Another 2,500-yard rushing season for the Razorbacks went into the books last year. Alex Collins, Kody Walker and Rawleigh Williams were able to eventually get the ground game back on track behind the largest offensive line in football. I think we are all tired of that line, and hopefully it will fade away. Anything that can be done to prevent the same graphic showing all the heights and weight, ten times a game? Anyway...next year's rushing offense.
In the eight conference games and Liberty Bowl Alex Collins put up 1053 yards on 195 carries behind that offensive line. Only Alabama and Mississippi State kept him under 100 yards. Great quarterback play was able to pick up for some of the lack of rushing attack in those games, but with a new starter next season the rushing aspect of the game must get going sooner than last year.
Success on the ground last season in wins over Tennessee, Auburn, Ole Miss, LSU and Missouri carried into the Liberty Bowl where the Hogs piled up 254 yards rushing. Can that trend be resumed next season and who will get most of the carries?
Here is a quick look at what the rushing attack looked like for Arkansas in SEC play and the bowl game.
Rushing breakdown by direction. (Where the play started)
Not only did Arkansas run right at teams, they narrowed it down to between the guards. There were not many plays designed to go C Gap (outside the tackle) or wider. There were a few tricks with delayed handoffs and play actions that Brandon Allen mastered. But for the most part this team ran inside the tackles on a consistent basis.
Surprisingly, Kody Walker had a few more outside runs later in the season as teams sent extra run defenders into the box when he was in the game. Next season that may be a key point to watch - whether Walker can get to the outside and has the speed to turn a 2-3 yard gain into 15-20 or if Dan Enos asks him to blast the tough yards regardless of front. It's all about tendencies and unless the Arkansas offense can have some plays that keep the edge defenders honest, those inside the tackles yards will be tough to come by even for a 250 lb back like Walker.
One back or two back I?
Early in the season Dan Enos called more 1 back sets. As the season progressed they used both Collins and Walker more behind a fullback or a TE lined up at Fullback. This excerpt goes into detail on the philosophy of moving the fullback (hback or te) around to cause extra gaps in the defensive front.
A lot of coaches think you have to get into overloaded or heavy sets to create gap problems, and that simply is NOT the case. You can create gap problems with I formation plays just by moving the fullback around. Put him in a wing position, put him just insight the tight end, put him in the off-set position to the strong or weakside and "pull" him across the formation (AKA... if you run power-o with the fullback kicking out and the guard wrapping, you can easily run counter with the fullback and guard switching repsonsibilities).Strong Football Coach.com
How this plays out and who can fill that fullback role when they use one and the Hback spot that Sprinkle executed. Austin Cantrell and Will Gragg would be the natural thought along with Jack Kraus. The roster lists four players as a true fullback with Kendrick Jackson, but most think he will be moved back to LB. Chris Jones played quite a few downs as the lead face smasher and provides a sound option. Arkansas signed a true freshman they hope will be able to make a quick impact at fullback in Hayden Johnson.
Most productive run schemes in 2015.
Top 2: Lead Draw, Inside Zone,
Over and over, Dan Enos called this and it produced some big plays.
The key player to watch is Dan Skipper at right tackle. Allen takes the same drop as he would on playaction and the DE shoots inside. This gives an easy angle for Skipper to wash him down inside.
This is how it happens: On the first step of Lead Draw, all offensive linemen will pass set to show a "high hat" read to the defense encouraging DLs to get into pass rush lanes and LBs to drop into coverage. The fullback/lead back reads the covered play-side guard to go inside or outside his block depending on the rush of the DT.
Arkansas ran this play at least 5-6 times each game, with spikes against Missouri and LSU who had more trouble defending this scheme.
In this zone running scheme, Alex Collins could take multiple paths, set up a cut back, cut against his own cut back and generally freelance at the line of scrimmage. The oline blocks more aggressive than the high hat look of the lead draw and can fire off in a zone step and use those zone rules against any front. BOB (big on big) blocking and the ability to slide to the second level for the interior oline made this play highly successful.
Teams can group Iso, Lead Draw and Counter together and Arkansas did so frequently.
How can the run game be efficient without Alex Collins and the 1623 yards that he racked up last year?
-Outside of Alabama and Miss St games, they were able to pick up gains on 1st down allowing more options on 2nd and short. (play action, reverses, screen etc)
-Series play calling. Opposing defenses had more trouble diagnosing what Dan Enos had dialed up than with the previous offense . Give credit to him and the experience of a fifth year senior at QB. This series shows how Enos set up and called plays that look identical, and kept the defense out of position. Lead draw, Lead Iso, Counter and the play action off of those plays were key components of the late season resurgence in the rushing game.
Bielema has always wanted to have two main backs and rotate a third in certain situations. Right now, however, there are questions all over the place at the running back position. Do we see running back by committee, dividing between the three, or will Kody Walker be the #1 and get the majority? Rawleigh Williams is supposed to be able to return this season after showing some promising flashes last fall, but will he be as good as he was? We all hope so, but will have to wait and see. How much of an immediate impact will incoming freshmen Devwah Whaley and T.J. Hammonds have? We've all seen freshmen be successful at running back, but will they be good enough right away to shoulder the load?
In my opinion I think it will be Walker getting in the range of 50% of the carries although I'm not convinced Walker can be the guy to consistently produce what Alex Collins was able (who is?). I like his tough short yardage runs and pass blocking skills, but I'm not certain he can be counted on to consistently break off that 10-12 yarder or make bodies miss on his own. Does either Juan Day or Denzell Evans have the ability to get a few carries per game to lighten the load?
What made Alex Collins so troublesome to defend was the ability to manufacture a positive gain when a defender had him in their sights. Those unexpected cut backs that left the would be tackler grasping air will be absent. Asking any of the guys on the roster break so many tackles is not a winning strategy in my opinion. Collins painted over some mistakes and flaws in the offensive line with his ability. Watch for more 2-back sets next season as occurred later in the year with Walker in the I formation. He has a 1-cut follow a lead blocker approach, in stark contrast to Collins and the zone blocking read concepts that were used more in 2015.
The bottom line is that someone will need to add a consistent threat in addition to Kody Walker to keep teams honest up front and allow an inexperienced quarterback to shoulder less of the pressure.