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Arkansas Football: Hogs Performance at LSU a Positive Heading into Offseason

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Arkansas Football: Hogs Performance at LSU a Positive Heading into Offseason
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It was an admirable performance and one that pretty much no one expected, but the Arkansas Razorbacks couldn't close out the game in a 31-27 loss in Death Valley. 

I've never been one for moral victories, but the effort put forth in the Razorbacks' loss is a big positive heading into the offseason for head coach Bret Bielema and his Hogs. 

You can start with quarterback Brandon Allen, who has been widely criticized by many for his poor decision making and accuracy, including myself. 

Allen's completion percentage at one point was as low as 44.9 percent. He had a streak of six games in which he completed under 50 percent of his passes.

However, Allen finished the season with three-straight games over 50 percent, improving each game from 56.3 to 58.8 to 66.5 Friday in Tiger Stadium.It was his best completion mark since the season opener against Louisiana-Lafayette when he completed 68.2 percent of his passes for three touchdowns and no interceptions.

The season opener statistically was his best game, but his performance at LSU was Allen's most impressive outing of the season. 

He would finish with 178 yards on 19-for-29 passing with two touchdowns and one pick. But what made this his best game was that he was efficient and managed the game in one of the hardest places to play in all of college football. Allen is going to be in a battle for the starting gig this offseason, but his performance is something he can build off of.

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QB Brandon Allen

Though he averaged just 6.1 YPC and had only six completions over 10 yards, Allen was accurate with his throws and and made good decisions. 

His shoulder had supposedly been bothering him weeks after injuring it against Southern Miss in game three. That probably factored into him doing so poorly for a stretch of games, but it appears that he has just about fully recovered, which is indicated by his stats in the final three games of the year.

 

Bo Mattingly of Sports Talk With Bo tweeted after the game Bielema's thought on Allen:

His improvements to end the season raised his completion percentage to 49.6 for the season, which isn't good but is nearly five points better than what it was through eight games as the starter. If he can keep getting better in the offseason and build off how he finished 2013, the quarterback battle could get very heated. 

The wide receivers, which didn't necessarily help Allen's cause throughout the year, have a lot of positives to take away from the LSU game and the end of the year as well.

With the team's top receiver, senior Javontee Herndon, gone, it seemed with the lack of production from the other guys that the Hogs were in dire need of some more wideouts. It's still going to be a need, but sophomore Keon Hatcher really stepped up in the last few games and freshman tight end Hunter Henry continued to show why he's going to be a very special player for the Hogs.

Hatcher had a high of 45 yards in the first eight games and just 125 total yards receiving. In the last four, he had 221 yards, capped off by his seven-reception, 84-yard game at LSU. 

Before his strong closing, it looked as if the Hogs weren't going to have any proven receivers returning for 2014. All of a sudden, Hatcher looks to be the No. 1 receiver heading into the offseason. His game at the Tigers showed just how good he can be. The LSU secondary had a hard time keeping up with him as Hatcher was making plays all over the field. He has great hands and with an offseason of work, expect him to have a breakout year as a junior. 

And then there's Henry. 

Simply put, this kid is going to be great. After three frustrating games, he had five catches for 41 yards and two touchdowns against the Tigers to give him 409 yards and four touchdowns for his first year. Henry also has great hands and his size makes it hard for defenders to keep him from grabbing balls. 

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TE Hunter Henry

He and Hatcher are going to be prime targets going forward for whoever wins the quarterback job, which is justified by how they closed out the year against a very good Tiger defense.

Let's not forget the defense either. Yes, it gave up 470 yards with 238 and the 49-yard dagger at the end, but it also made some key plays that kept the Hogs in the game. 

The defense allowed LSU to score on its first two possessions, but held the Tigers on their next three drives, including forcing and recovering a fumble that allowed Arkansas to take a 17-14 lead going into halftime.

The defense came up big again to open the second half. LSU quarterback Zach Mettenberger tried to make a big play, but Alan Turner picked his pass off at Arkansas' 37-yard line and returned it all the way to the LSU 39 to set up another field goal.

The third big play the unit made came with Arkansas nursing a 27-21 lead in the fourth quarter. On fourth and two at the Arkansas 18, the Tigers went for the first down on a pass from Mettenberger to Jeremy Hill, but the Hogs hit him after one yard, giving the offense the ball and a chance to extend the lead.

That didn't happen and the defense eventually allowed the Tigers to get a field goal and touchdown to win the game. They gave up some big plays and still have a lot to work on, but the point is the unit made some big-time plays in crucial moments of the game, something it hasn't done all year.

Of course, the defense has a ton to work on going forward, but it responded well in critical moments on the road for most of the game, which can be a building block heading into the offseason.

The season is now behind the Hogs and spring and fall practices are going to be full of position battles. The Razorbacks and coach Bielema have a lot of work to do. There is no denying that. 

However, in a season where there have been few positives for this team, their effort in Death Valley over the weekend is something Bielema and the players have to use as a positive going into what is going to be a very interesting offseason. 

All stats are from ESPN.com and NCAA.com. For more info on the Razorbacks football team, follow Bryan Heater on Twitter @BHeaterRivals

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