5 areas Arkansas needs to improve
After losing the first 13 SEC games of coach Bret Bielema’s tenure, Arkansas unleashed its pent-up frustrations on Ole Miss and LSU, winning by a combined 47-0.
Along with a dominant non-conference performance, it was enough to get the Razorbacks back to a bowl game, where the team lit up Texas, 31-7.
Overall, it was a momentum-building season for a program that had been in the dumps since the infamous motorcycle wreck/scandal involving former coach Bobby Petrino. But climbing above the bottom rung of the SEC West won’t be easy.
What does Arkansas need to do this offseason to keep it going next season?
1. Be more explosive on offense
According to cfbstats.com, Arkansas finished 12th in the SEC in generating plays of 20+ and 30+ yards last season.
That should be priority No. 1 for new offensive coordinator Dan Enos, who left his post as Central Michigan’s head coach to accept the position. The four years before he became a head coach, he served as an offensive assistant at Michigan State. He runs a pro-style offense and comes from a fairly conservative background, but his specialty is working with quarterbacks.
Bielema told ESPN he expects only subtle changes on offense, but if the Razorbacks want to evolve from dangerous upstart to true Top 25 staple, the team must get more chunk plays, and it can’t depend solely on the running game to do so.
Whether it’s identifying and developing a star receiver or taking a few more shots down the field, Arkansas needs to find a way to make it happen.
2. Get more efficient in the passing game
Arkansas starting quarterback Brandon Allen completed just 56.0 percent of his passes. That’s pedestrian by any standard, but it’s more concerning in context: the Razorbacks attempted a ton of high-percentage, easy throws to tight ends off play-action.
Allen’s 6.7 yards per attempt and 56 percent completion rate were career highs, and better health had something to do with that. But he must take another step forward as a senior.
With a huge offensive line and a backfield that again will include Alex Collins and Jonathan Williams (not to mention Enos and an improving selection of pass-catching targets), there’s no excuse for Allen to complete fewer than 60 percent of his attempts in 2015.
3. Develop impact DL to replace Trey Flowers and Darius Philon
These two players, along with linebacker Martrell Spaight, were as responsible for the team’s leap forward in 2014 as any other players.
The Arkansas front seven rivaled the best in the country last season, but now must replace all three of those guys. The team desperately needs to find a couple more stars on the defensive line, or else the defense could take a definitive step back this fall and stall the program’s momentum.
Maybe Bijhon Jackson, the top-rated prospect of the 2014 class, can be that guy as a true sophomore. Three of the team’s seven early enrollees are defensive linemen, including Hjalte Froholdt, the 143rd-best overall player according to 247Sports. Four-star defensive end Jamario Bell (6-foot-6, 225 pounds) could also work his way into the lineup soon if he can add some weight to his frame.
4. Be more consistent at placekicker
Arkansas may already have solved this one by inserting Adam McFain mid-season after the Razorbacks senior John Henson struggled. McFain went 7-of-10 on field goal attempts and made all his extra points.
Still, he was just 1-of-2 on attempts longer than 40 yards, and in part due to the lack of a great kicker, the team finished 13th in the SEC in yards per kickoff return allowed.
For a team that relies on a stiff defense and a physical running game, a solid kicker is imperative, and Arkansas needs a better season from the position in 2015.
5. Learn how to win close games
The Hogs went 0-4 in one-possession games in 2014, including an overtime loss to Texas A&M, a one-point defeat to eventual SEC champion Alabama, a 17-10 loss at then-No. 1 Mississippi State and a blown second-half lead at SEC East champion Missouri.
The Razorbacks beat opponents by an average of 32 points in seven wins, the closest of which was 17-0 over LSU. The best way to ensure wins is to raze the opposition, and Arkansas has learned to do that. But the reality is the team isn’t going to blow out teams very often in the SEC West.
To win more than seven games in 2015, this team must come out on top in some close games.