Biggest Surprises for Arkansas Razorbacks Through Week 3
Week 3 came and went for the Arkansas Razorbacks. There have been a few bumps, but head coach Bret Bielema and his Hogs came out of Saturday with another win to start the season 3-0.
Arkansas is sitting right where most thought it would be after the first three games, outscoring Louisiana, Samford and Southern Miss by a combined 89-38. For the most part, the Razorbacks have avoided drama and are quietly putting up some impressive numbers in Bielema's first season.
The team still has a long way to go before Bielema's vision for the program comes to reality, but with each game, the players are becoming more comfortable with the schemes on offense and defense.
There have been a number of surprises through Week 3 for the Razorbacks, but which ones have been more eyebrow raising than others?
The Running Game
Surprised? Probably not.
When athletic director Jeff Long hired Bret Bielema to be the Razorbacks next head coach last December, everyone knew he was bringing a tough, hard-nosed rushing attack that he established while at Wisconsin. However, not too many people probably saw the Hogs running the way they have so far.
Alex Collins and Jonathan Williams both have been exceptional through the first three games. Collins ran for over 100 yards again (25 carries, 115 yards) against Southern Miss, becoming the first back in SEC history to eclipse the 100-yard mark in each of his first three games. That's including guys like Bo Jackson, Darren McFadden and Herschel Walker.
After three contests, Collins has 418 yards on 70 carries, ranking him fourth in the NCAA in total rushing yards.
His counterpart, Williams, has been just as electric. He ranks seventh in the country with 393 yards on 51 attempts (7.7 yards per carry) and has also ran for over 100 yards in each of the first three games. The duo heads an Arkansas ground attack that sits at No. 11 in the NCAA in rushing yards per game with 294.3.
Pretty good for a unit that Athlon Sports rated the worst in the SEC.
The Whole Defense
The Arkansas defense has been one of the bigger surprises in all of college football through Week 3.
It's allowing 253.0 YPG of total offense to its opponents through three games, which put it at No. 6 in the country and second in the SEC behind Florida. Granted, it has come against three weaker opponents. Regardless, that doesn't guarantee anything. The players still have to show up and play, and they are doing just that.
Particularly, the secondary has been very impressive. The Razorbacks were 113th in the country in 2012 in passing YPG allowed (285.8). They were even exposed by teams that they were much better than, but this year has been a different story.
The secondary allows just 147.7 YPG, good for 12th in the NCAA and first in the SEC. The rush defense has also been stout, giving up 105.3 YPG (20th in NCAA, second in SEC). The numbers probably won't keep up at such a high rate with a difficult slate ahead, but defensive coordinator Chris Ash has these guys playing with toughness.
Kicking and Punting
Kicking and punting are probably the most underestimated aspects of football, but any coach will tell you they are critical to winning ballgames.
Senior place- and field-goal kicker Zach Hocker became the Razorbacks all-time leading scorer in Game 1 against Louisiana and has started the season a perfect 4-4 in field goals. He's hit from everywhere on the field, with kicks made from within 20-29, 30-39, 40-49 and a long of 53. He's also 10-10 on extra-point attempts thus far.
Junior college transfer Sam Irwin-Hill has been a pleasant surprise for the special teams. On seven punts, he's averaging 44.3 yards per boot. Arkansas ranks 30th in the nation in net punting, largely thanks to Irwin-Hill.
How good they've started has been surprising, though both possessed the potential for those kind of numbers.
The biggest question mark on the defense coming into the season was the linebackers. Arkansas returned no starters and went into spring practice looking for guys to step up.
The concern for the unit was high, but starters Jarrett Lake and Braylon Mitchell have performed beyond expectations through Week 3.
Lake and Mitchell are one and two on the team in tackles, both having 20 total. They have helped spearhead a rush defense that currently ranks 20th in the country. Coaches were high on both players' performances during the offseason and they have not let them down so far.
The other starter, Austin Jones, has also been solid, though he hasn't posted numbers like Lake and Mitchell. You just never can underestimate the value of a great coach like Randy Shannon.
His impact on a group that was a big concern is quite evident. They are still in the bottom half of the SEC but are making great progress.