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2019 Season Opponents Preview: Arkansas Razorbacks

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Like looking in a mirror from 3 years ago

NCAA Football: Arkansas at Missouri Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

Arkansas Razorbacks

Last Season: 2-10 (0-8)

NCAA Football: Tulsa at Arkansas
“Well done men we only lost by 30 great job!”
Nelson Chenault-USA TODAY Sports

Head Coach: Chad Morris – 2nd year (former SMU HC)

Overall Record: 16-32 (8-24)

School Record: 2-10 (0-8)

Offensive Coordinator: Joe Craddock – 2nd year (former SMU OC)

Defensive Coordinator: John Chavis – 2nd year (former Texas A&M DC)

Last Game Against Mizzou: 2018 at Faurot Field, lost 38-0

This Year: at War Memorial Stadium – Little Rock, AR – November 29th, TBD

Projected Overall S&P+ Rank: 48th

Projected Offensive S&P+ Rank: 52nd

Projected Defensive S&P+ Rank: 46th

Returning Production: 62% – 64% Offense, 60% Defense (73rd in the nation)

NCAA Football: Southern Methodist at Central Florida
Ben Hicks
Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports

Offensive Players to Watch

-Ben Hicks (SMU) – QB – SR: 208-372 (55.9%)/2,582 yards/19 TDs/7 INTs/28 sacks/5.91 ypa

-17 rushes/155 yards/0 TDs/9.12 ypc/70.6% OPP rate/0 fumbles

-Rakeem Boyd – RB – JR: 123 rushes/734 yards/2 TDs/5.97 ypc/45.5% OPP rate/2 fumbles

-25 targets/23 catches (92%)/165 yards/0 TDs/7.2 ypc/6.6 ypt/7.2% tr

-Cheyenne O’Grady – TE – SR: 52 targets/30 catches (57.7%)/400 yards/6 TDs/13.3 ypc/7.7 ypt/15% tr

NCAA Football: Eastern Illinois at Arkansas
McTelvin Agim
Nelson Chenault-USA TODAY Sports

Defensive Players to Watch

-McTelvin Agim – DE – SR: 32 tackles/19 solo/10 TFLs/4.5 sacks/0 INTs/1 PBU/3 FFs/43.8% HAVOC

-De’Jon Harris – MLB – SR: 87 tackles/60 solo/9 TFLs/2 sacks/0 INTs/5 PBUs/1 FF/17.2% HAVOC

-Kamren Curl – SS – JR: 40 tackles/27 solo/0 TFLs/0 sacks/0 INTs/5 PBUs/1 FF/15% HAVOC

Preview

Rebuilding a college football team is tough. As Sammy Stava and I discussed in our most recent podcast, overhauling a football roster is approximately 8.5 times harder to do in football than it is in basketball since: 1) Individual impact players have smaller impact on either side of the ball (outside of QB), and 2) The roster is 85 scholarship guys instead of 10. You can nail the running back position, but if your offensive line is garbage he’ll have nowhere to go. You can have the best receiver in the country, but if the quarterback can’t get him the ball then it’s a total waste. And when you’re overhauling a roster while installing a brand-new style and completely different culture, you’re going to experience even more bumps and frustrations as you weed out the problems and bring in kids that understand and support the new brand. Chad Morris is knee-deep in rebuild mode at Arkansas right now and you can see all the items on the “Year Zero Rebuild” checklist:

-Lose to a G5 team? Check (Colorado State and North Texas beat Arkansas a combined 78-44)

-Unable to beat peer programs? Check (Ole Miss and Vanderbilt both beat Arkansas IN Fayetteville)

-Fall apart at end of year? Check (After almost beating LSU, they lost to Mississippi State and Mizzou a combined 90-6)

-Mass exodus of players? Check (28 players have left the program since Morris took over, including 7 this past off season which included BOTH quarterbacks with starting experience)

It’s not all bad though. The transfer portal taketh and giveth and Morris got his old quarterback from SMU, Ben Hicks, to transfer in as well as Nick Starkel, who lost his chance at QB1 at A&M to Kellen Mond. They also bring in former Notre Dame offensive lineman Luke Jones and inked a Top 20 recruiting class, an incredible feat after only winning two games and signing the 61st best recruiting class the year before*. The benefit of all of this attrition and recruiting bump is that Arkansas will be Morris’ team quicker than usual. However, that also means a lot of young guys will get thrown into the fire and learn their lessons in a physical, ouch-inducing way.

*did they make that big of a jump by cheating? Yes, yes they did. Everyone is cheating. Missouri pays their 4-stars as well, I promise you

Morris was Clemson’s offensive coordinator before he was SMU’s head coach and helped install the spread system that Dabo still has his Tigers running today. It’s predicated on RPOs and quick passes, much like every other offense these days, and requires a knowledgeable quarterback with a quick trigger finger to run it effectively. Ty Storey and Cole Kelley were not equipped to handle this style, which is why Hicks and Starkel took the opportunity to move to Fayetteville. Hicks is the most experienced, but Starkel seemingly has the higher ceiling. As of yesterday, Morris was still giving each plenty of reps with the first-team offense so either: 1) neither of them have solidified the job, or 2) they’ll be playing on a rotation early. Whoever wins the job will have the top two running backs returning, but Rakeem Boyd and Devwah Whaley barely cracked 1,000 yards last year. It was the “strength” of the 61st ranked offense, coming in at 84th, so all terms used to describe this offense are relative. Their leading returning receiver now is a tight end, Cheyenne O’Grady, after leading receiver La’Michael Pettway transferred to Iowa State. Of their top seven targets, five return but none had more than 500 yards receiving or more than 13 yards per catch. Being the 117th best passing game is pretty bad, but the entire receiving corps averaging less than 13 yards per catch? Yikes. It’s easy to see why this offense struggled so much. They also lose three starting linemen, but again, when you’re as bad as Arkansas was, some new blood certainly wouldn’t hurt.

John Chavis has been a defensive coordinator longer than most of us have been alive and has been excellent at nearly every stop. Last year, however, was not good. 49th overall, 60th against the run, 97th against the pass, 93rd on stopping teams on passing downs… there were some relative strengths here and there but nothing really clicked. Part of that was injuries: the Razorbacks lose 9 guys with starting experience and STILL return 60% of their 2018 production because THIRTY different players got decent playing time last year. McTelvin Agim returns for what feels like his 8th season and leads an all-senior defensive line. They’ll have to support a linebacking corps headed by all-name teamer Bumper Pool and a secondary that loses the most contributors. It could be another rough season defensively, especially against the passing games of Alabama, A&M, Ole Miss, etc. But there’s a lot of talent that will be pushing for playing time and if they can get loads of experience early, this could be a worthy team by 2021.

This game will be played in Little Rock (and the natives are very unhappy about that) but… let’s be honest, this is a game that Missouri should… possibly have to?... win. There’s a chance that it will be the last game of the 2018 season and we should have enough developed talent to work them over at the end of the year. Obviously, that’s not guaranteed, and we’ve pulled some wild upsets of better Arkansas teams in our day, but to (maybe) end the season on a high note and continue a winning streak over a rebuilding team, the Tigers should impose their will for 60 minutes.