Season-long report card: Arkansas
Here are some grades from Arkansas’ 2014 season:
To say Arkansas’ offense was one-dimensional this season would be quite the understatement. The Hogs ranked 24th in the FBS in rushing offense averaging 218.0 yards per game behind a pair of 1,000-yard backs in Jonathan Williams and Alex Collins. Head coach Bret Bielema and offensive coordinator Jim Chaney relied on a physical, downhill rushing attack to average 31.9 points per game. The Razorbacks were efficient, but not explosive, in the passing game. Productive seasons from tight ends A.J. Derby and Hunter Henry provided quarterback Brandon Allen with reliable targets in the short to intermediate passing game.
Defensive coordinator Robb Smith just received an extension and raise this week, well-deserved for a coach who turned the Razorbacks defense into a top-10 unit. The Hogs ranked No. 10 in the FBS in total defense, No. 10 in scoring defense, No. 12 in rushing defense and No. 37 in passing defense. Seniors Trey Flowers and Martrell Spaight had monster seasons for Arkansas, anchoring arguably the best front seven in the SEC. Those two, coupled with defensive tackle Darius Philon, formed a three-headed monster that terrorized opposing offenses.
SPECIAL TEAMS: B-
Punter Sam Irwin-Hill had a solid season for Arkansas, averaging more than 40 yards per punt and highlighting his season with a touchdown on a fake punt against Texas A&M. Kicker Adam McFain was inconsistent on the field goal unit. The now-dismissed Korliss Marshall returned multiple kicks for touchdowns in 2014, but his absence leaves a hole on the kick return unit.
Bret Bielema and his staff kept getting this team to buy into its message, resulting in two resounding shutout wins over LSU and Arkansas. The Razorbacks won three of its final four games, backed by Bielema’s physical, run-first approach proving a Big Ten style of play can win in the SEC. The second-year head coach made what is perhaps the most underrated hire of the year bringing Smith over from the NFL. Without the transformation of the defense, Arkansas is not a seven-win team.
Year two of the Bielema experiment was a success, considering where the Razorbacks closed the 2013 season. The strong end to the season ought to position the Hogs as a preseason top 25 team in 2015. Bielema has injected a wealth of energy and charisma into the program, which is paying off on the recruiting trail. If Bielema can be as successful in Fayetteville as he was at Wisconsin, fans and pundits will point to this season as the turning point.