Arkansas nearly reached Tennessee-like levels of ineptitude of offense in its season opener against Portland State. The Hogs did just enough to eke out a close win and, for that, has retained the faith of the Sports Illustrated braintrust.
In the most recent Sports Illustrated college football bowl projection, the Hogs are slated to play Wake Forest in the Independence Bowl in Shreveport, La. on Dec. 26. That bowl, no stranger to Arkansas from the past, annually pits an SEC team against an ACC team or Notre Dame.
In Week 1, Wake Forest beat Utah State 38-35, showing the kind of offensive punch Hog fans hoped would be a given against an FCS school like Portland State.
This Saturday, Arkansas will plays its first road game in Oxford, Miss., land of the most sophisticated football fans known to man:
Ole Miss game 6:30 in The Grove pic.twitter.com/O54vEnWhYn— Tye Richardson ? (@TyeSportsRadio) May 30, 2019
Not surprisingly, Hog coaches have been rolling out the usual reasons for fans to expect improvement. (Yes, we know players usually improve the most from Week 1 to Week 2. Every team’s coaches expect the same.)
Then there’s the effort line. “Our guys played with relentless effort,” defensive coordinator John Chavis said. “Now did we make mistakes? Absolutely. But that’s coaching – we got to fix that and we got to help them. But in terms of effort, if we play that way every week then it will put us in position to win more ball games.”
Still, there are at least three reasons for hope when it comes to better offense in the Arkansas-Ole Miss game:
C.J. O’Grady returns
The star tight end missed last week with a knee injury. His presence would have provided a quick slant option against Portland State’s constant, shifting defensive fronts. In his stead Hogs like Chase Harrell got targeted more often, but they had trouble hanging on to the ball. He was targeted five times and only caught a single pass for 14 yards while dropping three.
Hog receivers will hang on to the ball more
Against Portland State, they dropped six of Ben Hicks’ passes. Even cutting those in half could have led to another seven points on the board. Expect true freshmen Trey Knox and Treylon Burks to be targeted more downfield after Ben Hicks missed a few deep bomb possibilities.
Burks made three catches for a team-high 52 yards and also returned two punts for 16 yards. On both returns, he appeared to be a shoe-string tackle away from a larger gain, Andrew Hutchinson wrote for HawgBeat.com.
“We know he’s going to be a fantastic football player for us,” Morris said. “He’s a freshman and with freshmen come growing pains. But we’re very proud to have him.”
Knox had one long catch just before halftime after dropping a third-down pass earlier in the game.
“I thought Trey missed a few things,” Morris said. “Trey has been limited over the last week to 10 days, really kind of came back Wednesday, so you could tell he was still rusty. We anticipate that improving.”
More Rakeem Boyd
The junior running back gained a career-high 114 yards against Portland State and will not lack for motivation against Ole Miss. As SB Nation’s Nicolas Carr puts it, “Rakeem Boyd was a problem last year in Little Rock, and the Rebels should dread seeing him line up against them again this weekend. Boyd had 6.33 yards per carry and 136 total all-purpose yards. Tell me Boyd’s numbers for Saturday and I can tell you who wins the ballgame.”
Last year, Boyd was knocked out of the game with an injury after his great start. He said said she’s ready for redemption this time around.
Chad Morris needs to make sure he gets 25-30 carries this time around.
What about ESPN?
The other major national sports outlet isn’t so high on the Hogs.
ESPN’s fancy-schmancy game-by-game Football Power Index has given the Hogs only a 19.8% chance of winning at Ole Miss. That’s the highest chance Arkansas gets for an SEC win until Missouri at the end of the season (24.6%).
It predicts Arkansas most likely wins only three more games this season. Below is graph via HawgBeat.com which shows the percent chance the Razorbacks finish with the following records. The number in the right-most column is the percent change since preseason:
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Sports Illustrated’s History Of Loving The Hogs
Below is a post from February, when SI originally predicted the Razorbacks to go bowling in 2019:
Based on where the Razorback football program has been, and where it wants to go, six to seven wins doesn’t sound like much.
A bowl game sponsored by a department store or auto parts retailer typically doesn’t rev fans’ engines up too much.
This year, though, is different.
Coming off the worst season in Razorback football history, fans are ready to see their team at least triple their win total and break back into the postseason.
A Sports Illustrated writer believes the program is ready for such a turnaround, too. The outlet noted that a dozen teams finished with two or fewer wins in 2018, and highlighted Arkansas as one of a handful of the programs that could break into a bowl game:
This is not a case of last year’s team being better than its record—the Razorbacks were genuinely bad, losing to Colorado State and North Texas before going 0–8 in SEC play—but rather of a second-year coach getting a grip on things. Chad Morris gets his former SMU quarterback, Ben Hicks, for a season as a graduate transfer, and he pulled in the No. 23 recruiting class this winter, up from No. 43 a year ago.
Plus, Arkansas’s non-conference schedule will likely give it some padding: it gets San Jose State, which won one game last year, along with a downtrodden Western Kentucky, FCS Portland State and Colorado State. As Morris’s spread gains traction, the Razorbacks just might have the stuff to muster the two SEC victories they should need to get to six wins and a bowl.-Joan Nieson, Sports Illustrated
Naturally, Chad Morris and the Razorbacks are aiming for the sky going into the 2019 season. They will expect to win 10+ games and contend for a spot in the College Football Playoffs.
Pundits and experts, however, believe the Razorback football team will win somewhere between four and eight games. Weighing in favor of Arkansas’ “best case” scenario, they don’t play Georgia or Florida as SEC East foes this season. It’s possible they take the four non-conference matches and score wins at Ole Miss, at Kentucky, Mississippi State and Missouri.
At least, that’s what SG1 Sports dude man believes.
He points to the second game of 2019, against Ole Miss, as critical. “Ole Miss lost a lot from last season,” the nameless pundit says in the video below. “The problem is that it’s on the road, and that does help Ole Miss out. That’s gonna be a huge game. I think the winner of that game will have a great shot to make a bowl game. The loser might miss out.”
I think it’s highly likely the Razorback football team enters its last regular season game of 2019 either vying for a bowl game berth, or trying to land a seventh win for a better berth. Regardless, with the Kelly Bryant/Jonathan Nance-to-Mizzou fireworks that went down in December, it should pack a real rivalry game atmosphere at last:
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