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Hogs' first opponent, La. Tech, depleted 

Both teams are trying to replace seasoned, and oft-maligned quarterbacks.

Two seasons ago, coming off a bitterly disappointing 3-9, 0-8 debut campaign, Arkansas was saddled with the ignominy of actually opening SEC play on the road in late August, against an Auburn team fresh off a Cinderella run to glory that fell seconds short of materializing.

That wasn't fair to the Hogs, and fortunately, that oddity didn't repeat itself last fall. Arkansas opened more conventionally, with UTEP, and dispatched with the Miners by 35 points on a sunny Saturday at Reynolds Razorback Stadium. The Hogs will be charged with again taking on a foe from the Conference USA West Division this weekend, namely the Louisiana Tech Bulldogs, a team that put it all together for Coach Skip Holtz in a 9-4, 6-2 campaign that ended with a commanding win over Arkansas State in the New Orleans Bowl.

Bulldog backers have to be feeling quite good about the program. The mercurial, younger Holtz finally seems settled in a place like Ruston, where he can orchestrate a productive and showy offense without the pressure he had at prior stops. He's authored back-to-back nine-win seasons after a 4-8 go in his first season, so ironically he and Hog Coach Bret Bielema have some common ground: Both are beginning their fourth years at their respective programs with a healthy ideal of long-term program development in mind, but with some unknowns to address.

Right up under center, both teams are trying to replace seasoned, and oft-maligned quarterbacks. Both Brandon Allen and Jeff Driskel, ironically, were taken in the back end of the sixth round of the 2016 NFL Draft, and both had tumultuous but satisfying rises to that stature. Allen toughed it out over five years in Fayetteville; Driskel, on the other hand, sought out Louisiana Tech after some unsettling times in Florida playing for the ebullient and psychotic Will Muschamp. Both guys produced well in their final collegiate bows, and now it appears that while Austin Allen is going to take over for big bro for the Hogs, Ryan Higgins will return to the starting job for the Bulldogs.

Only trouble is, he'll do so after the first game. Higgins' preseason DWI left him suspended for the opener, so it's possible that stocky (6-1, 240) backup Price Wilson, who has thrown all of three passes for the Bulldogs, or another redshirt sophomore, J'Mar Smith, will get the bulk of the snaps. Either way, it's not encouraging for Holtz, who had the benefit of transfers Driskel and Cody Sokol the past two years. Higgins played extensively in 2013 but was turnover-prone, and then spent the past two years holding the clipboard.

Where Louisiana Tech had hoped to thrive, accordingly, was in the backfield. Former Strong High School (Union County) standout Kenneth Dixon just completed a record-setting career at tailback, though, and the second-leading rusher behind him last fall was Driskel, so the load will be shouldered by Boston Scott and Jerrad Craft, a speed-power tandem that will need to help unburden the quarterback of choice with productive early-down runs.

Assuming the Bulldogs can sustain a passing offense with such inexperience at the helm, there's a proven weapon outside in Trent Taylor. The diminutive flanker from Shreveport had 153 catches the past two seasons, and accounted for nine touchdown grabs in each of those campaigns. He's a deep threat and uncannily tough for his stature, but he may be asked to do a lot more than run drags and fly routes Saturday. Carlos Henderson is a great second option, and the backs will be asked to take some screens, but the tight end is hardly of use in this spread offense.

On the defensive side, Louisiana Tech also got burned by exhausted eligibility. Defensive tackle Vernon Butler had a steady four-year run and was rewarded by being picked in the first round by Carolina, the first Bulldog taken in the top round of the draft in 17 years. But he wasn't the only loss; there will likely be eight new starters on that side when the Hog offense takes the field Saturday afternoon, and the youthful replacements will have their conditioning tested immediately. The combination of Dan Enos' clock-bleeding offense and a large offensive line, on a sweltering late summer day in the Ozarks, doesn't bode well for the unit that only returns two players with significant experience. The best lineman, Jaylon Ferguson, is a physical specimen with speed, but he can only do so much.

Tech's best chance is for the two-headed monster at quarterback to keep an overexcited Hog defense unstable. Tennessee-Martin did a fine job of exposing holes in the Hog secondary last fall, but there's no question that Robb Smith is going to try to inflict substantial heat on Smith and Wilson this weekend. Arkansas needs a firm, efficient opener to take a degree of swagger to Fort Worth the following weekend.

Two seasons ago, coming off a bitterly disappointing 3-9, 0-8 debut campaign, Arkansas was saddled with the ignominy of actually opening SEC play on the road in late August, against an Auburn team fresh off a Cinderella run to glory that fell seconds short of materializing.

