The year of 2009 was an exciting regular season for Arkansas football.
The Razorbacks finished with a 7-5 record but played much more competitively with their top competition in 2009 compared to how they competed in 2008.
As the Hogs prepare to take on East Carolina in the Liberty Bowl on Jan. 2, let's take some time to look back at the 2009 regular season.
With both successes and failures in year two under Bobby Petrino, let's see how the Hogs' offensive, defensive, and special teams units graded out.
Ryan Mallett rewrote the Arkansas record books, throwing for over 3,400 yards and 29 touchdowns, both Arkansas records. In his first season as a starter, Mallett lived up to his expectations and gave Arkansas fans an unfamiliar confidence in the quarterback position. If Mallett decides to return to Arkansas for his redshirt junior year, the Hogs could be a serious contender in the SEC.
Running Backs: B-
Arkansas never really got their running game going in 2009.
Michael Smith was injured much of the season, and his season and career ended early due to a hamstring injury. However, the Hogs did get red zone production out of “big back” Broderick Green as the season progressed.
The Hogs also got a great performance out of Dennis Johnson against Florida, and freshman running backs Ronnie Wingo and Kniles Davis showed tremendous upside as the season went on.
The Hogs' running back stable is full, and in 2010, barring any injuries, the running backs should make a bigger impact and help the Hogs win a lot of games.
Arkansas burst onto the scene in 2009 with a record-breaking performance. As the season went on they continued that trend, as they led the SEC in offense, scoring, and passing.
The Razorbacks were led by their fabulous trio of super sophomore wide receivers Jarius Wright, Joe Adams, and Greg Childs. Tight end D.J. Williams also had a great year. Although his statistics were way down from 2008, Williams become a much better all-around tight end.
The Hogs will lose seniors Lucas Miller, London Crawford, and Reggie Fish but should be even better in 2009, as the sophomore trio and D.J. Williams return, as well as freshman Cobi Hamilton and other talented newcomers Petrino redshirted or is currently recruiting to play the WR position at AR.
Offensive Line: B
The offensive line made huge strides from a year ago. The Hogs in the trenches gave up the second most sacks in the nation in 2008. In 2009, the Hogs protected Mallett very well and opened holes for the running game.
The offensive line looks to be much improved in 2010 with the additions of talented redshirt freshmen Alvin Bailey and Colby Berna. The one key loss is All-SEC offensive lineman Mitch Petrus. Petrus will make a great NFL lineman, but even with his departure, expect to see the Arkansas offensive line improve in 2010.
Offense Overall: A-
The offense made great strides in 2009, but there is a large area for improvement. They must execute better on the road, and the running game must balance out the offense. There were many times this season when the opposition knew the Hogs would rely on the pass and schemed against it.
For Razorback fans, this is a bit of uncharted waters. Having the top offense in the SEC is what everyone wants, but being there and saying there is room for more improvement seems to be a shock to some. But it is the nature of the beast, and the Hog players and coaches are the first to say they should be executing better and that they have a large area for improvement.
This improvement is what could have the Hogs looking to go BCS bowling in 2010—that is, if the defense can hold its own.
That leads us to the unenviable task of grading out the Razorback defense that ranked last in the SEC for the second year in a row.
Let's just jump right into it.
Defensive Line: B-
The defensive line in 2009 made large improvements over 2008.
The highlights of the D-line’s year came against Florida and Texas A&M. In those two games, the Hogs' front four created havoc and hit the quarterback on a regular basis. However, the D-line had breakdowns and did not do enough to get a higher grade.
The Hogs will be losing Adrian Davis and Malcolm Sheppard but have tremendous upside in young players D.D. Jones and Tenarius Wright. The Hogs coaching staff have been hard at work to add to the defensive line with the current recruiting class. Even with the losses of Davis and Sheppard, expect to see the defensive line improve in production and depth in 2010.
The Razorbacks' linebacker group added much-needed weight prior to the 2009 season. This group has two newcomers in Austin Moss and Terrell Williams that will be great players for the Hogs as they develop. However, mistackling plagued this group and frustrated many fans all season long.
Jerry Franklin is the leader of this group, and as only a sophomore, he will be a much bigger force the next two seasons.
If the coaching staff can continue to land some talented players in the 2010 recruiting class like they have so far, this group could make a huge improvement in 2010.
The Arkansas secondary was the thorn in the defense's side all season. The Hogs D was predominantly good against the run except for some blown plays. However, against the pass the Hogs were last in the SEC, but not for long.
In 2010, the Razorbacks will see the return of Isaac Madison from injury, who is the Hogs' best cover corner. Also, the Hogs will see newcomers Darius Winston, David Gordon, and Juco players like Anthony Leon and Ruddell Crim step it up along with others.
The Razorback secondary has the ability to be the best part of the Hogs defense in 2010 if they use the bowl practices and the offseason to improve their strength and understanding of the defensive scheme. If they make this improvement, it is likely the Hogs will be going to a marquee bowl in 2010.
Special Teams: D+
Many Razorback fans will feel that the special teams deserve an F for the 2009 season. There were a lot of mistakes and games lost because of the special teams.
The most memorable is the regular season finale loss to LSU, where Alex Tejada missed a 36-yard FG that would have sent the Hogs into a second overtime.
The next most memorable would be the FG misses against Florida that allowed them to walk away with a victory when the Hogs were the victors everywhere but on the scoreboard that day.
However, there is some hope.
Both punters will return for Arkansas. This was their first year of action, so they should improve. Tejada also will return unless he decides to leave the team. However, he may be replaced by incoming freshman kicking star Eddie Camara from Texas. The Hogs also will have many speedsters fighting for the kick return and punt return jobs.
If it was all up to Dennis Johnson, this would grade as an A, but unfortunately his hard work on kick returns is a very small part of the overall special teams.
Defense and Special Teams Overall: C-
The overall grade for the defense and special teams is well below where it needs to be, and in 2010 the sky is the limit for the overall improvement of these units. Many of the players will be in their second and third years of the system.
If the Hogs can get this to a C+ or even a B, then the odds of the Hogs going to a major BCS bowl are likely. The Razorbacks return more players than any other team in the SEC.
The Hogs' offense led the SEC in numerous offensive statistics, and with improvement on the defensive side of the ball, the Hogs will be able to be more competitive in the big games against LSU, Georgia, Alabama, etc.
Arkansas played the majority of their most difficult games on the road in the 2009 season. Next year, LSU, Alabama, and Ole Miss all will come to Arkansas to battle it out with the Hogs.
While Hog fans have reason to be disappointed in the performance of the defense and special teams in 2009, there are many reasons to look forward to a much better 2010.
Looking back at the season as a whole, the Hogs made their improvements as the season went on and have themselves on track to be a contender in the SEC in 2010 if they continue to improve during bowl practices, winter conditioning, and as they prepare for their 2010 season.
This upcoming year has the ability to be the year of the Hog, so go hog wild, Razorback fans.