When the Arkansas Razorbacks take the field inside Bryant-Denny stadium on Oct. 3rd they will be looking to accomplish something they have not done since 2006, defeat the Alabama Crimson Tide.
Third year coach Bret Bielema will look to lead the Razorbacks to consecutive winning seasons for the first time since 2011. Coming off an impressive Texas Bowl victory, expectations are high for the Hogs this season with some even predicting an SEC title game appearance.
No one is quite sure if Arkansas is ready to wrestle a division title away from one of the perennial SEC top schools just yet, but don’t be surprised if they take a few of them out of the national title equation.
The Razorbacks will return nine starters on offense including quarterback Brandon Allen who returns for his senior season. The Hogs will also bring back the dynamic duo of Jonathan Williams and Alex Collins, who both rushed for over 1,000 yards last season.
The Razorback receiving core will return two key players from last season with the return of Keon Hatcher and Hunter Henry. Henry, an All-SEC selection last season and Hatcher the leading receiver from last season, will look to take that momentum from 2014 and turn it into success in 2015.
The biggest factor for the Hogs this season will be their offensive line, a line that gave up an SEC low 14 sacks last season. This offensive line run blocked just as well, as they ranked fifth in rushing offense in 2014.
The Razorbacks ranked second in total defense in SEC play last season. This season the Hogs will have many new faces on the defensive side of the ball. Arkansas will return only six starters on defense, and will be without defensive stars Trey Flowers and SEC leading tackler Montrell Spaight.
The Hogs will return all of their defensive backs from last season, a group that combined for eight interceptions. This group of defensive backs were also ranked fifth in pass defense in the SEC last season.
The defensive line will look to Taiwan Johnson at nose guard for continued success after ranking second in rush defense last season. The Hogs will also look to JaMichael Winston to create open lanes for the linebackers.
The biggest factor for the Hogs on defense this season will be linebacker Brooks Ellis, who finished second in tackles for the team in 2014. The Fayetteville native will move to the Will linebacker position this season, a position in which leadership is key for Coach Robb Smith’s defense.
This contest will be the classic SEC matchup that has made the conference famous, with great defense and a solid run game. If the Hogs can control the clock by maintaining a rushing attack, then this could be a very long game for the Crimson Tide.
However, with all the dynamic players that Alabama has on its defensive line, maintaining the rushing attack for the Hogs might be easier said than done. A’Shawn Robinson has to be the focal point on the defensive side of the ball. Look for Robinson to clog rushing lanes and meet the Arkansas running back at the line of scrimmage often.
On the defensive side of the ball, the Hogs will try to attack and confuse the Alabama offensive line with many disguises and blitzes. The Crimson Tide offense might have to wait for an opportunity to open against a Hog defense that doesn’t give up many big plays. The speed of Kenyan Drake will be key to change up the pace in a game that will feature a lot of ground and pound football.
Game Prediction: Alabama 20, Arkansas 14