clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Advanced Stats Season Preview, Part 3: The Offense

New, 3 comments

The Hogs are loaded at the skill positions, but can they get quarterback and offensive line finally figured out?

Missouri v Arkansas Photo by Wesley Hitt/Getty Images

Welcome back to our advanced stats season preview here at Arkansas Fight. Check out Part One and Part Two here. While the first two parts focused on more broad patterns over the last decade or so of Arkansas football, today we’ll start looking more closely at the 2020 team.

(Confused by any of these stats? Check out the Advanced Stats Glossary.)

Arkansas was about 9.4 points worse than the average FBS team in 2019... which is horrible. There are 130 teams in the FBS, so the Hogs were below average in every major offensive and defensive category.

Chad Morris’ high-octane offense never got going. After an atrocious 2018 season on offense, the 2019 unit was only slightly better, still ranking near the bottom of the SEC in every major category. Morris’ complete failure to develop competent quarterback play was a major part in his undoing, and he also failed to fix the offensive line issues he inherited from former coach Bret Bielema. To his credit, however, he managed to upgrade the running back and receiver units in a major way, so new coach Sam Pittman has that to work with. Morris’ receivers coach Justin Stepp was the only Morris staffer retained by Pittman.

Pittman moved quickly to fix the issues, signing four-star quarterback Malik Hornsby, landing graduate transfer quarterback Feleipe Franks from Florida, and signing four-star offensive lineman Marcus Henderson, among other moves. New offensive coordinator Kendal Briles will have an elite group of skill players like Rakeem Boyd, Treylon Burks, Trey Knox, Mike Woods, and Hudson Henry to work with.

The Run Game

The run game did have some pop. When Rakeem Boyd got a hole, he turned into big yards. But he didn’t get enough chances to break a big one (90th in opportunity rate), thanks to an offensive line that was just not very good at run blocking.

Arkansas Running Backs

Name 2020 Year 247 Rating Rushes Yards per Rush EVA per Rush Success Rate Line Yards per Rush Opportunity Rate Bonus Yards per Opp
Name 2020 Year 247 Rating Rushes Yards per Rush EVA per Rush Success Rate Line Yards per Rush Opportunity Rate Bonus Yards per Opp
RAKEEM BOYD SR .847 (***) 161 6.2 -0.02 40% 2.5 32% 9.7
Devwah Whaley .954 (****) 59 4.4 0.11 42% 2.3 25% 5.6
A'MONTAE SPIVEY R-FR .865 (***) 5 2.4 -0.12 40% 1.6 20% 1
Chase Hayden .890 (***) 3 3.7 -0.13 33% -0.3 33% 9
DOMINIQUE JOHNSON FR .831 (***)

Devwah Whaley and Chase Hayden were the most obvious casualties of the Bielema-to-Morris scheme change. Their plodding, high-efficiency, low-explosiveness run style was not a fit in the new system, and both struggled. Whaley graduated without ever meeting his four-star potential, and Hayden transferred to East Carolina.

Boyd will be the workhorse again. He managed to average 6.2 yards per rush despite subpar run blocking and almost no help from the passing game. He’s 0-16 in SEC games in his career and if anyone deserves a successful season, it’s Rakeem Boyd. Briles has found ways to use great running backs (Devon Singletary at FAU, Cam Akers at Florida State) and barring injury, Boyd is due for a big year.

Who comes in when Boyd needs a breather? A’Montae Spivey saw action in a couple games late in the year as he protected his redshirt, while incoming freshman Dominique Johnson could play all year and still protect his redshirt since the NCAA isn’t counting this season against anyone’s eligibility. The Hogs did suffer a blow to potential depth when running back commit Ebony Jackson went to junior college.

Running Back Grades

  • 2019 Grade: B-
  • 2020 Projection: B
  • Strengths: Boyd has elite explosiveness
  • Weaknesses: Very little depth

The Pass Game

There aren’t a lot of good things to say about the pass game during the Morris era. Eight different quarterbacks started in two years, and none of them dazzled. Arkansas’ opening day starter this year won’t be any of those eight.

