Listen, I know the season's just halfway over, but it's very apparent Arkansas has improved in nearly all aspects this season compared to last. To be blunt, Arkansas was just a flat out bad football team a year ago, but they've now turned the corner is some regards this season.
There are a number of units, positions and even players you could point to to prove this point. Brandon Allen, the offensive line and the secondary, who has had its bad moments, have really entered the season with a different mentality and a brand new swagger.
That swagger was not nonexistent last season minus Deatrich Wise's sack on Johnny Manziel, leading to him to break into the Kappa shimmy. The defense definitely improved late in the season when we began to see Arkansas playing the style of ball Bielema wants to establish in Fayetteville, and it's carried over into this season even with a change in leadership.
But the most noticeable difference is the big guys up front. Arkansas' offensive line has been tremendous in about 75 percent of games this season. Dan Skipper has had his moments, especially the humiliation of the poor Texas Tech defensive end who was thrown five yards behind the line of scrimmage, and the line has been utterly dominant for long stretches.
But it isn't just Skipper making an impact. Denver Kirkland's name has been thrown around as potentially one of the top NFL Draft prospects. Sam Pittman is doing a tremendous job with this group.
So how do the 2014 Razorbacks compare to the 2013 Razorbacks? Do they even compare? In some areas it's nearly impossible to compare (offensive line) because of the drastic improvement, but I'll give it a shot:
Brandon Allen is not the same quarterback he was a season ago, even before his freak injury against Southern Miss. Last year he was still trying to adapt to the speed and skill of SEC defenses meanwhile dealing with a beat-up shoulder. this season he's 100 percent, and it's showing.
He is much more accurate and ranks in the top 7 in QBR in the SEC through six games. Allen's footwork, which was an issue last year, has improved leaps and bounds. Another part of his game I've noticed this season is he isn't bailing out of the pocket once his first read isn't open. He's done well this season protecting the ball outside of the botched snap in Dallas, and has limited his mistakes, large in part to his offensive line. His interception to seal the win for Alabama was a bad decision, but overall he didn't have a bad game. It wasn't one of his best, but he wasn't bad.
The passing game wasn't one of Arkansas' strong points last year, and part of it was the lack of talent and skill at the position. Keon Hatcher was one of the few threats Arkansas had through the air. Javontee Herndon and Julian Horton were taken out of games, leaving Hatcher and Hunter Henry to shoulder most of the load.
This season Hatcher has been very reliable. Other than the drop on the deep ball in the opener at Auburn, he's been terrific. There have also not been as many dropped passes, a sign that guys' minds are in the right place. The 2014 receiving corps is head and shoulder better than last season's.
Where do you begin comparing the two defenses? Arkansas had one of the more experienced defensive fronts in the SEC, and could have been utterly dominant had Robert Thomas not gone down with an injury. The 2014 defensive line is young, but loaded with potential. Many of the playmakers in the front four are sophomores, and coaches and fans have to be excited about that.
The linebackers unit is much more stable this season. Martrell Spaight, Brooks Ellis and Braylon Mitchell have done a solid job in the run game and covering the underneath routes. They still have to improve on working in space, but they've been very serviceable thus far. Compared to last seasons group of linebackers, this unit is much more mature, able and experienced. Depth at the position isn't great, but it's better. Randy Ramsey and Daunte Carr have stepped in nicely.
In the back end, the secondary has done well adapting to a new DBs coach and defense coordinator. There seemed to be a real disconnect between players and coaches last season, but they've certainly responded positively to new leadership. I mean, any time you give up a career day to Bo Wallce, you've got some work to do.
I've been surprised at how quickly it seems the DBs have bought in to Robb Smith's aggressive philosophy. It's already paying dividends, too, forcing turnovers and giving the offense extra chances to put points on the board.