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Arkansas Football: Midseason Grades for Players and Coaches

Bryan HeaterCorrespondent IOctober 16, 2013

Arkansas Football: Midseason Grades for Players and Coaches

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    (Left) Head coach Bret Bielema
    (Left) Head coach Bret BielemaWesley Hitt/Getty Images

    Midway through the season, the Arkansas Razorbacks own a 3-4 record and are at the bottom of the SEC West division at 0-3.

    There have been some pleasant surprises that have Hog fans excited about the future. However, there have also been some major problems plaguing head coach Bret Bielema's Razorbacks in his first season at the helm of the program. 

    Arkansas started the year with three straight wins, but have since trended in the wrong direction, losing the last four, including getting drubbed, 52-7, by South Carolina at home. 

    So, what kind of grades have the coaches and positional units earned thus far? 

    Read on.

Coaches

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    Bret Bielema
    Bret BielemaWesley Hitt/Getty Images

    Bielema's first season was expected to be a struggle, so a 3-4 record isn't a surprise.

    What people have to remember is that he is working with a majority of players recruited by Bobby Petrino. Those players were recruited to fit Petrino's pass-heavy offenses, not the run-first approach Bielema prefers. It's going to take time for him to get the players that fit his scheme.

    Petrino also never made it an emphasis to recruit high-profile defensive players, so Bielema is also dealing with that.

    Under offensive coordinator Jim Chaney, the Hogs have had a lot of success on the ground, ranking 24th in the country with an average of 216.3 yards per game. The same can't be said for the passing game, which sits at 113th in the nation (154.6 YPG).

    The defense has begun to fall after a good start, also. 

    The secondary, to put it bluntly, has been dreadful since the Rutgers game. The unit has been on a steady decline nationally in YPG allowed, currently ranking 53rd (221.4). The rush defense has also started to fall off after being in the top 15 in the country in YPG allowed on the ground. It now sits at 49th in the FBS.

    Defensive coordinator Chris Ash is doing what he can with a group that already had a lot of question marks coming into the year. Some serious adjustments need to be made.

    Since allowing Rutgers to come back and win, Arkansas has played poorly in many facets. Yes, the players are the ones on the field, not the coaches, but there always has to be some accountability when a team is playing bad.

    After last week's, 52-7, loss to South Carolina, the coaches obviously need to change their approach or find guys who are going to make plays.

    Grade: C+

Quarterbacks

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    QB Brandon Allen
    QB Brandon AllenWesley Hitt/Getty Images

    One of the biggest reasons for the offensive ineptness over the last few weeks has been the quarterback play.

    Starter Brandon Allen looked good before injuring his shoulder against Southern Miss, forcing him to sit out the next game at Rutgers. He hasn't had a game since then with a completion percentage over 50 percent. 

    He completed just 33 percent of his passes last week against South Carolina, bringing his season average to 48.1 percent. He has eight touchdowns and five interceptions, which isn't a terrible stat line, but it's certainly not great either. 

    His backup, AJ Derby, wasn't great either, filling in against Southern Miss and in a full game at Rutgers, going a combined 18-for-34 with a touchdown. You can at least give him credit for not turning the ball over.

    There has been good play at times, but overall it's been a major problem.

    Grade: C-

Running Backs

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    RB Alex Collins
    RB Alex CollinsWesley Hitt/Getty Images

    The best position on either side of the ball for the Razorbacks has been the running backs. Led by Alex Collins and Jonathan Williams, the Hogs have rushed for 216.3 YPG, good for 24th in the nation

    Collins, a freshman only by title, has been one of the best backs in the country. He's 11th nationally in total rushing yards with 720 and has gone for over 100 yards in four of the team's seven games. It should also be noted that he became the first back in SEC history, a conference with a very rich tradition of running backs, to run for over 100 yards in each of his first three games.

    His counterpart, Jonathan Williams, has also been a huge part of the ground attack.

    He's 29th in the country with 564 yards rushing on the year and has averaged 6.5 yards per carry. Williams has three 100-yard games to his credit. If Collins wasn't in the backfield with him, his numbers would be even better.

    And let's give a shout out to fullback Kiero Small, who has been intricate in creating holes for the two. Bielema loves the bone-crushing blocks he makes. Small is the best at his position in the conference. 

    There's no question how important the running game has been for Arkansas. An ineffective passing game has slowed it as of late, but nonetheless, Collins and Williams are the only thing keeping this offense from being completely inept.

    Grade: A

Offensive Line

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    C Travis Swanson
    C Travis SwansonBeth Hall-USA TODAY Sports

    Though very young, the offensive line has been solid. Anchored by senior All-American and Rimington Trophy candidate, Travis Swanson, the line is creating holes and leading the way for the Razorbacks' ground game. 

    The unit is tied for 10th nationally in pass sacks allowed, giving up just five through seven games. So, you can't make the excuse for Allen that he hasn't had the time to throw the ball. The line has also only allowed 26 total tackles for loss, which is No. 7 in the FBS.

    Those are pretty impressive numbers considering Arkansas starts two true freshmen in Denver Kirkland and Dan Skipper.

    Both have impressed the staff enough to already win starting jobs just seven games into their careers. Sophomore Grady Ollison is another young and talented player who gives the Hogs a very solid foundation future in the trenches.

    Next to the running backs, the O-line has been the best positional unit for Arkansas, which isn't a surprise considering Bielema's pedigree. Give credit to the line's coach Sam Pittman, too. He's one of the best in the country at what he does.

    There's still a lot of room for improvement, but the future at the position is extremely bright.

