Bret Bielema has taken his Big Ten heavy rushing attack and turned it into an art form through two years in the SEC. That just hasn’t yet translated to a win. The Razorbacks are still looking for their first SEC victory under Bielema, but they’ll hope this is finally the time going against an LSU run defense that started poor but has been much improved lately.
Arkansas’ run game is one of the best in the country. The Razorbacks rank in the top four of the SEC and the top 16 nationally in rushing touchdowns (27), yards per carry (5.74) and total run offense (248.2). That’s led to a dominant time of possession, with the Razorbacks holding the ball an SEC best 34:15 per game.
We’ll break down just how proficient the Hogs are on the ground below, and here’s the projected starting lineup for Saturday’s showdown in Fayetteville.
PROJECTED STARTING LINEUP
QB: Brandon Allen (Jr., 6-2, 210)
RB: Jonathan Williams (Jr., 6-0, 223)
FB: Kody Walker (Jr., 6-2, 250)
WR: Keon Hatcher (Jr., 6-2, 210)
WR: Demetrius Wilson (Sr., 6-2, 198) — OR— Cody Hollister (So., 6-4, 207)
TE: A.J. Derby (Sr., 6-5, 255)
TE: Hunter Henry (So., 6-5, 250)
LT: Dan Skipper (So., 6-10, 326)
LG: Sebastian Tretola (Jr., 6-5, 350)
C: Mitch Smothers (Jr., 6-3, 315)
RG: Denver Kirkland (So., 6-5, 337)
RT: Brey Cook (Sr., 6-7, 314)
Key Backups: RB Alex Collins (So., 5-11, 215), FB Patrick Arinze (Sr., 5-10, 257), WR Jared Cornelius (Fr., 5-11, 195)
WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW
Arkansas’ two-head rushing attack has fans recalling the 2007 monster of Darren McFadden and Felix Jones. The Razorbacks are as prolific on the ground as they’ve been in seven years, already with 27 rushing touchdowns, six shy of the mark set in 2007.
Jonathan Williams and Alex Collins rank as two of the best backs in the conference. They rank third and fourth respectively in yards per carry, tied for fourth in touchdowns, fourth/sixth in total rushing yards and fourth/fifth in yards per game. They have 10 touchdowns apiece, the first time an Arkansas duo has each reached double digits since McFadden/Jones in 2007.
Arkansas leads the SEC in 70-plus yard runs (3) and the nation in 80-plus (3) and 90-plus (1).
Arkansas has so much confidence in its run game, they often keep it on the ground in third down situations. The Razorbacks have converted 61 percent of third down runs and 76 percent of third-and-short situations.
A large part of that is the massive offensive line paving the way for the backs. Arkansas offensive line is actually bigger than any in the NFL (as of Week 7) with an average weight of 328.4 pounds per lineman.
Opposing SEC defenses have actually had a decent amount of success stifling the Arkansas run game in recent games. The Razorbacks ran for an average of just 126 yards in three games against Alabama, Georgia and Mississippi State, including a season-low of 89 yards against the Tide.
For that reason, Arkansas has had to rely a bit more on quarterback Brandon Allen. He’s thrown for at least 200 yards in each of his last four games, including a 296-yard performance against Georgia in a game he had to throw 45 times.
He’s thrown 16 touchdowns this season to 10 different receivers. 62 percent of his completions have gone for first downs or touchdowns this season, and he’s minimized the turnovers with only six picks this season, though four have come in the last three conference games.
Keon Hatcher leads the receiving corps with 32 catches for 410 yards and three scores. But it’s the tight ends that actually factor most in the passing game. Hunter Henry and AJ Derby rank second on the third on the team in receiving with 363 and 254 yards respectively.
Henry has been a favorite target of Allen’s on third downs. He’s been targeted 16 times, converting 12 of them.
But if Arkansas gets its way Saturday, the Razorbacks will try to pound the rock directly at the heart of the LSU defense and test just how much the Tigers have improved up the middle.