Arkansas football: 5 positions the Hogs must upgrade in 2019
To put it kindly, Arkansas’ 2018 season was a total disaster. The Hogs had their first 10-loss season in program history and failed to win an SEC game.
There is hope, though, with a stellar 2019 recruiting class (by Arkansas standards, anyway) expected to arrive in Fayetteville soon. Those incoming players should receive a lot of playing time right away as the Razorbacks work toward looking like a completely different squad from the poor product they put on the field in the first season under Chad Morris.
The 2019 season is nine months away. But the countdown can’t start soon enough for the Arkansas faithful hoping to erase the memories of 2018. So, with that in mind, let’s look at five positions the Hogs need to fix immediately to improve in 2019.
Ty Storey — Arkansas’ starter at quarterback in 2018 — is an extremely tough player who clearly loves representing the Razorbacks. That doesn’t make him a special talent, though. It’s very clear the Razorbacks need a more capable player leading the offense in order to have things running anywhere near the efficiency Morris expects. So, look for Arkansas to turn to another option in 2019. That might be Clemson graduate transfer Kelly Bryant, who is expected to announce his new school next week. It could also be John Stephen Jones or Connor Noland, both of whom played sparingly and redshirted as freshmen in 2018. It’s also certainly possible 2019 quarterback commit K.J. Jefferson comes in and plays right away. If I were a betting man, my money would be on Noland. Whoever it is, it’s ideally got to be someone that’s more suited for this offense than Storey.
La’Michael Pettway had 503 receiving yards to lead Arkansas in 2018. During Morris’ nine years as an FBS offensive coordinator and head coach, that’s the lowest total he’s had for a leading receiver by more than 300 yards. So while Storey clearly wasn’t anything special and the offensive line struggled (we’ll get to that next), the 2018 Hogs were also subpar at receiver. Morris’ offense needs big-play wideouts to thrive, and Arkansas clearly didn’t have that within the roster he inherited. That should soon change, though, with three big, 4-star receivers committed in the 2019 class.
Offensive line coach Sam Pittman left Arkansas for Georgia following the 2015 season and the position group hasn’t been the same since. The Hogs very quickly went from having arguably the best offensive line in the SEC to possibly the worst in what felt like the blink of an eye. There’s no denying Pittman’s departure played a significant role in the failure of the Bret Bielema era. And that’s a mess Morris and Co. are left to clean up. The new offensive scheme can do some creative things to work around a poor offensive front, but until better linemen arrive, there’s simply no chance at being relevant in the SEC West. The problems are especially evident at tackle as seen in the video below.
— WOOPIGSOOIE (@W00PIGS000IE) November 17, 2018
In the first year under defensive coordinator John Chavis, Arkansas’ pass rush clearly improved. The Hogs had 26 sacks in 2018, finishing the middle of the pack in the SEC a year after finishing comfortably in dead last with just 19 sacks. However, there wasn’t much help from the edge, which is where Chavis’ defense typically thrives. In what was an underwhelming season for him, Randy Ramsey led Arkansas defensive ends with 3 sacks while he battled injuries and played in just 10 games.
There’s some potential help coming with pass-rushing specialist Mataio Soli set to sign as part of the 2019 class in December. With players such as Soli coming in, the defensive ends on the roster will be forced to elevate their play or risk being passed over very soon.
As expected, Ryan Pulley was very clearly Arkansas’ top cover corner in 2018. In fact, he led the SEC in ball hawk rate (the percentage of pass breakup and interceptions on targets of 10 yards or more) during his 11 games played. While Pulley still has one year of eligibility remaining, it’s very possible he passes that up for a shot at the NFL. Especially after Morris suspended Pulley and safety Kamren Curl for the final week of 2018 for an act that was far from the most egregious thing you’ll ever hear about. If Pulley is gone, the Hogs clearly need some players to step up at cornerback. But that’s honestly true even if he’s back. Despite Pulley’s impressive season, Arkansas still allowed an SEC-worst 10.3 yards per pass attempt.