Arkansas football: 5 things that will define the Razorbacks' offense in 2021
With spring camp in the books, Razorbacks football fans learned a little more about their squad.
There is plenty of optimism coming off Sam Pittman’s inaugural season. Arkansas snapped a 20-game SEC losing streak, the longest in school history, on its way to a better-than-expected 3-7 finish.
Now, they’ll look to continue to climb the ladder.
Feleipe Franks was a great transition year quarterback, but now Pittman will turn to KJ Jefferson and hope he can build something the next few seasons. Arkansas isn’t quite “back,” but the Hogs have gained the attention and respect of the rest of the conference. There’s a lot of talent and reason to believe winning seasons are on the horizon.
Why such optimism? Start with the fact Arkansas returns all of its starters except for Franks, Jonathan Marshall and Mike Woods, who recently entered the transfer portal. That’s typically a good sign, and fans will hope the team can carry over its attitude from last season and continue to get better.
For the offense, that means easing in a new quarterback, finding a replacement for Woods and much more. Here are 5 things that will define the Arkansas offense in 2020:
1. How good a QB1 can KJ Jefferson be?
It’s widely assumed that Jefferson will replace Franks as the starting quarterback. He looked great in the spring game, finishing 6-of-11 for 153 yards and 2 touchdowns despite playing just one half.
His scores were both for more than 30 yards, one going to Treylon Burks and the other to Mike Woods. With Jefferson as quarterback, the White team amassed a 17-3 lead by the end of the first quarter. He also played well in his lone start of 2020, recording 4 total touchdowns in a shootout loss to Missouri.
Nobody questions his potential. Listed at 6-3, 240 pounds, he could also potentially present a problem as a runner near the goal line. He hasn’t disappointed so far in his limited action, but the pressure is about to increase immensely.
Franks threw for 2,107 yards with 17 TDs against just 4 INTs last season in 9 games against SEC teams.
Does Jefferson have what it takes to surpass those numbers and become the first multi-year starter of the Pittman era? We’re about to find out.
2. Who will replace Mike Woods as WR2?
Woods played in Arkansas’ spring game before strangely announcing, 3 days later, he was entering the transfer portal. He was set to be the No. 2 threat behind Treylon Burks, who will enter 2021 as one of the top wideouts in the SEC. As a duo, they might have been the SEC’s best.
So, yes, the loss stings. Woods finished second on the team in 2020 with 619 yards and 5 touchdowns. He proved a reliable deep threat and the absence of his big-play potential leaves a hole in the offense. It’s unclear who will replace him.
Trey Knox had a bit of a sophomore slump last year after a promising freshman season in 2019. Could he make a resurgence? De’Vion Warren is back for a 5th season after his year was cut short by injury. Will he pick up where he left off — in the midst of a career year?
A dark horse candidate is Oklahoma transfer Jaquayln Crawford, who had 3 catches for 23 yards in the spring game. John David White led all receivers with 5 catches for 87 yards and a touchdown in the spring game, but he did not record a catch in 2020.
None of these fill-ins figure to match the explosiveness Woods brought, but the question still looms. So does the opportunity to impress.
3. Which running backs will carve out bigger roles?
After Rakeem Boyd opted out toward the end of last season, Trelon Smith took over as the No. 1 running back.
I expect him to again lead the team in carries this season, but he should have more help. We could even potentially see a split as the season progresses and younger players get more comfortable.
It will be interesting to see how the Razorbacks incorporate true freshman Raheim “Rocket” Sanders, whom Pittman said after the spring game he wants to get involved. Sanders was a standout receiver in high school, but Pittman likes his size and physicality as a running back. There’s also Dominique Johnson, who had 6 carries for 61 yards in the spring game.
Running back depth is a lot better this season, so I don’t expect Smith to keep a bell-cow role even though he might start with the bulk of the carries.
4. How will the offensive line improve?
Being that Pittman spent the entirety of his Division I coaching career prior to 2020 as an offensive line coach, people expect that the Razorbacks’ line will improve dramatically in the coming years.
We saw small steps in the right direction, but even Pittman acknowledged there is a long way to go. Luckily, he gets all 5 of his starters back from last season, so there is more time for them to soak up his wisdom.
Arkansas ranked 113th in sack rate and 104th in power success rate last season. Those numbers have to be better this year, especially with a less experienced quarterback. Franks might have been able to remain efficient despite the high sack rate, but will Jefferson operate the same?
5. Who will break out?
Each season there is always at least one player who blossoms from relatively unknown to become a key part of the team.
Arkansas had several last season, from De’Vion Warren on offense to Hudson Clark on defense. This year, at least offensively, there are a couple of players I think could fit that bill.
First is Jaquayln Crawford, the receiver who transferred from Oklahoma. With Woods’ departure, Crawford has the opportunity fill the role of No. 2 or No. 3 receiver. He was a 4-star out of high school and visited Arkansas before signing with the Sooners.
The second is tight end Hudson Henry, who is entering his third season. You know the family history. Hudson came highly touted out of high school, but injuries have prevented him from realizing his potential. He had 16 catches, including his first TD, in 5 games last season. He also has the potential to take some of the targets Woods left behind.