With the start of fall camp a few weeks out, things are starting to heat up for the Arkansas football team. Going into year two for Head Coach Sam Pittman, expectations are modest. After the promise shown in the most difficult season in program history, however, fans are starting to pump the sunshine on what could be an incredible season on the Hill.
Seven weeks remain before Arkansas kicks off the season, and with each passing day, the chatter gets louder and louder. So we are going to be diving into each opponent that the Hogs will face in the 2021 season, starting with Week One: the Rice Owls.
A Closer Look at The Rice Owls Offense
It may not look like it, but Rice is one of those teams that might be able to sneak up on you this season. While on paper it looks as though third-year head coach Mike Bloomgren has underachieved, his team in 2021 could turn some heads, much like the Razorbacks did in 2020.
There wasn’t a large sample size in 2020, due to a shortened five-game season for the Owls, but for those who watched, the offense started to turn a corner towards the end of the season. They finished 2-3 overall, with an impressive win over at-the-time #15 Marshall, 20-0.
Going into 2021, Rice loses their number-one yardage receiver in Austin Trammell, but most of their offensive unit is returning. A big piece of the equation for Rice is wide receiver Brad Rozner. The pass catcher opted out of the 2020 season, but in 2019 Rozner hauled in 55 receptions for 770 yards, and he found paydirt five different times.
A big part of that unit is the offensive line. As many Hog fans know, the battle is always won in the trenches, and with the entire line back, it should give Rice a better chance to run the ball. Running the ball will be Khalan Griffin, Ari Broussard, and Juma Otoviano, who combined for 531 yards rushing. With an upgraded line, it could cause trouble for the Hogs.
A Closer Look at Rice Owls Defense
Rice returns a lot of talent that might be able to keep things interesting for a few drives. Eight of their nine top tacklers will be headed back to campus this fall, with Blaze Alldredge being the lone transfer to Mizzou.
The big question for Rice is going to be the pass rush. Outside of Elijah Garcia, there is not a lot of size on the defensive line for the Owls, and with the Hogs offensive line averaging over 300 pounds across the line, that might spell disaster after midway through the first quarter.
Where Rice is best is in their secondary. Their players swarm to the ball and disrupt a lot of passes. In the game against Marshall, Rice held the Herd to 245 yards of total offense, and completely shut them out. KJ Jefferson is going to need to have his head in the game if he wants to keep the Owls at bay.
How Will It Shake Out On September 4?
If the previous regime had been around for this game, it would be a toss-up. No doubt about it, Chad Morris and Co. struggled mightily against Group of 5 teams. Under the leadership of sophomore head coach Sam Pittman, however, things are going to look a little different.
If I had to tell the future, I would think the Owls will keep this close for around the first seven minutes of the game. They might even bait KJ Jefferson into a few picks. This game will not be close, though.
In fact, I expect this game to be over by halftime. The lack of size up front for Rice is going to lead to a lot of breakaway runs for the backs of Arkansas, and eventually the speed of the game is going to catch up to the secondary, and the lack of depth is going to leave them sucking air.
Final score prediction: 55-7, Arkansas wins.
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