On Saturday the Hogs picked back up where they left off after the Texas Bowl last year. The team came out swinging and closed the game out by scoring 48 points and pummeling poor UTEP. This was exactly the way real teams handle season openers.
Brandon Allen was near perfect against UTEP. He finished the day early with 14 of 18 for 4 touchdowns and 308 yards. It was reported on the SEC Network that his performance was good for 4th best QBR in several years by an SEC quarterback at 99.4. Not too shabby, BA, have yourself a day. I think Allen's grade is pretty obvious, so I'll comment on Austin Allen. While he saw very little action - so we shouldn't jump to conclusions - but I can't help but comment on how large the talent gap seems to be between Brandon and everyone else. It's been mentioned before, but I'll say it again: Brandon Allen is a GOOD quarterback, and actually makes this team better. We've seen him transform over the years and it's an understatement to say that BA has come a long way. I'm a BA fan, and you should be too.
Alex Collins averaged over 10 yards a carry and scored a TD while racking up 127 yards. This may surprise some, but I was expecting more yards and touchdowns from the guy, but don't misconstrue that for me being unimpressed with his performance. He was great. Moving on. Kody Walker didn't impress on the stat sheet, but he looked like the Tasmanian Devil on some of his carries. The aggression with which he plays looks like a heavyweight fighter breaking through the defensive line. Dude is downright scary to tackle and never went down against a single defender. He's going to be big at short down yardage plays, and will be a great change of pace back to wear out the defense. Lastly, Rawleigh Williams had an admirable outing for his first ever college game. He may be raw, but he showed promise and patience. If anything he needs to pick his lanes and make his cuts quicker. All in all I'm happy with our backfield.
So much to say! Keon Hatcher - huge game and finally looks like the true #1 that we need and he started to become at the end of last year. Cornelius - 58 yard TD anyone? Morgan - 26 yard screen pass with some extra effort to earn the score. Jeremy Sprinkle - a freak that looks like Lebron James bounding down the field, only criticism is that he needs to play to his size and not be afraid to put his body against a the undersize CBs in the game. And of course, Hunter Henry doing his thing. Our receiving corps is going to be much improved from last year, I think we can all agree on that. What I'm most excited for though, is Dominique Reed taking the top off of the defenses. He could've easily had 2 TDs on Saturday, and I don't see him scoring less than 8 TDs this year. More importantly, he provides that added dimension that will only allow our other receivers to get more open.
Pass protection was tremendous considering UTEP certainly looked prepared on their defensive line. This group is huge (if you hadn't heard) and it will take the best of the SEC to get the better of them when Allen drops back to pass. I was not as happy with the run blocking, but that's not to say they didn't do a good job. The holes weren't as big as I was expecting against UTEP and more than that, the backs had trouble reaching the second level of the defense. Without Collins' huge second quarter run, the rest of the production wasn't great. Look for this unit to improve substantially against Toledo.
Easily my favorite players currently on the team. Demarcus Hodge had the lone sack along with 2 TFLs. He spearheaded the line which absolutely stoned the opposing running backs. They looked fast, mean, and large. I'm even comfortable saying this year's line will be better than last year's. I definitely think as a whole, this unit is improved, even if they don't have the single amazing player like Flowers. In a backup role, Jeremiah Ledbetter was able to lead the team in tackles which is downright amazing. Along with the talent we saw, I'm excited to see Froholdt get his feet wet and emerge. I think this group is only going to get nastier as the year goes on and I'm excited!
Josh Williams, Brooks Ellis, and Khalia Hackett all had 7 tackles with the former two also earning a TFL. Looks like this group is going to be just fine. I think there will be a drop off in production in run support - Spaight can't be replaced - but Ellis, Hackett and Williams are fast, athletic, and can deliver. Ellis is poised to have several picks, and Williams looks really comfortable at MLB. Of course we all know how much Bielema likes Hackett, so the dude will likely ball this season too. It can't be overstated that Rob Smith has a knack for getting production out of players that may not have been highly recruited.
So, Toliver may have just earned himself a starting role this season after a freakish performance. Granted it was UTEP, Toliver looked like a pro. He swatted, then picked a short pass to start the second half, and even recorded two TFLs. His emergence completely caught me by surprise. I liked what I saw last year, but didn't expect to see him own UTEP. Ultimately, the secondary did their thing and looks to be solid as ever, holding UTEP to under 150 yards through the air
Cole Hedlund nailed both of his field goals under 30 yards, as the #1 high school kicker of 2014 should. Kickoff coverage was average. I fear we might have a kickoff or two run back on us this year unless a change is made. When UTEP gets 30 yards on a deep kickoff than we are in trouble. All in all, it looks like Arkansas is going to have less kicker-related stress than we're used to. I'm still awoken from nightmares featuring Alex Tejada kicking our season away.
It's really pointless reading into and deconstructing a season opener between two teams with a vast talent discrepancy. All you can really do with any validity is note any struggles. All in all, the team seems largely improved at every position. I think this is a team that can do big things this year, and after seeing the game on Saturday I'm only becoming more sure about this. The team looks honed and ready to play. What's more exciting is that certain units are going to make a big leap forward this year. Be prepared for a multidimensional Arkansas team that can compete with the best of the SEC West, and by association, the best in the country.