FAYETTEVILLE — The University of Arkansas will hold a Media Day on Thursday then begin preseason drills Friday.
The Razorbacks are coming off a 3-7 season when they played an all-SEC schedule. The record may not seem like much, but when you look closer and realize those were the first three SEC wins since the Hogs defeated Ole Miss 38-37 on Oct. 28, 2017, in Oxford.
The Razorbacks experienced 1-7, 0-8 and 0-8 SEC marks from 2017-19. Sam Pittman came in and changed the entire mindset in one difficult season. It was difficult because of all the COVID restrictions for a new coach trying to learn his personnel.
While they did win three conference games they could have won another trio with a break here or there or even a correct call in one game. The Hogs lost to Auburn, LSU and Missouri though they had a chance in all three games. So improvement was obvious in 2020.
Here’s a look at five things Arkansas needs to do for the momentum from last season continuing.
Avoid Large Number of Injuries
This is true at any level. The teams that win big almost always are the ones lucky enough to avoid a large number of injuries. Also with COVID still a factor try to avoid what happened against LSU last fall when they had to play with a depleted defensive line. All teams will experience some injuries, but to be what they want to be the Hogs have to hope key players stay healthy.
Get Solid Quarterback Play
One key to the Razorbacks showing improvement last fall was the boost they got from grad transfer quarterback Feleipe Franks. The former Florida standout was consistent and kept Arkansas in many of the games with his play. Franks was injured and didn’t play against Missouri and that’s when KJ Jefferson stepped in and showed what he can do. It was just the second start of his career. Jefferson started the LSU game in Baton Rouge in 2019. His first start at home will likely be the Rice game on Sept. 4. Jefferson is talented and one of just three new starters heading into preseason drills. Jefferson’s play will help determine exactly how good the offense can be. The entire offensive line is back from last season and he has Treylon Burks as well as others to throw to. Trelon Smith is the returning starter at running back. Things are set up for Jefferson to have success. If he does then the Razorbacks could have a prolific offense.
Take Care Of Home
Arkansas has seven true home games this fall. The road trips are to Alabama, LSU, Georgia and Ole Miss. That is a brutal slate. The Texas A&M game in Arlington, Texas, is a designated home game for the Hogs, but there’s no advantage to being the home team at a neutral site in the other team’s state in my opinion. Technically the UAPB game in Little Rock’s War Memorial Stadium is considered a neutral site, but that is a home game for Arkansas. That gets us to the six games in Fayetteville this fall. To have a good record Arkansas has to do well in Fayetteville. If not, it will be a very long season. The Hogs host Rice, Texas and Georgia Southern in Reynolds Razorback Stadium on consecutive weekends to start the season. Texas will be a big challenge as usual and Georgia Southern is a much better team than most realize. The SEC games in Fayetteville are Auburn, Mississippi State and Missouri. Of the six games in Fayetteville needs to probably win at least five of them with all of them possible. Win 5-6 games in Fayetteville and defeat UAPB in Little Rock will assure the Hogs going to a bowl game. Ole Miss and maybe LSU are winnable road games. Texas A&M has dominated the series in recent years and aren’t showing any signs of slowing down.
Develop Strong Defense
With Jonathan Marshall now in the NFL the defense returns the 10 other starters. That’s a lot of experience for a coach as talented as Barry Odom to build from. Though he didn’t start all the time losing defensive end Julius Coates also didn’t help. But Arkansas brought in a junior college defensive linemen and three transfers from other schools. They also returned several defensive linemen who played and started a lot last fall. Grant Morgan, Bumper Pool and Hayden Henry give the Hogs a solid group of linebackers and develop some depth behind them. The secondary should be a team strength as well with all the starters returning there. Jalen Catalon is as good as any safety in the nation. Montaric Brown is a very solid cornerback. Arkansas has several others who have enjoyed success in the secondary.
Be Special On Special Teams
The Hogs were hampered by COVID on special teams last week. Scott Fountain didn’t know who he would have on each unit week to week depending on the results of the COVID tests conducted. The Hogs need a consistent place kicker and dependable punter. They have one of the best long snappers in college football in Jordan Silver. If this unit is special that would be a great first step to having a winning record this fall.