Arkansas Football: 6 Reasons Hogs' Running Game Will Explode in 2013
Alex Collins's mother must have been hot when she found out that someone, somewhere had the magical capability of simply running another copy of that stolen letter of intent. No doubt she stormed into Johnnie Cochran's law firm demanding that someone check the font size on whatever it was that her son and his father signed.
"It was a fake!" she likely explained. "I''ve got the only one right here!"
Anyway, as far as I know the glove fit, so to speak, and Collins will eventually make his way to Fayetteville; though I wouldn't expect mom to voluntarily spring for the airfare at this point. When he does finally arrive in the Ozarks, he will headline a class that actually shaped up rather favorably for the Hogs, all things considered.
Beyond the recruiting rankings, Collins will likely be saddled with the responsibility of serving as the chief spearhead to the Arkansas rushing attack following the graduation and early departure of Dennis Johnson and Knile Davis, respectively; no small task considering the opposing resistance one encounters in the western division of the Southeastern Conference.
Of course, Bret Bielema didn't exactly build a reputation for bombarding opponents via aerial raids, leading many to question whether or not the new head hog and his shiny blue chip can immediately duplicate the ground and pound prowess for which the University of Wisconsin was so routinely exalted during his tenure in Madison, Wisc.
In reality, however, the wrong question is being asked altogether when the inquisitor pins the impending success or failure of the running game to Bielema and Collins, alone. The Hogs, despite a roster in a state of awkward transition, are primed to run the pigskin with relative effectiveness in 2013 for a bevy of reasons.
Bret Bielema Is the Captain of the Ship
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By now, you've all read the narrative out of Madison.
The Badgers were a machine on the ground under Bielema, what with the repeated breakthrough performances from the likes of Montee Ball, James White, P.J. Hill, Brian Calhoun, etc. and so forth. Even John Clay—whom you can outrun—looked like a star at Wisconsin.
But don't dare give Bielema credit for all of that. Paul Chryst was the ring master of that circus—not Bielema—or so the story goes. Chryst was the former Badger quarterback with the explosive offenses at Oregon State. Chryst, then, was also the savior of all things offensive upon his return to Wisconsin.
Naturally, when Chryst left, he took all of the yards and touchdowns with him. The Badgers squeaked by Northern Iowa in the opener, managed seven big ones in a loss at Oregon State, and looked otherwise anemic offensively for the majority of the 2012 season—unless, of course, Indiana was on the other side of the football.
Wisconsin dropped a 70-spot in the Big Ten Championship because big mean Bielema finally let Matt Canada run speed sweeps out of the wildcat—or something like that.
Far be it for me to poke holes in the balloon animals of Badger Nation, but I would be amiss for failing to point out the fact that Chryst's offense didn't exactly shatter Big East records in 2012. That is, unless ranking 94th in rushing while scoring 26.6 points per game is a record.
It's also just a touch hypocritical to give Chryst the lion's share of the credit, only to grant Canada a full season of reprieve, no?
Bielema is a defensive coach. He instructed linebackers at his alma mater, served as the co-defensive coordinator under Bill Snyder, and coordinated the defense at Wisconsin prior to succeeding Barry Alvarez. In that respect, it makes sense to shower Chryst in confetti when Montee Ball attends the Heisman ceremony, but it makes zero sense to blame Bielema for offensive ineptitude a year later.
Instead of pointing fingers, instead consider the fact that some guy named Russell Wilson was busy leading the Seattle Seahawks to the playoffs last fall, while some other guys named Joel Stave and Curt Phillips were failing miserably in their attempts to replace him.
I don't care if Chip Kelly is calling plays. It's tough to run the football when your quarterback's best attribute is his ability to successfully execute a hand-off.
Jim Chaney's Pro-Style Attack Caters to Strengths
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The truth about Bielema, or any other head coach, for that matter? The practice of serving as chief executive of a football team, in a vast number of cases, has little or nothing to do with calling plays.
Bob Stoops played safety at Iowa, coached defense at Kansas State and Florida. Never calls a play. Nick Saban played safety at Kent State, coached defense at each of his eight stops as an assistant. Never calls a play. Will Muschamp played safety at Georgia, coached defense at Auburn and Texas and everywhere else that he's been. You get the idea.
Not everyone is Steve Spurrier or Gus Malzahn.
The trick, particularly as we've seen at Oklahoma, is finding the right offensive coordinator. The Sooners succeeded in doing so with Mark Mangino and Kevin Wilson. Chuck Long? Not so much. Josh Heupel? The jury's out.
The effectiveness of the Arkansas ground game, and its offense in sum, begins with Bielema's preference for an imposing, smash mouth brand of football, but it ultimately rides on the clipboard of Jim Chaney.
At first glance, Chaney doesn't jump off the page as a guy that is going to commit to the running game. It's no secret that his offenses have produced record-breaking passing games, beginning with Drew Brees at Purdue.
