Since Kendal Briles was hired in 2020, there has been plenty of criticism surrounding his performance at Arkansas. Some fans have even been calling for his firing since his start in the 2020 season.
Through his three seasons at Arkansas, Briles has had ups and downs when it comes to putting points on the board, but not all the shortcomings are his fault. Case in point: KJ Jefferson’s game-turning touchdown leap fumble against Texas A&M. It wasn’t Briles who decided to try to play Superman for a few ill-advised seconds.
For sure, there have been times when Briles’ play calling can be taken into question, but those incidents are few and far between. Every offensive coordinator has had his questionable moments, but is Kendal Briles a victim of recent unjustified scrutiny — or are the complaints valid? We’ve decided to settle the argument by diving deep into the numbers.
Looking at the Numbers
Over the last two decades, there have been several very efficient and memorable modern Arkansas offenses. When looking at the stats of some of the best Razorback offensive coordinators side by side, it seems that the criticism directed at Kendal Briles isn’t as justified as some think.
Focusing just on 2022 so far, the data shows that Briles is on pace to have one of, if not the best, Hogs offense in the last 20 years. His play calling already leads in statistics like third down efficiency, and is currently on pace to have an offense that leads in average yards per game.
A lot of the past offenses have been one-dimensional — efficient in one area and not the other, playing to their strengths, with either outstanding passing or outstanding rushing. Briles, however, has been able to build a well-rounded offense that is effective on the ground and through the air.
Let’s take a deeper look at three key areas of this offense versus the past offenses.
Arkansas Rushing Attack
When looking at the rushing statistics, Kendal Briles matches up very well with previous offensive coordinators. The two top rushing offenses of the last two decades are easily David Lee’s 2007 offense and Gus Malzahn’s 2006 offense. Both of those offenses were fueled by arguably the greatest backfield in college football history — Darren McFadden, Felix Jones and Peyton Hillis. The Hogs rushed for 3,725 yards in 2007 and 3,199 yards in 2006.
But Briles’ offenses, which entail pre-snap movements and misdirections to create great blocking and keep defenses guessing, are right on the heels of those two banner years. The Hogs had 2,961 yards last year, which is fourth on our list, only a little over 200 yards behind the 2006 offense. And, with 1,821 yards already this season, the Hogs are on pace for surpassing last year’s total. Briles’ 2021 and 2022 offenses are also third in yards per carry, right behind the 2006 offense.
Another element of the success of the rush is the constant threat of the air attack, so let’s look at the passing stats next.
Arkansas Passing Attack
In this category, Kendal Briles’ 2021 season ranks fourth on our list. Naturally, the top Arkansas passing offenses in the last 20 years have had some of the best Razorback passers, like Brandon Allen, Ryan Mallett and Tyler Wilson. They have also featured some elite pass catchers like Hunter Henry, Drew Morgan and Jarius Wright.
Contrary to popular belief, Briles has actually been able to create a passing attack that is right up there with the best. The current season is already second in yards per passing attempt with a 9-yard average. He is also averaging 248.6 passing yards per game in 2022, which is fourth on the list. With 1,740 so far this season, Briles is on pace to have an offense that eclipses 3,000 yards through the air. That would put these 2022 Hogs on par with the top passing offenses on our list.
Arkansas’ Offensive Efficiency
In terms of offensive efficiency, Kendal Briles holds the lead on 4 of the 6 stat lines inside the category.
The Razorbacks scored on 91% of their red zone trips in 2020, which is 3 percentage points higher than their second-best mark — which is 88% by Briles last year and Garrick McGee in 2010-11.
This season has seen some red zone struggles, primarily during the three-game skid. Expect to see that number climb as the season goes on.
Briles’ current season also leads in third down efficiency, converting at a 49% clip.
The Outlook for Arkansas Football
When looking at the numbers of the top Arkansas football offenses of the last two decades, one key thing stands out: Briles has been able to build an offense that competes with top offenses in BOTH passing and rushing.
Briles’ offense is close statistically with the McFadden-era when it comes to rushing, and within striking distance of the lethal passing attacks of 2010-11. For proof, consider that this year’s offense is on track to break the school record for average yards per game.
After an analysis and review of Briles’ offense, the level of criticism he receives isn’t on par with what is warranted. Not considering he helping to produce some of the best Razorback offensive statistics, efficiency and talent of the 21st century.
The fact that Briles has built an offense that matches up with the best offenses is a large part of reaffirming that Sam Pittman has brought Arkansas back into football relevance. Yes, there were a rough few games, but the offensive explosion vs BYU, plus a less challenging schedule than the previous four-game stretch, could herald more good than bad times coming.
At this rate, Kendal Briles will stake his name as one of the top offensive coordinators in Arkansas history by season’s end.
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