Film Study: With or without Jonathan Williams, Arkansas' rushing attack will shine
You know that feeling you get in your stomach around 4:00 am after you’ve gone to the dark side and downed a decent variety of Taco Bell’s latest offerings? Well, that’s the exact feeling I got when I received a tip that the great University of Arkansas running back Jonathan Williams had injured his foot in practice and the preliminary thoughts weren’t good.
And when the official word was put out that Williams would, indeed, miss the entirety of the 2015 regular season that feeling in my stomach turned up about 400 degrees. Many, especially those of you who follow my work closely, are probably attributing that feeling to my having just published a piece on Williams being “The Most Complete RB in the Country,” that generated a ton of pub on message boards and social media. (Especially considering Williams retweeted the article on Twitter.)
And, of course, that’s part of it.
But I’ve professed my professional love for the Hogs’ rushing attack numerous times since my John Hancock hit the paper for the greatest website covering our beloved conference, Saturday Down South. One of my very first articles was on how one of my all-time favorite head coaches, Bret Bielema, along with highly touted RB Alex Collins and Williams would “Restore Arkansas Football Quickly,” and I even opined that the Hogs have the “Most Complete Run Game in College Football.”
However, with the injury to Williams, the common sentiment has been that Arkansas no longer deserves the momentum its generated during an offseason that saw it become a chic pick to make some serious noise in the Southeastern Conference’s Western Division, and, perhaps, on a national level. While I never fully bought into the latter part of that statement, I do believe Arkansas shouldn’t fear any opponent it lines up across from, but making a leap of that magnitude would take some serious breaks as the Hogs do have questions marks at a few key positions.
And they must now prove they can take their act on the road in some serious hostile environments.
But as it pertains to this particular setback, albeit a major one, I don’t think the Hogs will miss a beat as the running back corps is still filled with talent that can pick up the slack of Williams’ vast skill set, and in some ways, it may gain in certain areas. I know it’s hard to believe right now, Hog Nation, but all your goals are still in front of you as the rushing attack should be the least of your worries.
My confidence in Bielema, especially as it pertains to establishing the line of scrimmage on offense, stems first and foremost from his ability to get the most out of his offensive line units. I’ve waxed poetic countless times on how his units at the University of Wisconsin were second to none in terms of player development, and when you meshed it with his approach, which was in conjunction with noted offensive mind Paul Chryst’s, you had the makings of a rushing juggernaut.
Power, Counter, Iso, Draws, Sweeps, Tosses, from under center or in the “Gun,” is just beginning to scratch the surface on how vast the run concepts are in a Bielema scheme. So it becomes hard to differentiate just how talented the backs are in his programs as every single one of them has seen a good deal of success, especially when you consider none of that success has translated over into the professional ranks. (The great Melvin Gordon will undoubtedly buck that trend, though.)
And I’m completely confident that the entire operation will be business as usual behind a host of capable RBs.
The article I received the most enjoyment from in writing was a piece I did on expected starting fullback Kody Walker, as his performance in the annual spring game was nothing short of ferocious. Now with the injury to Williams, we may get even more of a chance to see if Walker can “Wreck the SEC,” this time as the complement to one Alex Collins.
In some aspects, the Razorbacks may upgrade with the Walker-Collins duo being at the forefront, as I highlighted, in-depth, how Williams’ natural instinct was that of a slasher opposed to an authentic power back; his make-you-miss ability was severely underrated. We already know that Collins might be the premier make-you-miss back in the conference, so the Hogs won’t miss out on that aspect, but no back on the roster runs as physical as Walker.
But if you think that’s all he is, you’re in for a rude awakening come this fall.
Check out the developments in the above sequence: Walker showed off his unique short-area agility on this “Power O” run against Texas Tech University. A 6’2″, 256-pound man shouldn’t have feet like that, but he made a couple of approaching defenders miss in close quarters like one might expect from Collins or Williams. The fact that he is adept at crushing defenders and making them miss could bode well for his health as the seasons wanes on.
I expect a very productive season for Walker as the complement to Collins.
And I just had to include this clip because it’s so nasty!
Rawleigh Williams III
One of the more intriguing prospects I ran across this spring was former Bishop Lynch High School product Rawleigh Williams, out of Dallas TX., as I thought he had a great chance to get third-team reps as he would’ve battled with Juan Day for that role. After Day was lost with a season-ending injury in the spring, I was pretty sure we’d see Williams as much as we saw former back Korliss Marshall before he was jettisoned last season.
Then Walker showed out in the spring game.
But now the 5’11”, 205-pound Williams may end up playing the Marshall role after all. On film, he actually looked like a clone of J-Will as he possesses make-you-miss ability but can also break tackles. He looks to be as fast as Williams and will work well in the zone portion of offensive coordinator Dan Enos’ running scheme, too.
Actually, most of the runs I studied on Raw-Will were of the inside-zone variety; he displayed great short-area agility; he’s slow to the hole, but fast through it; his vision is impeccable; his burst is a necessity.
You better be ready, kid.
There’s really not much to say about Collins that hasn’t been said already. Although I preferred the running style of J-Will, there’s no doubting that Collins is the absolute truth — when his head is right. His start-and-stop ability is breathtaking, and he’s a threat to break an explosive run even when it seems as though he’ll be stopped for a short gain. But there are a lot of unknowns about Collins as the majority of the third-down reps went to Williams, as he’s the better pass-protector and pass-catcher.
His dedication to his craft has been called into question, but he’s responded quite well coming into camp a little lighter than expected.
At 5’11”, 215 pounds, Collins has the requisite size to carry the load and will undoubtedly get that shot this season. Coming off back-to-back, 1,000-yard seasons to start his career, Collins can set himself up well for the next level if he can get a grip on the nuances of the position while eclipsing the 1,000-yard mark for the third-straight season.
But it will take a total-team effort for the Hogs to achieve their goal of winning the SEC West — like in the above sequence. And don’t count out veterans like tailback Denzell Evans and FB Tyler Colquitt assisting in keeping the Razorback’s rushing attack near the top of the heap.
As great of a player as Jonathan Williams is, Arkansas shouldn’t miss a beat in the run game…and it will look good in the process.