SI.com 2003 College Football Preview




SI.com's College Football Team Previews - from Athlon Sports

  Arkansas Razorbacks

 
The Lowdown
Coach: Houston Nutt (6th year, 39-23)
2002 record: 9-5 (Lost to Minnesota 29-14 in Music City Bowl)
SEC finish: T-2nd (West)
2002 offensive stats:
Rush: 218.9 ypg
(1st in SEC, 12th in nation)
Pass: 134.6 ypg (12th, 109th)
2002 defensive stats:
Rush: 113.6 ypg (2nd, 18th)
Pass: 234.5 ypg (12th, 83rd)
Projected Starters
Offense (8 returning starters in bold)
SE   88   George Wilson   Sr.  
FL   8   Richard Smith   Sr.  
LT   75   Bo Lacy   Sr.  
LG  50  Jerry Reith  Sr 
C   65   Dan Doughty   Sr.  
RG   71   Mark Bokermann   Sr.  
RT   73   Shawn Andrews   Jr.  
TE   80   Jason Peters   Jr.  
QB   9   Matt Jones   Jr.  
TB  26  De'Arrius Howard  So. 
FB  47  Brandon Kennedy  So. 
Defense (8)
DE  90  Justin Scott  Sr. 
DT   98   Elliott Harris   Jr.  
NG   92   Arrion Dixon   Jr.  
DE  15  Jeb Huckeba  Jr. 
SLB   43   Caleb Miller   Sr.  
MLB   46   Clarke Moore   So.  
WLB   22   Tony Bua   Sr.  
CB   1   L. Richardson   Sr.  
CB   8   Ahmad Carroll   Jr.  
SS   14   Jimmy Beasley   Sr.  
FS  21  Lerinezo Robinson  So. 
Special Teams
49  David Carlton  Jr. 
41  Brennan O'Donohoe  Sr. 
KR  32  DeCori Birmingham  Jr. 
PR  Marvin Jackson  Sr. 
2003 Schedule
Sept. 6  Tulsa 
Sept. 13  at Texas 
Sept. 20  #North Texas 
Sept. 27  at Alabama 
Oct. 11  Auburn 
Oct. 18  Florida 
Oct. 25  at Ole Miss 
Nov. 1  at Kentucky 
Nov. 8  #South Carolina 
Nov. 15  New Mexico State 
Nov. 22  Mississippi State 
Nov. 29  at LSU 
   #Little Rock, Ark. 
Reaching the SEC Championship Game and then flaming out in a 30-3 loss to Georgia served as a sort of off-season motivator to Arkansas players. All they want is to build off that humbling experience.

And experience should help them. The Hogs welcome back 25 scholarship seniors, the most in coach Houston Nutt's six seasons, and several talented underclassmen. This group returns confident but still stinging from last season's embarrassing slide that also included a 29-14 loss to Minnesota in the Music City Bowl.

"I think this will be our best year to go back to Atlanta and get the job done," tailback De'Arrius Howard says. "I feel like we've got some unfinished business."

The biggest lesson Arkansas learned is that the offense can't survive on the run alone. So Nutt's primary goal is to expand the passing game in the hope it will send the Hogs back to the championship game with a different outcome.

OFFENSIVE KEYS:

Arkansas is looking for better balance than last year when it led the SEC in rushing, but ranked last in passing. Quarterback Matt Jones might be the answer to jazzing up the passing game -- by splitting time at receiver. At 6-foot-5, 225 pounds, Jones has the size to overmatch defensive backs and hands like a catcher's mitt. The 4.4 speed and jumping ability don't hurt, either. Ryan Sorahan, a solid passer, will play quarterback when Jones is at receiver. An added benefit of playing both, coaches hope, is to make defenses prepare for two different styles of quarterbacks.

Jones is a slippery runner. "He's a guy that no matter how well you defend everything, and even if you get people in position to make a play, there's no guarantee that you'll catch him or you'll tackle him," Georgia coach Mark Richt said.

Running back is deep with Cedric Cobbs and Howard, who both combine speed and brawn. Cobbs dropped 15 pounds and will play at 225 to try to break a string of injury-interrupted seasons. The backs will run behind a line full of returning starters, led by All-America right tackle Shawn Andrews.

Leading receivers George Wilson, Richard Smith and DeCori Birmingham are back. A push finally has been made to throw to talented tight ends Jason Peters and Jared Hicks.

DEFENSIVE KEYS:

Arkansas creates plenty of turnovers with its speed and multiple schemes. But the Hogs only can improve from their ninth-place ranking in the SEC in total defense if they limit the big plays that plagued them last fall. That starts up front where a pass rush is badly needed. The defensive line appears to be the team's weakest area for a second straight year, though converted linebacker Jeb Huckeba could be the answer at rush end.

The good news is that all of the linebackers and most of the secondary return. Outside linebacker Tony Bua and cornerback Lawrence Richardson are among the SEC's best at their spots. But one gaping hole must be filled: free safety, where All-SEC performer Ken Hamlin bolted early for the NFL. Lerinezo Robinson is the likely successor, but he was slowed in spring practice while recovering from shoulder surgery.

SPECIAL TEAMS:

David Carlton gives Arkansas its best combination of field-goal range and accuracy in at least 10 years. A new punter must be found from among Brennan O'Donohoe and signee Jacob Skinner. Marvin Jackson, who was a touchdown threat in 2001, returns to field punts after missing last season with an ACL tear.

FINAL ANALYSIS:

SEC offensive and defensive coordinators figured out how to attack the Razorbacks: Stack the line and make the Hogs try to throw, which they couldn't, and on the other side, throw deep against the man-to-man pass coverage until you hit a few big plays. Arkansas has to be more creative in the passing game -- like it was in the spring. On defense, the line has to improve its productivity so coordinator Dave Wommack doesn't have to commit safeties to run support as much as he did last year. That left the cornerbacks playing man-to-man coverage almost full time, and that proved to be too much. Overall, Arkansas should be better. But it might not show in the record against a beefed-up schedule that includes a non-conference date at Texas.

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