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Previewing Arkansas at Alabama: The Hogs Offense

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This preview brought to you by Bobby’s Collision, Pruitt’s Slaughterhouse and Bert’s Fat Back.

NCAA Football: Arkansas at Texas A&M Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

The Arkansas offense is something of a throwback to yesteryear, when fullbacks were cool and tight ends caught the occasional pass as a reward for all that blocking. That isn’t to say that they are unimaginative: Coach Bert Bret Bielema routinely employs shifts and motion, both for good old-fashioned window dressing and creating numbers. Saban often speaks of “eye control” for defenders, and it will be paramount in this one.

QB Austin Allen came into his senior season with much fanfare after completing 61% for 3,430 yards and 25 TDs in 2016. Unfortunately for him, things have not gone according to plan. The poor guy has been knocked around like a rag doll, as the Hogs sit tied for 99th in the country with 13 sacks allowed. As expected under those conditions, he has seen a precipitous drop on the stat sheet with his completion percentage down to around 56% and more than a yard shaved off of his yards per attempt. He was nicked up against South Carolina and is reportedly questionable, though he has maintained throughout the week that he expects to play. Should he be forced to sit, 6’7” redshirt freshman Cole Kelley would get the nod. Kelley came off the bench to complete 8/13 for 140 yards with 1 TD and 1 INT last week.

The running game is a three-headed monster, as senior David Williams, a grad transfer from South Carolina, splits time with freshman Chase Hayden and sophomore Devwah Whaley. It’s a remarkably even timeshare situation, as all three backs have logged between 50-54 carries with 235-274 rushing yards. Whaley was the prize of the group on the recruiting trail, a former four-star who held offers from many top programs including Alabama. He is coming off what has to be the worst game of his career, actually losing a total of three yards on six carries against South Carolina. As a unit they have had some moderate success on the season, averaging 4.5 yards per carry overall.

The pass catchers are a rather nondescript group after losing 2016 leaders Keon Hatcher and Drew Morgan, along with tight end and petty thief extraordinaire Jeremy Sprinkle. The best of the bunch has been juco transfer Jonathan Nance, who easily leads the team with 23 receptions for 374 yards and five TDs. There hasn’t been much production outside of Nance, with TE Cheyenne O’Grady and young WRs Jordan Jones and Deon Stewart combining for 29/346/4. Nance has clearly been Allen’s security blanket this season, so look for Jeremy Pruitt and Derrick Ansley to focus on taking him away first.

Up front, the Hogs are stout inside. Senior Frank Ragnow is the leader and he is a good one, having pondered leaving for the NFL draft before deciding to give it a go as a senior. You may remember Ragnow from last season, as his father passed suddenly in the week before the Alabama game and Saban notably spent some time with him after the contest. Flanking Ragnow will be spectacularly named 311 lb. junior Hjalte Froholdt, a junior out of Denmark via IMG Academy, and 330 lb. junior Johnny Gibson. There is plenty of beef in there.

The tackle position has been a challenge this season. Last year’s starting left tackle, Dan Skipper, is now playing for the Detroit Lions. In his stead, sophomore Colton Jackson flipped from right tackle to left. He has been passable overall, though he struggles at times with better pass rushers. The right tackle position has been a revolving door, as neither redshirt junior Brian Wallace nor juco transfer Paul Ramirez have really seized the job. The Tide should have plenty of opportunities to get after Allen this week.

That’s really about it. The Hogs typically don’t do anything fancy, just try and run the ball right at you and then push it down the field vertically. The embattled Bielema preaches physical play, and he usually gets it. Look for the team to try and rally around its coach this week as the media has all but fired him following a rather listless effort in Columbia. Still, there is a great enough talent discrepancy here that the Tide should be able to effectively shut this unit down if they come to play.