After reading the 2018 Offensive Line Preview from Eric Harris (which you can read here), and checking in on Arkansas' 2019 recruiting class, I decided to dive a little deeper into what I believe is the biggest question mark for 2018. I won't go into player specific previews or details. I believe Eric did a great job of that already.
It's no secret that the O-Line had its fair share of struggles in pass protection during the team's 2017 campaign. We saw Austin Allen sacked 19 times in 187 pass attempts (essentially 1 of every 10). If you combine those numbers with Cole Kelley's 16 sacks in 151 attempts, it isn't a stretch to say that pass protection was rough in 2017.
Looking back at Allen's 2016 campaign, which many fans might remember quite fondly, a theme starts to emerge. In the 2016-17 season, Arkansas ranked 103rd in sacks allowed with 35. The Hogs dropped to 113th while allowing the same number of sacks last season. Yikes.
A quick peek at some more advanced metrics tell a similar story. Let's take a look at some pass-blocking specific metrics. Specifically, standard down sack rate, and passing down sack rate. I'll define these below as I dive into each one.
The standard down sack rate is simply the percentage of time the result of a play is a sack when the offense is in a standard down situation (first down, second-and-7 or fewer, third-and-4 or fewer, fourth-and-4 or fewer). Last season, Arkansas rated out at a 6.8 and 96th in the country.
Passing down sack rate, as you could have probably guessed, applies the same principle, simply for passing down situations (second-and-8 or more, third-and-5 or more, fourth-and-5 or more). The Hogs put up an 11.0 in 2017, good for 111th in the nation.
All of these fancy numbers paint a fairly clear picture. The Razorbacks struggled to keep the QB's back off of the turf last season. Those numbers won't get you anywhere in the SEC - especially when the offense will most likely be the side of the ball where the Hogs will make their money under Chad Morris. With injuries piling up, and Austin Capps making the permanent switch to OL, one can see why I might be concerned.
Now, onto the recruiting. Let me start by saying that I have been as impressed as anyone by the recruiting efforts and results of this coaching staff. The improvement is obvious to anyone paying attention. The 2019 recruits committed to Arkansas along the defensive line are nothing short of remarkable considering the program's recent history of limited success at the position. In my mind, the staff has proven that the hires of Chavis and Caldwell are already paying dividends.
What currently concerns me going forward is what many fans were moaning and cursing about last fall: the offensive line. As it currently stands, the Hogs have 2 OL commits for the 2019 class, Joseph Stone and Beaux Limmer. Both are rated as 3-stars by Rivals, but they are actually two of the lowest rated recruits committed to Arkansas out of the 2019 bunch. I take recruiting ratings with a grain of salt, however they still hold some weight when it comes to the evaluation of talent. This is not me saying that these kids won't be successful because of some star rating. Players at the U of A have proven again and again their star ratings won't determine their success, and these two could easily continue that trend.
Joseph Stone is a beefy 6'8", 340 lb OT out of the Florida panhandle. His offer list isn't remarkable, but man does it feel good to get a kid over Bobby Petrino and Louisville. You can check his highlights and other offers here.
Beaux Limmer is the only other current OL commit for 2019. Baylor, Houston, and LA Tech make up a decent list of offers for this 6'4", 260 lb tackle out of Tyler, Texas. He certainly has a great name for an offensive lineman, and both recruits have the size needed for big boy SEC football.
Sitting at 18 commitments for 2019, the remaining spots are quickly dwindling down. Expect the Hogs to sign 21 or 22 kids. If we check in on 2019 OL recruits who have offers from Arkansas, and at least a moderate interest level according to Rivals, there are clearly some names that would quickly resolve most of my concerns about the position.
Among this group, we find Clay Webb, the #1 2019 Center in the nation, and another 5-star in Evan Neal. There's also my personal favorite, 4-star OT Enokk Vimahi out of Hawaii. The list includes a pair of 3-star prospects and a handful of talented JUCO kids as well
Hog fans can hope Morris and his staff can reel in some of these linemen. The good news is, they have plenty of time to get it ironed out before February 6th.
This staff hasn't given fans much reason to worry about recruiting. However, after the previous regime admitted to under-recruiting in the trenches, I'm keeping an eye out to see if history tries to repeat itself.
If the Razorbacks can't buck the trend of terrible pass protection this fall, expect a less than ideal start to the Chad Morris era. I'm not saying the Hogs have to be world-beaters up front and have a dramatic turnaround to succeed. In my opinion, if they can even move the needle to simply 'slightly below average' in pass protection, I believe fans will be happy with the results. I trust Chad Morris to utilize play calling and his obvious weapons and RB and TE to mitigate what I'm sure he knows is a weak spot on this year's roster.
P.S. I've added a poll just for the heck of it. Chime in and let me know if I'm the only one concerned about the line!