Arkansas football: Final grades for the 2020 season
Arkansas’ otherwise overachieving season came to a brutal end Saturday.
Although no one expected the Hogs to beat Alabama, the 52-3 demolition came as a bit of a shock on Senior Day. It was the 1st time all season that the Razorbacks were held without a touchdown as they fell to 3-7.
The game was close after a quarter, with a punt return touchdown being the only reason Alabama led 10-3. However, the Crimson Tide outscored Arkansas 28-0 in the 2nd quarter to essentially cement the victory by halftime.
Try as they might, the Razorbacks were helpless to overcome a deficit that large.
It was an underwhelming end to an otherwise great season in Fayetteville. First-year coach Sam Pittman shattered their losing streaks and restored hope to a once proud program. Treylon Burks emerged as a star. Barry Odom turned the defense around and produced some incredible single-game performances.
If things continue in this trend and Pittman ultimately completes the turnaround at Arkansas, this year will be remembered fondly as the start of it all. It isn’t even completed yet, as there is still hope for a bowl bid.
Here are the final grades for the Hogs in 2020:
In any typical year, going 3-7 would not garner an A+ coaching grade. But this is no average season.
Arkansas was coming off the most desolate stretch in program history. The Razorbacks hadn’t won a conference game since 2017 when Pittman took over. He rectified that by his 2nd game.
Pittman grew up in nearby Grove, Okla. His personality and demeanor seem to fit like a glove at Arkansas, even after only 1 season. He had his team prepared to play every week, and it managed to stay competitive when it wasn’t facing a top-10 opponent.
Coordinators Odom and Kendal Briles also deserve credit for the improvements.
It was a rough end to the year, as the Hogs lost their final 4 games. But let’s not forget Pittman was garnering Coach of the Year consideration after they started 3-3.
People won’t be satisfied with 3-7 every year. But for Pittman’s 1st season, it was better than even the most optimistic of Razorbacks fans could have imagined.
QB play: B
Franks filled his role perfectly this season.
He was ultimately meant to smooth the transition between coaching staffs and provide experience and leadership to a mostly young team. It’s hard to think the Razorbacks would be here without him.
They say quarterbacks are supposed to be an on-field extension of the coach. Franks certainly was that leader for the Razorbacks. Considering how awful the Razorbacks’ quarterback situation was during the Chad Morris era, Franks was a welcome break. He became the first Arkansas QB to throw for 2,000-plus yards since Austin Allen in 2016.
Now Pittman can focus on developing his next quarterback, likely KJ Jefferson.
Running game: C
The Razorbacks’ running game was thought to be their strong suit heading into 2020.
While solid, the Hogs were also somewhat underwhelming on the ground. They averaged 151 yards per game (80th in the NCAA). Rakeem Boyd dealt with injuries all year and never looked like himself. He opted out with 2 games remaining and finished with just 309 yards.
Trelon Smith filled in well, averaging 5.3 yards per carry. He was heavily involved in the receiving game early on, but that role changed as he took on more carries with Boyd out. He finished with more than 700 yards rushing, including 172 yards and 3 touchdowns in the loss to Missouri.
Arkansas brings in a few running back prospects this offseason, so Smith should be getting help in the backfield.
Burks could be the best player on this team.
The sophomore receiver improved on an already impressive freshman campaign. He finished with 820 yards and 7 touchdowns and provided us with a highlight catch in the game against Ole Miss. He finished with 90 or more yards in 6 games, including a career-high 206 against Missouri.
The Hogs’ receiving corps was dangerous for more than Burks, though.
Mike Woods developed into a deep threat as the season went on. He had a combined 269 yards on just 6 catches (44.8 yards per catch) against Florida and LSU. De’Vion Warren was having a career year before an injury ended his season.
Woods and Burks both return next season, so whoever the quarterback is will still have a pair of reliable weapons.
Offensive line: C
The offensive line will get a lot better under Pittman, but it was simply average in his 1st season.
The line had a sack rate of 8.5 percent and a power success rate (3rd or 4th downs with 2 yards or less to go converted) of 60 percent. That ranked 101st and 106th in FBS, respectively.
Football Outsiders estimates that it was responsible for 2.74 yards per carry, which ranks 48th.
Three of the 5 starters return next season, and the Hogs add 3 linemen in their recruiting class. I expect this unit to improve dramatically in 2021.
Pass defense: B
Outside of Florida’s Kyle Trask, Arkansas did a solid job containing opposing quarterbacks.
Their 1.3 interceptions per game ranks 16th in the country, though a majority of that came from when they forced 6 picks against Ole Miss. They also averaged 1.4 sacks per game.
Odom’s 3-man front allowed the Hogs to focus on stopping the pass more effectively this year. Odom’s strategy had him being mentioned as a candidate for the Broyles Award for best assistant coach earlier in the season.
Arkansas returns a good chunk of their production on defense next year. Jalen Catalon, Hudson Clark, Bumper Pool and Joe Foucha are all back. That spells nightmares for opposing quarterbacks in the future.
Run defense: C
The Razorbacks gave up 100-yard rushing games to individuals 5 times this season.
They allowed 192.1 yards per game on the ground, which ranked 96th in the country and 2nd-to-last in the SEC. That regression in run defense is only natural with how much attention the Hogs put on stopping the pass.
Losses of Grant Morgan and Jonathan Marshall, their leaders in tackles for loss, won’t help heading into next year. If Arkansas is to get better at stopping the run, other players will have to step up.
Overall GPA: 2.9
A lot went right for Arkansas in 2020.
The Hogs found a coach they can get behind in Pittman. That creates a lot of excitement about the future of the program as they can start to think about competing within their conference over the next couple of years.
That said, there is still a long way to go, as indicated by the 2.9 GPA.
But Burks and some of the defensive players provide a lot of returning talent for the Razorbacks. If Pittman can pair that with hidden gems in the next couple of recruiting classes, we could be looking at a winning season before too long.