Arkansas football is 67 days away, and with the ever-approaching kickoff against Rice on September 4th, people are starting to talk. Experts are expecting a 4-8, 5-7, or 3-9 season for the Hogs, but without an in-depth look at the Razorbacks, those predictions can be rather misleading.
Once again, Arkansas has been given the toughest strength of schedule in the country, but this season there are some games that should account for easy wins for Sam Pittman’s squad.
The only way they will see a successful season, though, is by quality depth. So here are three players that you should be watching out for this coming season.
Trey Knox - WR
Trey Knox is a curious case, but one that should not be overlooked. Knox came in with the stacked 2019 wide receiver class that included phenom Treylon Burks, and in Knox’s first season, he made an immediate impact.
His freshman campaign, he snagged 28 receptions for 385 yards. He also hauled in three touchdown passes from a QB room that was tortured with a lack of consistency, running through eight different starting QBs in two years.
Going into 2020, it seemed like the starting job was locked up by Knox, but he saw his numbers plummet from where they sat in 2019. A big part of that is most likely due to a change in offensive scheme.
Chad Morris’ offense thrived on throwing the ball what felt like 100 times per game, but an offense like Kendal Briles’ relies more on speedy, smaller wide receivers. At 6’5, 207 lbs., Knox is not a smaller wide receiver, and he was passed up for guys like De’Vion Warren and Mike Woods.
He finished the season with seven receptions for 70 yards, with no trips to the endzone. Benched midway through the season due to a lack of production, Knox found himself getting closer and closer to his freshman form towards the end of the season.
Knox has a massive frame, and the size to overpower the defensive backs that are covering him. He can make opposing defenses pay with a well-placed ball.
With the departure of Mike Woods, the door is wide open for Knox to regain his spot in the starting lineup, and if he can get a few deep balls thrown his way, look for Knox to explode on the field this fall.
Myles Slusher - DB
One big thing that we saw from Pittman’s 2020 recruiting class was a heavy presence in the state of Oklahoma. This makes sense, as both he and Defensive Coordinator Barry Odom are from the area.
One of the most impactful recruits in that class is Myles Slusher. A four-star recruit coming out of Broken Arrow High School in Broken Arrow, Oklahoma, Slusher was ranked the number five safety in the nation, and second in the state of Oklahoma by 247Sports. Slusher is coming into his second season looking to make an immediate impact on the field.
As a high school senior, Slusher was a presence for the Broken Arrow Tigers, finishing with 26 tackles, a sack, an interception, and four pass breakups. He chose the Hogs over the likes of Alabama, LSU, Nebraska, and plenty of others.
In the 2020 season, Slusher showed flashes of being an elite-level safety, snagging a team-high two fumbles on the year. One of those recoveries was in the season opener against at-the-time #4 Georgia. His other fumble recovery was also a forced fumble against LSU later in the year.
At 6’0, 196 lbs., Slusher has the speed and size to play with anyone in the SEC, and it helps that he has a guy like Jalen Catalon on the field with him. Catalon will be the guy that most announcers talk about, but make no mistake; Slusher is going to be just as important as anyone else on that Razorback defense.
Special Teams - Entire Unit
Scott Fountain was given the almost impossible task of fixing the special teams in 2020. After not having a coach dedicated to the special teams unit since the Bobby Petrino era, Arkansas needed to find someone willing to recruit at an elite level, while being able to coach one of the more after-thought units on the team.
With COVID protocols keeping traveling rosters small, and contact tracing moving people in and out all season, there seemed to be a lack of consistency in the special teams unit.
Add on top of that the struggles of transfer kicker AJ Reed, who underperformed from what fans expected of him. He was 63.6% on field goals, and 93% on extra points, which landed him 119th and 145th in the nation, respectively.
The special teams unit as a whole is going to need to improve if the Hogs want to take the massive leap forward from year one to year two. With COVID having less of a hold on the season than last year, consistency in the players on special teams shouldn’t be an issue. The scoring, however, will need to pick up.
Field goal kicking seems to have been a huge problem for Arkansas, going all the way back to Bret Bielema. Many times, when called upon to win a game, the field goal unit just doesn’t seem to come through.
Mississippi State in 2015, Ole Miss also in 2015 (a game the Hogs still won, but a field goal would have sealed it), LSU last season, and many others that no Razorback fan wants to relive. When the pressure is on, the kicking has faltered more often than not.
That is the biggest thing to look out for this season. Extra points are necessary, not because they guarantee a win, but because a missed extra point can be the difference between a one-point loss and a tie game going to overtime (look at Arkansas-Alabama in 2014).
Cameron Little and Matt Phillips are going to have their hands full with that task, but if they can keep the mistakes to a minimum, the ship might just turn around.
For more Razorbacks football coverage, follow me on Twitter @DanFairHogs!