    Grade: A

Wide Receivers/Tight Ends

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    TE Hunter Henry
    TE Hunter HenryRich Schultz/Getty Images

    Fans grew accustomed to having some of the top wide receivers in the country under Petrino, but 2013 has seen a much different script.

    The Razorbacks no longer have a dominant core of receivers and there has been no one guy that Allen can rely on to take over a game. The team's top receiver is Javontee Herndon (18 receptions, 288 yards and four touchdowns), which isn't saying much.

    His 288 yards place him at No. 169 among the nation's receivers. When your top guy isn't even in the top 150 in the country, it says a lot about how much Arkansas has relied on the run game. 

    Besides Herndon, Keon Hatcher (11 catches, 125 yards and a touchdown) is the only receiver with over 100 yards. It probably isn't a good sign when the fullback is fourth on the team with 87 yards on 12 catches.

    There have been way too many dropped balls to this point, which hasn't helped with Allen's completion percentage. Dropped balls are momentum killers and something you simply can't do if you expect to compete in the nation's best conference.

    The only guy who has really stood out has been freshman tight end Hunter Henry, who has the best hands on the team.

    A 4-star and the No. 4 tight end prospect in the 2013 class, according to Rivals.com, Henry has displayed why he was so highly regarded coming out of high school. He's second on the team with 276 yards on 14 receptions and a trip to the end zone. 

    Henry is hard for linebackers to cover at 6'6" and is great at slipping through the defense and making big plays. He's the Hogs' top deep threat, leading the team with 19.7 yards per catch. Austin Tate is a good blocking tight end for Arkansas and Jeremy Sprinkle has potential.

    If it weren't for Henry, this unit would be much worse.

    Grade: C

     

Defensive Line

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    (Right) DE Chris Smith
    (Right) DE Chris SmithBeth Hall-USA TODAY Sports

    As mentioned earlier, the defensive line hasn't been nearly as good over the last few games as it was earlier on this season. 

    The Hogs gave up 270 yards on the ground to South Carolina and 262 to Texas A&M three weeks ago. It performed well in between those two games, allowing just 115 yards to Florida. There are really no excuses for a D-line as talented as the Hogs' to be giving up over 200 yards rushing.

    The unit has had no problems getting to quarterbacks with an average of 2.86 sacks per game, which is 16th nationally. Defensive ends Trey Flowers and Chris Smith have been a nightmare for opposing teams, combining for 10.0 sacks and over 16 TFL.

    Smith is built like a bull, so naturally he uses his strength to bull rush past offensive linemen. He's 15th in the nation with an average of 0.9 sacks a game and 6.0 total. Flowers is long and athletic, and uses his length to gain leverage or swim past opponents. He has recorded 8.5 TFL and 4.0 sacks for the season. 

    The line took a big hit with the loss of senior defensive tackle Robert Thomas for the rest of the year after suffering a broken bone in his leg against South Carolina.

    Demarcus Hodge is listed as the backup on the depth chart, but freshman Darius Philon, who has shown glimpses of big things to come, could end up lining up alongside Byran Jones.

    The games versus South Carolina and Texas A&M were sub-par outings, however, the D-line has been the strongest unit on the defense.

    Grade: B

Linebackers

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    LB Jarrett Lake
    LB Jarrett LakeBeth Hall-USA TODAY Sports

    With no returning starters from 2012, the linebacker position was the biggest question mark coming into 2013. However, guys have stepped up to make it a respectable unit.

    Jarrett Lake has been the best of the bunch. He leads the Razorbacks with 51 total tackles and has held his own when dropping back in coverage. Lake has a knack for finding the ball. He flies around the field and plays sideline-to-sideline. 

    Braylon Mitchell is right behind Lake with 46 tackles, good for second on the team. Austin Jones has also played well, just not on the level Lake and Mitchell have. The unit has played well beyond their expectations, though they are far from being one of the best in the SEC. 

    There have been plenty of missed tackles that have led to big plays for the opposition. Still, give credit to the linebackers. Guys stepped up and have played hard.

    Grade: C+

Defensive Backs

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    CB Eric Bennett
    CB Eric BennettBeth Hall-USA TODAY Sports

    Without a doubt, the secondary has been the worst position on the entire Arkansas team. It looked like it had turned a corner over the offseason after good outings in the first three games, but that turned out to be smoke and mirrors.

    Once the level of competition rose, the secondary fell. Better yet, it plummeted. Over the last four games against Rutgers, Texas A&M, Florida and South Carolina, the Razorbacks have given up a total of 1,107 passing yards (276.8 YPG). 

    Will Hines was lost for the season, making the task to turn things around even tougher. 

    The Hogs have just four interceptions and are 94th in the country in turnover margin. Safety Alan Turner has been good with 45 tackles and three pass breakups, but even he has made plenty of mistakes.

    There's no one player you can point out, it's the whole group. Most of the time, they seem to be playing on their heels and trying to not allow the big play instead of trying to get up close and make plays on the ball. 

    There's still time to turn things around, but the chances of that don't look good.

    Grade: D

Special Teams

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    (Middle) K Zach Hocker
    (Middle) K Zach HockerNelson Chenault-USA TODAY Sports

    Special teams have been a huge positive for the Razorbacks in 2013.

    Kicker Zach Hocker is a perfect 8-for-8 and has hit from 20-29, 30-39, 40-49 and 50 over, with a long of 53. He's been inconsistent at times during his career, but is having a career year as a senior. He became Arkansas' all-time points leader earlier in the season.

    Sam Irwin-Hill, the punter from down under, has been great thus far. He has averaged 45.1 yards per punt with an incredible kick of 79 yards. He's also had 10 punts downed inside the 20-yard line. 

    The return game hasn't been good, but it doesn't take away from the overall performance. 

    Grade: A

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