorn State 52-10 on Saturday. /more/
  • Hogs blew it

    September 29, 2016
    Arkansas needed to beat Texas A&M. That's it. Sometimes perfunctory is poetry. /more/
  • 2-0

    September 15, 2016
    If you tuned in to ESPN Saturday night or settled into your seats at Fort Worth's compact but energetic Amon Carter Stadium, you undoubtedly felt like the impending Arkansas-TCU tilt was going to be compelling, if for no other reason because it pitted a burgeoning Big 12 power against a rising SEC program, with both having that Southwest Conference badging that went dormant a quarter-century ago. /more/
  • Soft secondary

    September 8, 2016
    Two schools of thought may well emerge after Arkansas nipped a spirited Louisiana Tech team, 21-20, in the 2016 opener Saturday. /more/
  • More »

Comments (3)

Showing 1-3 of 3

Add a comment

 
Subscribe to this thread:
Showing 1-3 of 3

Add a comment

More by Beau Wilcox

  • Belk bowling, b-ball

    Before Pearls breaks its brief silent treatment about Razorback basketball's latest bid to shake off listless irrelevance, we'll spend a word or two on the Belk Bowl, where the football team draws a Dec. 29 matchup with Virginia Tech in Charlotte.
    • Dec 8, 2016
  • Woeful

    On Thanksgiving night, Bret Bielema could settle into his bed knowing that after a rather miserable 2013 inauguration, he had slipped comfortably into his job and the results were bearing some small but edible fruits for this ravenous fan base. He was only 25-24, but 18-10 with two bowl wins over his last 28 contests, a smattering of takedowns of ranked teams, and a stabilized roster that showed off the staff's endeavors to enlist and develop a caliber of player that would lead to better days ahead in a rugged conference.
    • Dec 1, 2016
  • Williams shines

    Alternating wins and losses has been the pattern behavior of Arkansas's 2016 season as it draws to its terminus. So after the Hogs gave their most listless and disappointing home effort in a good while against LSU, why wouldn't they just explode all over the cowbell-clanging din in Starkville the next time out?
    • Nov 24, 2016
  • More »

Readers also liked…

Most Shared

  • World leaders set to meet in Little Rock on resource access and sustainable development

    Next week a series of meetings on the use of technology to tackle global problems will be held in Little Rock by Club de Madrid — a coalition of more than 100 former democratic former presidents and prime ministers from around the world — and the P80 Group, a coalition of large public pension and sovereign wealth funds founded by Prince Charles to combat climate change. The conference will discuss deploying existing technologies to increase access to food, water, energy, clean environment, and medical care.
  • Rapert compares Bill Clinton to Orval Faubus

    Sen. Jason Rapert (R-Conway)  was on "Capitol View" on KARK, Channel 4, this morning, and among other things that will likely inspire you to yell at your computer screen, he said he expects someone in the legislature to file a bill to do ... something about changing the name of the Bill and Hillary Clinton National Airport.

Latest in Pearls About Swine

  • Belk bowling, b-ball

    Before Pearls breaks its brief silent treatment about Razorback basketball's latest bid to shake off listless irrelevance, we'll spend a word or two on the Belk Bowl, where the football team draws a Dec. 29 matchup with Virginia Tech in Charlotte.
    • Dec 8, 2016
  • Woeful

    On Thanksgiving night, Bret Bielema could settle into his bed knowing that after a rather miserable 2013 inauguration, he had slipped comfortably into his job and the results were bearing some small but edible fruits for this ravenous fan base. He was only 25-24, but 18-10 with two bowl wins over his last 28 contests, a smattering of takedowns of ranked teams, and a stabilized roster that showed off the staff's endeavors to enlist and develop a caliber of player that would lead to better days ahead in a rugged conference.
    • Dec 1, 2016
  • Williams shines

    Alternating wins and losses has been the pattern behavior of Arkansas's 2016 season as it draws to its terminus. So after the Hogs gave their most listless and disappointing home effort in a good while against LSU, why wouldn't they just explode all over the cowbell-clanging din in Starkville the next time out?
    • Nov 24, 2016
  • More »

Visit Arkansas

View Trumpeter Swans in Heber Springs

View Trumpeter Swans in Heber Springs

Magness Lake, in Heber Springs, is a magnet for swans

Event Calendar

« »

December

S M T W T F S
  1 2 3
4 5 6 7 8 9 10
11 12 13 14 15 16 17
18 19 20 21 22 23 24
25 26 27 28 29 30 31

Most Viewed

Most Recent Comments

  • Re: Resurrection, reflection

    • http://hairtransplantncr.com/ hair transplant in delhi hair transplant ncr hair transplant cost hair transplant cost in…

    • on December 8, 2016
 

© 2016 Arkansas Times | 201 East Markham, Suite 200, Little Rock, AR 72201
Powered by Foundation