Arkansas Quarterbacks

Name 2020 Year 247 Rating Attempts Yards per Attempt EVA per Pass Success Rate ANY/A Sack Rate
Name 2020 Year 247 Rating Attempts Yards per Attempt EVA per Pass Success Rate ANY/A Sack Rate
Nick Starkel .867 (***) 174 6.2 -0.13 41% 4.9 1%
Ben Hicks .856 (***) 116 4.7 -0.28 36% 4.3 8%
K.J. JEFFERSON R-FR .896 (****) 35 4.3 -0.41 26% 3.1 14%
JACK LINDSEY SO 30 4.2 -0.27 37% 6.2 0%
JOHN STEPHEN JONES SO .826 (***) 26 3.2 -0.26 35% 3.0 4%
FELEIPE FRANKS (Florida) SR .973 (****) 46 9.4 -0.08 46% 7.8 4%
MALIK HORNSBY FR .921 (****)

Franks’ stats at Florida last season are significantly better than anyone who played for the Hogs. At 6’5 and 220 pounds, he has the size and natural arm strength to be a significant upgrade for the Razorbacks. He’s hard to tackle but not a runner. His accuracy and footwork are still a work in progress, but overall, he’s an SEC-level quarterback.

K.J. Jefferson showed flashes of potential in limited work in 2019. He’s very mobile and has a big arm, but does have accuracy issues. He will compete with incoming four-star freshman Malik Hornsby — a similar type of QB but with even more speed — for the backup job and, by extension, the 2021 starting job. With three former four-star recruits on the roster, the Hogs are set for a while at the quarterback position. Now someone has to produce.

Quarterback Grades

  • 2019 Grade: F
  • 2020 Projection: C
  • Strengths: There’s a lot of natural talent in the QB room
  • Weaknesses: The only proven player just arrived on campus a few months ago

Arkansas Receivers

Position Name 2020 Year 247 Rating Targets Yds per Target EVA per Target Success Rate ANY/A Catch %
Position Name 2020 Year 247 Rating Targets Yds per Target EVA per Target Success Rate ANY/A Catch %
WR TREYLON BURKS SO .954 (****) 53 8.1 0.08 42% 8.1 47%
WR TREY KNOX SO .913 (****) 51 6.8 0.31 53% 8.0 53%
WR MIKE WOODS JR .876 (***) 49 8.0 0.26 49% 9.7 57%
TE Cheyenne O'Grady .920 (****) 47 7.3 0.03 43% 8.6 64%
WR TYSON MORRIS JR .767 (**) 17 9.6 0.17 65% 10.8 76%
TE Chase Harrell .824 (***) 10 2.0 -0.09 30% 4.0 20%
TE Grayson Gunter .831 (***) 10 3.9 -0.16 30% 5.9 30%
WR KOILAN JACKSON JR .872 (***) 7 5.4 -0.72 43% 8.3 43%
WR DE'VION WARREN SR .848 (***) 6 3.2 -0.33 17% 3.2 67%
RB T.J. HAMMONDS SR .911 (****) 4 2.5 -0.26 25% 2.5 100%
TE HUDSON HENRY R-FR .942 (****) 3 5.0 0.32 67% 5.0 100%
WR T.Q. Jackson .890 (****) 1 2.0 0.43 100% 2.0 100%
WR DARIN TURNER FR .919 (****)
WR JAQUAYLN CRAWFORD (Oklahoma) JR .927 (****)
TE COLLIN SUTHERLAND FR .825 (***)

The Hogs are loaded at wide receiver, with the top three guys returning: split end Trey Knox and slot receivers Treylon Burks of Warren and Mike Woods. At 6’5, Knox is solid on fades and in one-on-one battles with cornerbacks. Burks and Woods are both big as well and can do a lot of damage after the catch. The Hogs have size, speed, route-running skills, and experience here. Incoming four-star recruit Darin Turner adds even more depth, while four-star Oklahoma transfer Jaquayln Crawford will sit out the 2020 season.

Tight end is a different beast. The Hogs lost elite starter Cheyenne O’Grady and experienced life without him after he left the team a little over halfway through the 2019 season. It wasn’t pretty. Replacements Grayson Gunter and Chase Harrell, ostensibly receiving tight ends, combined to catch just 5 of 20 targets with at least seven drops between them. Both are gone, leaving the former #1 TE recruit Hudson Henry of Little Rock as the presumptive starter (and only rostered player to record a target at tight end). It’s hard to imagine Henry not being a great tight end, so it seems more likely that he was misused by the Morris staff last year. It will be interesting to see if Pittman and Briles can put him in a position to show off his skills. As RPO offenses often struggle to utilize the tight end in the passing game, the staff may have to get creative and spread him out wide like Morris’ staff did with O’Grady.

