Weekend Preview: Arkansas Razorbacks Focused on Eastern Michigan Eagles
It is Homecoming week for the Arkansas Razorbacks, and the Hogs' total focus right now is on Eastern Michigan and getting another W in the win column.
A win will get them one step closer to their goal of making a bowl game this season. Five games remain in the season and finishing strong is the only choice they have to reach their goal.
The Arkansas Razorbacks are coming off of two disappointing losses in a row, and the season has not gone exactly according to plan. Though many had picked the Hogs to be around the record they are at right now because of the difficult schedule they have in 2009.
The Hogs are in the midst of their second two-game losing streak of the 2009 season. In fact it has them sitting at the exact same record (3-4) at this point in the season as they were in 2008. Of the five remaining games they must win three to become bowl eligible. Win number four should come this weekend.
There is some disappointment surrounding the coaches and players regarding the recent losses, but there is also a sense of getting back to business. Many of the quotes since the losses state that they have let games get away they should have won, and have taken ownership of the mistakes that caused those losses.
To an observer, they clearly had their chances and could have played better in the losses. Yet, you can say "if this happened" or "if that went this way" until you are blue in the face and it won't change a thing.
Getting a win this weekend in front of the home crowd on Homecoming is the focus right now. This is a team hungry for a win and you couldn't ask for better prey than Eastern Michigan (0-7).
Eastern Michigan is the worst team in the nation in rushing defense. It just so happens that the Arkansas Razorbacks desperately need to get their running game on track.
Expect to see balance from the Arkansas offense, but a focus on getting the ball moving on the ground. Micheal Smith and Dennis Johnson seem the top candidates for breakouts.
They are the only hogs to break the 100-yard mark in a game this season and each has only done it once. Both Smith and Johnson have been dinged up on and off most of the season, but both are healthy and ready to go this weekend.
The offensive line will be the key to getting this running game going. They are a big bunch of bodies, but have been very inconsistent this season both in pass protection and the running game. They will prove to be far too big for the Eastern Michigan defense and will pave big holes for the Razorbacks' group of running backs.
The other area to look for improvement is in the utilization of DJ Williams. Williams was a Mackey award finalist last season as one of the top tight ends in the nation. He was the Arkansas Razorbacks' leading receiver in 2008 as well. This season Williams has seen a diminished role in the offense. He has not made a reception in the past two games, and has been open plenty of times but just not seen or missed.
Bobby Petrino has stated this week that Williams' number is being called and plays are being drawn up for him, but the ball just has not been getting in his hands. Credit some of that to opposing defenses that have worked to take him out of the game. There also appears to be a lack of chemistry thus far between Williams and quarterback Ryan Mallett.
In practices this week there has been an emphasis on getting Williams the ball. He is too good of a playmaker to not be involved in the game.
Along with Williams being involved, keep an eye out for the wide receivers out to make this a statement game. One of the biggest reasons to watch the wide receivers is that Joe Adams, the 19-year-old sophomore, has been cleared for 100 percent participation.
Adams was the Razorbacks' leading receiver prior to a mild stroke that hit him three weeks ago just days after going over 100 yards in a big win over Texas A&M in Dallas. It is unsure if he will play, but the good news of his return to the team will have the receivers and the team pumped up. He is a big-time threat to take it to the house every time he touches the ball.
On top of Adams, the entire young talented group of receivers has had some of the best highlights of the season, and also some of the lowest lows of the season. Last week the receivers had around 10 drops in the loss to the Rebels. Earlier in the season they had another game with close to 10 drops against Alabama.
This week keep an eye out for this talented group of receivers to produce at least two or more players with 100 plus yards receiving and make a statement.
The defensive line is another position to look out for in this game. They were going extremely strong from A&M, Auburn, and Florida where they sacked Tebow six times. Last weekend against Ole Miss they were dominated. Expect to see them this weekend in the backfield early and often.
Malcolm Sheppard and DD Jones are becoming a force on the inside of the line, and Jake Bequette is developing into a very effective defensive end. The defense may have taken a hit to their confidence last weekend in Oxford but they will be way too much size and speed for Eastern Michigan.
Another position on the defensive side of the ball to keep your eye on this week will be the play of young first-year secondary members. The Razorbacks have had injury after injury in the secondary this year. Before the season they lost starting cornerback Isaac Madison for the year. In the past week contributor Ramon Broadway and starter Ruddell Crim have had the injury bug bite them.
Broadway will not be back this week because of a severe hamstring injury, and Crim is day to day with a hip pointer. So, highly-touted freshmen David Gordon and Darius Winston will be asked to step up and show they can compete and have grasped the scheme.
Many believe these two young cornerbacks are the future of the Arkansas defense. So keep an eye out for how they perform on Saturday.
The biggest position to keep an eye out for on Saturday is quarterback. Backup quarterback Tyler Wilson will have eyes all on him. Wilson is expected to play, and could add more fuel to the quarterback controversy fire spreading across the Razorback Nation.
Personally, I believe in Ryan Mallett and that he is the QB1 for the Razorbacks, but following the two consecutive losses there has been a growing sentiment of giving Tyler Wilson a chance.
There are areas where Wilson is believed to have an advantage. He puts more touch on his passes in the short passing game. He sees the open receivers better, and he is believed by many to be the more accurate passer.
Also, Wilson is the more mobile quarterback and throws very well on the run and can get outside of the pocket and keep plays alive. In his brief time on the field he has looked good, but has been careless with the football at times.
His under-center issues have been chronicled in depth. He has played from the shotgun all his life and has had issues taking snaps under center. In an interview on Tuesday he was asked about this and said he has not had a fumble under center in practice in three weeks.
Expect 100 percent to see Wilson in the game this weekend, and if he performs well expect the chatter about playing him more to increase.
On the flip side of the coin, Ryan Mallett will surely be out to prove in this game he is the QB1. Expect to see him, in the two quarters or so he plays, complete his passes at a high rate and make big plays.
Mallett has been trying to hard to make things happen down field in the vertical passing game as Coach Petrino has stated this week. So expect to see him working on the short and intermediate passing game as I identified earlier with vertical deep passes mixed in as well.
If Mallett can start to see the field better and take what the defense gives him he has all the tools to be one of the top quarterbacks in the SEC.
Prediction Time: I believe by the end of the first half this game will be in hand. The Hogs should put up some big numbers and get a blowout win. More importantly they will be a step closer to making a bowl game this season. Keep an eye out for these positions and how they perform and the impact they have on the game.
Hogs get a much needed big win and confidence boost for this season-ending stretch.
Hogs 56, Eagles 10
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