Tuesday, June 12, 2012
The 2011 Arkansas football season was a season that should have been remembered as another great year for Bobby Petrino. Instead, it is now looked at as the final season of Bobby Petrino. The Arkansas Razorbacks have gone through a tumultuous off season with the firing of head coach Bobby Petrino in April and three players arrested for burglary. Before Bobby Petrino was fired, this Arkansas team was going to be a contender for the SEC West and a possible BCS contender too. Now former special teams coordinator John L. Smith departed his head coaching job at Weber State to come to Arkansas. Smith will inherit the staff of Bobby Petrino with two new coordinators since offensive coordinator Garrick McGee left to be head coach of UAB and defensive coordinator Willy Robinson resigned. Paul Petrino will become the new offensive coordinator and Paul Haynes left his co-defensive coordinator position at Ohio State to take over as defensive coordinator at Arkansas. Haynes was the defensive coordinator for Arkansas' Cotton Bowl victory and many were impressed.
Arkansas' biggest strength last year was its offense. The Razorback finished ranked 29th in total offense with the 13th ranked passing game and the 81st ranked rushing offense. The offense will return 9 starters including Senior quarterback Tyler Wilson. Tyler Wilson threw for over 3,600 yards and 24 touchdowns. Wilson stepped up and made many people forget about departed quarterback Ryan Mallett. Running back Knile Davis went down in fall camp with a left ankle injury and missed the entire 2011 season after leading the SEC in rushing in 2010. Dennis Johnson and Ronnie Wingo, Jr. rushed for a combined 1,128 yards and 6 touchdowns. The amazing receiving trio of Jarius Wright, Joe Adams, and Greg Childs have moved on to the NFL so Arkansas will need to find a new receiving corps. Cobi Hamilton will return as a receiver and Javontee Herndon, Julian Horton, Kane Whitehurst will look to get significant playing time. The offensive line returns 3 of its starting 5. It did a great job of protecting Wilson last year. If the Arkansas offense can develop a running game to go with their prolific passing game, they will be even more dominating than last year.
The biggest problem with Arkansas last year was their defense. The Razorback defense finished ranked 47th in total defense, 74th in rushing defense, and the 25th ranked passing defense. The Razorback defense will return 6 starters. The two leading tacklers Jerry Franklin and Tramain Thomas have moved on and Alonzo Highsmith will have to step up. Defensive End Tenarius Wright has been moved to linebacker making only tackles Byran Jones and DeQuinta Jones return on the defensive line. Wright and Highsmith will take care of the linebacking corps while Matt Marshall will step into the other slot. Tevin Mitchell and Eric Bennet return to the secondary which will miss the departed interception leader Tramain Thomas. This secondary was very good and looks to stay that way. In the only two losses for the Razorbacks, they gave up 197 rushing yards to Alabama and 286 yards to LSU. When Paul Haynes coached this defense against Kansas State in the Cotton Bowl, the Razorbacks only gave up 87 yards. If Haynes can continue shoring up the rushing defense, it will help them immensely and make this a unit to be feared.
Arkansas' schedule this year is a very favorable one. They only have 4 road games this year at Texas A&M, Auburn, Mississippi State, and South Carolina. Their biggest contests are at home against Alabama and LSU. The only real non-conference test they'll face is Tulsa at home for homecoming. I like Arkansas' chances this year to repeat their success from 2011. I don't see them beating Alabama or LSU and I think that they will drop one road game this year at either Texas A&M or South Carolina. I think Arkansas finishes the year at 9-3 and playing at another New Year's Day Bowl.