Receiver Grades

  • 2019 Grade: B
  • 2020 Projection: A-
  • Strengths: A ton of experience and former four-star recruits at every starting position
  • Weaknesses: Actually getting the ball to the receivers was a big problem last year

The Offensive Line

Pass protection improved tremendously in 2019, but the Hogs up front struggled to open up holes in the run game in both of Morris’ seasons. Some of it was a lack of skill — none of the nine linemen to record a start last year was a four-star recruit out of high school* — and some of it was probably a result of broader offensive dysfunction. Former offensive line coach Dustin Fry got roasted on the recruiting trail and did little to improve the existing talent. Offensive line has been a problem ever since Pittman left in 2015.

Arkansas Offensive Line

Position Name 2020 Year 247 Rating Career Starts
Position Name 2020 Year 247 Rating Career Starts
C TY CLARY SR .783 (**) 27
OT Colton Jackson .864 (***) 26
OT DALTON WAGNER JR .861 (***) 13
OG SHANE CLENIN JR .852 (***) 12
OG RICKY STROMBERG SO .881 (***) 11
OT MYRON CUNNINGHAM SR .856 (***) 10
OG Austin Capps 8
OT NOAH GATLIN SO .861 (***) 2
OT Kirby Adcock .853 (***) 2
OG BEAUX LIMMER R-FR .870 (***) 0
OT RYAN WINKEL SO .845 (***) 0
OT LUKE JONES SO .878 (***) 0
OG MARCUS HENDERSON FR .895 (****)
OG JALEN ST. JOHN FR .874 (***)
OT RAY CURRY JR. FR .855 (***)

Three jobs are secure: center and the right side of the line. Here’s a quick look at competitions.

Center

Ty Clary has recorded 27 starts in three seasons, including all 12 last year. The former walk-on from Fayetteville has earned his scholarship but still has a lot of improving to do. His quickness is good, but he gets overpowered far too often. And his snaps... ugh. The Hogs went with the suddenly-popular “dead snap” under Morris. It’s designed to prevent bad snaps at the expense of being slower and less aesthetically-pleasing. But Clary’s snaps were often too slow and could disrupt the timing of plays. Also, many of them were still bad, coming in on the quarterback’s shoelaces. If Clary can’t fix his snaps, it’s hard to justify keeping him at center. Beaux Limmer, who saw some snaps at guard last year, is the backup.

Guard

Right guard is locked down by rising sophomore Ricky Stromberg, who started the final 11 games and was Arkansas’ best run blocker by a mile. Stromberg has a bright future at the position. One of the losers of the competition at left guard will be Stromberg’s backup.

Left guard is up for grabs and was a weak point in 2019. The sequel to Hjalte Froholdt’s DL-to-OL conversion — Star City’s Austin Capps — wasn’t nearly as good as the original. Capps hit hard in run blocking but had all kinds of trouble in pass protection and lost snaps as the year went on. Junior Shane Clenin stole many of those snaps. Clenin is one of the bigger linemen Arkansas has and is a decent pass protector, but his run blocking needs work. He’ll have to compete with four-star freshman Marcus Henderson of Memphis plus Notre Dame transfer Luke Jones, a former high-end three-star player from Pulaski Academy. Henderson is the lone four-star recruit on the offensive line.

Tackle

Both tackle spots could be up for grabs. Right tackle is presently held by Dalton Wagner, who started all 12 games in 2019. He was pretty up-and-down, ranking as an average pass protector but a subpar run blocker. If he doesn’t improve, the battle for left tackle could spill over into right tackle.

At left tackle, incumbent Myron Cunningham is facing a battle for his job. He took over after Colton Jackson’s medical retirement five games into the season with decidedly mixed results. Like Wagner, he’s an excellent pass protector but doesn’t get much movement in run blocking. Kirby Adcock recorded a start late in the year but has since gone on medical hardship and is not listed on the 2020 roster. Newcomers include freshmen Ray Curry and Jalen St. John, a high-end three-star prospect. You can also keep an eye out for Jonesboro’s Noah Gatlin, who played extensively in 2018 before missing the 2019 season with an injury.

Offensive Line Grades

  • 2019 Grade: D-
  • 2020 Projection: C-
  • Strengths: Better coaching, more depth, and several good pass blockers
  • Weaknesses: Absent a major breakthrough, run blocking is still going to be an issue

Up next

Part Four of our series will cover the Razorback defense, which has even more improving to do than the offense. Stay tuned.