Just a season ago, Tennessee quarterback Tyler Bray tossed for 3,612 yards and 34 touchdowns under Chaney's tutelage, leading the Volunteers to over 30 points in nine of 12 contests. Standout wide receiver Da'Rick Rogers was suspended indefinitely and later transferred, yet UT scarcely skipped a beat as Justin Hunter and Cordarrelle Patterson combined for 1,861 receiving yards and 14 touchdowns.
But in between Purdue and Tennessee, Chaney spent three seasons with the St. Louis Rams—an experience that sparked a transition from the spread to a pro-style look. In his first season back in the college game, Volunteer running backs Montario Hardesty and Bryce Brown combined to rush for 1,805 yards and 16 scores.
Chaney excels at the art of calling plays in accordance with the strengths and weaknesses of his personnel. In other words, he is the anti-Paul Petrino.
Don't Sleep on Jonathan Williams
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Arkansas adds a head coach that has become synonymous with power football who, in turn, signs a 4/5-star running back, and suddenly everyone forgets about a guy ranked just four spots lower at the position than said recruit in 2012. He's a Rivals250 player in his own right, a running back who logged significant clock as a true freshman, in spite of a backfield loaded with the likes of Johnson, Davis and Ronnie Wingo Jr.
Everyone forgets about Allen, Texas-native Jonathan Williams.
Williams carried the ball as many as nine times in SEC play a season ago, averaging 5.6 yards per carry. He also proved to be an astute third-down back with regards to blitz pick-ups and ball retrieval out of the backfield.
During a lightning-riddled affair versus the University of Kentucky, Williams erupted with 150 yards and two scores on just three receptions.
Bielema is no stranger to Williams's potential, either. He offered the former 4-star running back a scholarship while at Wisconsin.
Mitchell Could Be Dangerous
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If Brandon Allen's performances in relief of Tyler Wilson were any indication, he is not the answer at the quarterback position.
Brandon Mitchell, on the other hand, might be exactly that after a season at wide receiver.
Mitchell, you will recall, was an adept enough passer to earn the backup job—and a starring role in ESPN's "Depth Chart"—in 2011.
John L. Smith & Co. tried—and typically failed—to get Mitchell involved in the red-zone running game in what one can only surmise was meant to look something like the Blake "Belldozer" package at Oklahoma last season.
The Hogs also tried—and typically failed—to get the versatile athlete involved as a pass catcher; a plan undone by the absence of a satisfactory scheme, rather than the inability of Mitchell.
With Bozo and his insane clown posse gone, Mitchell is moving back under center, where his arm strength and escapability may be used at the far more efficient disposal of Chaney, and his effectiveness as a ball-carrier figures only to enhance what should be an already-effective ground game.
The Offensive Line Is Gaining Steam
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It won't matter if an 18-year-old Randall Cunningham joins the Razorbacks if there's nowhere to run. Fortunately, a solid blend of experience and youth figures to allow for considerable improvement upon a rushing attack that ranked 107th in 2012.
Bret Bielema has a track record of placing a massive offensive front on the field, and he will have that luxury from the start line at Arkansas.
Alvin Bailey is the only departure from an experienced unit headlined by impact players Travis Swanson (Sr., 6'5", 305 lbs) and Brey Cook (Jr., 6'7", 308 lbs). Swanson, in particular, will have an opportunity to play his way into the first round of the 2014 NFL Draft.
Joining the group is a trio of mammoth prep linemen, any one of whom could earn a shot to play very early on.
Denver Kirkland (6'5", 333 lbs) and Reeve Koehler (6'3", 321 lbs) are each 4-star prospects—and impressive 11th-hour coups—that carry upside as enormous as their respective frames.
Pegging a two-deep in February at any position, let alone the offensive line, is painfully unrealistic; and even if it weren't, the big hogs up front are a bit outside my realm of expertise. Still, this much I know: Bielema and his bunch should have as many as seven capable options with which to plug three holes around Swanson and Cook.
I like those odds. Hell, Wild Bill Hickok would like those odds.
No More Mama Drama
All jokes aside, Alex Collins is as good on the game tape as any back the Razorbacks have signed since Darren McFadden.
So, there's that.
Assuming that he is able to avoid being abducted, bagged and delivered to Al Golden by a gang of angry Haitians, Collins will immediately challenge Williams for the lead role in Arkansas' backfield from the moment he steps foot on campus.
Academic issues kept Collins away from the gridiron during his freshman and sophomore seasons, and the less than punctual blooming likely hindered his ranking, particularly with regards to Rivals and ESPN. Still, 24/7 Sports ranked Collins first among running backs, and Scout handed him that elusive fifth star.
Compare his film with more highly touted players like Arkansas-native Altee Tenpenny and Rivals 5-star recruits Greg Bryant and Ty Isaac and it's easy to see why.
Collins has the speed to decimate angles and the power to bowl over defenders, and he's not shy about displaying either—particularly the latter. Of the marching band of ball-carriers to put up gaudy statistics under Bielema at Wisconsin, none was nearly as talented as Collins—or Jonathan Williams, for that matter.
Together, the duo may well provide the Razorbacks with an incredibly attractive 1-2 punch; one dominant enough to return Arkansas to the upper echelon of the football world sooner, rather than later.