That wasn't fair to the Hogs, and fortunately, that oddity didn't repeat itself last fall. Arkansas opened more conventionally, with UTEP, and dispatched with the Miners by 35 points on a sunny Saturday at Reynolds Razorback Stadium. The Hogs will be charged with again taking on a foe from the Conference USA West Division this weekend, namely the Louisiana Tech Bulldogs, a team that put it all together for Coach Skip Holtz in a 9-4, 6-2 campaign that ended with a commanding win over Arkansas State in the New Orleans Bowl.

Bulldog backers have to be feeling quite good about the program. The mercurial, younger Holtz finally seems settled in a place like Ruston, where he can orchestrate a productive and showy offense without the pressure he had at prior stops. He's authored back-to-back nine-win seasons after a 4-8 go in his first season, so ironically he and Hog Coach Bret Bielema have some common ground: Both are beginning their fourth years at their respective programs with a healthy ideal of long-term program development in mind, but with some unknowns to address.

Right up under center, both teams are trying to replace seasoned, and oft-maligned quarterbacks. Both Brandon Allen and Jeff Driskel, ironically, were taken in the back end of the sixth round of the 2016 NFL Draft, and both had tumultuous but satisfying rises to that stature. Allen toughed it out over five years in Fayetteville; Driskel, on the other hand, sought out Louisiana Tech after some unsettling times in Florida playing for the ebullient and psychotic Will Muschamp. Both guys produced well in their final collegiate bows, and now it appears that while Austin Allen is going to take over for big bro for the Hogs, Ryan Higgins will return to the starting job for the Bulldogs.

Only trouble is, he'll do so after the first game. Higgins' preseason DWI left him suspended for the opener, so it's possible that stocky (6-1, 240) backup Price Wilson, who has thrown all of three passes for the Bulldogs, or another redshirt sophomore, J'Mar Smith, will get the bulk of the snaps. Either way, it's not encouraging for Holtz, who had the benefit of transfers Driskel and Cody Sokol the past two years. Higgins played extensively in 2013 but was turnover-prone, and then spent the past two years holding the clipboard.

Where Louisiana Tech had hoped to thrive, accordingly, was in the backfield. Former Strong High School (Union County) standout Kenneth Dixon just completed a record-setting career at tailback, though, and the second-leading rusher behind him last fall was Driskel, so the load will be shouldered by Boston Scott and Jerrad Craft, a speed-power tandem that will need to help unburden the quarterback of choice with productive early-down runs.

Assuming the Bulldogs can sustain a passing offense with such inexperience at the helm, there's a proven weapon outside in Trent Taylor. The diminutive flanker from Shreveport had 153 catches the past two seasons, and accounted for nine touchdown grabs in each of those campaigns. He's a deep threat and uncannily tough for his stature, but he may be asked to do a lot more than run drags and fly routes Saturday.

On the defensive side, Louisiana Tech also got burned by exhausted eligibility. Defensive tackle Vernon Butler had a steady four-year run and was rewarded by being picked in the first round by Carolina, the first Bulldog taken in the top round of the draft in 17 years. But he wasn't the only loss; there will likely be eight new starters on that side when the Hog offense takes the field Saturday afternoon, and the youthful replacements will have their conditioning tested immediately. The combination of Dan Enos' clock-bleeding offense and a large offensive line, on a sweltering late summer day in the Ozarks, doesn't bode well for the unit that only returns two players with significant experience.

Tech's best chance is for the two-headed monster at quarterback to keep an overexcited Hog defense unstable. Tennessee-Martin did a fine job of exposing holes in the Hog secondary last fall, but there's no question that Robb Smith is going to try to inflict substantial heat on Smith and Wilson this weekend. Arkansas needs a firm, efficient opener to take a degree of swagger to Fort Worth the following weekend.

Favorite

Speaking of Austin Allen, Arkansas Razorbacks

  • 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/
  • Williams shines

    November 24, 2016
    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? /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/
  • 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/
  • 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/
  • Razorback offense can't fail

    August 25, 2016
    The first year of the Dan Enos experiment was an unqualified success, even if the Hogs struggled to put up points in crippling losses to Toledo and Texas Tech early in the year. /more/
  • Arkansas Razorbacks 2016 football preview, part III

    August 17, 2016
    A bye week caps off October so that the team heads to November in a rather unusually ideal position: eyeballing an SEC West title if someone can get Bama out of the way. /more/
  • More »

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More by Beau Wilcox

  • 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
  • Deflated

    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.
    • Nov 17, 2016
  • More »

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Latest in Pearls About Swine

  • 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
  • Deflated

    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.
    • Nov 17, 2016
  • More »

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Most Recent Comments

  • Re: Woeful

    • If the UA could get the SEC to stop all games if at any time…

    • on December 2, 2016
  • Re: Woeful

    • The Mizz loss was worse than getting beat by Louisiana-Moron

    • on December 2, 2016
 

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