Arkansas football: Can the Hogs sustain their early success on the ground?
The way Arkansas played against Texas on Saturday provided flashbacks.
The Hogs dominated the Longhorns on the ground on their way to a 40-21 upset victory. They rushed for 333 yards, and 4 Hogs ran for at least 50 yards. They attacked with a variety of different players, wearing out the Texas defense.
“Over time, they kind of wore us out,” Longhorns coach Steve Sarkisian said. “We couldn’t sustain any drives offensively, so our defense was on the field to a point where they got wore out. I mean, 47 rushing attempts, we just never put any pressure on them to feel like they had to throw the ball. They were running it and leaning on us. Part of that is we just didn’t get enough done offensively to take any pressure off of our defense.”
Following the victory, Arkansas entered the AP poll for the first time since 2016 at No. 20.
The Hogs used speedy running back Trelon Smith to force the Longhorns to chase and power back Raheim Sanders to run them over. Then dual-threat quarterback KJ Jefferson kept them on their toes. It was the recipe for success, and it forms the identity of this team moving forward.
The Razorbacks obviously have a rich history when it comes to running backs. From Darren McFadden to Felix Jones to Jonathan Williams, the backfield is typically loaded in Fayetteville.
In the small 2-game sample size from 2021, the Hogs are averaging 289 yards rushing per game — good for 3rd in the SEC. They averaged just 151.3 a year ago.
Part of the improvement comes from a more experienced offensive line. Arkansas coach Sam Pittman, a former offensive line coach, spent the offseason whipping the unit into shape.
The result was an average of 7.1 yards per carry against the Longhorns.
Arkansas has scored 9 touchdowns on offense. Eight came on the ground, tied for most in the SEC. All 4 of the Razorbacks’ touchdowns against Texas were of the rushing variety. And all 4 came from a different player.
Freshman running back AJ Green capped things off with a 30-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter. It was the longest score of the day, with Sanders’ 26-yard scamper next.
After leaning on quarterback Feleipe Franks in 2020, it appears the offensive focus has shifted. Although Jefferson made plays through the air and finished with a stellar 74% completion rate Saturday, he threw for just 138 yards. That was 10 more yards than he threw for in the opening win over Rice. He also has thrown 2 INTs, but just 1 TD pass.
The attention to the running game has led to a couple of underwhelming performances from star receiver Treylon Burks. A preseason Biletnikoff candidate, he has just 79 yards on 10 catches through the first 2 games. With Franks, he averaged 91.1 yards per game in 2020.
Don’t expect him to stay that quiet for long, however. Pro Football Focus touted Burks as one of the best receivers in college football. Once he and Jefferson find a rhythm, or Arkansas is forced to pass more, the offense will only get that much more dangerous.
Saturday against Georgia Southern offers one more tune-up before beginning SEC play the following week. The Hogs face a brutal Texas A&M defense on Sept. 25 before traveling to face Georgia.
Can their run game stand the test against two of the SEC’s toughest defenses? We’ll soon find out, but so far, so very good.