Arkansas Razorbacks preview

It seems that the Trojans and their fans aren't the only ones looking forward to USC's home opener on September 17. The University of Arkansas Razorbacks also spent the weekend with their attention firmly fixed on their upcoming date with the National Champs. The only problem with that, of course, was that the Hogs forgot about their own game against perennial SEC doormat Vanderbilt, which resulted in an embarrassing 28-24 loss to the Commodores.

It will be interesting to discover if this Razorback team is really four points worse than Vanderbilt, or if they will have two weeks of motivation built up for the Trojans. If it's the latter, USC's run defense could face its toughest test of the year.

Razorbacks on Offense

Quarterback – #18 Robert Johnson

Heading into the season, Robert Johnson was given the unenviable task of making Arkansas fans forget about all-world talent Matt Jones, who shattered the Arkansas record for total yards and touchdowns in a career. Two games into Johnson's career as a starter, it's safe to assume that nobody is asking, "Who is Matt Jones?" While Johnson is a good athlete and has all the tools to be a good quarterback, he hasn't yet reached the point where the offense truly goes through him. In two games, Johnson has completed 29 of 50 passes (a 58% completion rate) for 292 yards and three touchdowns to go along with two interceptions. Johnson will need to put together a stellar game in order to keep the Trojan defense from stacking the line against the run.

Running backs – #22 Peyton Hillis, #26 De'Arrius Howard

This is where Arkansas will try to attack the Trojans. Peyton Hillis and De'Arrius Howard are the starters but what could ultimately emerge is a five-headed attack, as Hillis and Howard may be joined in the backfield by #25 Felix Jones, #5 Darren McFadden and #1 Dedrick Poole. All together, the Razorbacks have rushed for 338.5 yards per game this season, which was greatly helped by their 483 yards on the ground against Missouri State. In that game, Hillis, Howard and Jones all rushed for over 100 yards. That game may improve their stats, but it probably doesn't mean much in terms of game planning for the Trojans. Against Vanderbilt, Arkansas rushed 43 times for 194 yards (a 4.5 yards-per-carry average). Howard received the bulk of the carries (21 rushes for 139 yards and the only rushing touchdown), while Hillis was held in check throughout the game (15 carries for 39 yards). Howard and Hillis are both strong runners who can take the ball anywhere along the line of scrimmage. Depending on how those two fare, the Trojans could see Jones, a speedster who has already taken one 80 yards to the house, or McFadden, a true freshman and a very complete running back, ranked by The Sporting News as the Best Incoming Athlete in the SEC. Poole is used almost exclusively out of the backfield, even though Hillis is the best receiver of the group. Against these Razorback runners, the Trojan defense should be tested more by the constant presence of fresh legs, rather than any discernable difference in running styles. But if USC's front line can contain these running backs, this game could be over quickly.

Wide Receivers – #85 Marcus Monk, #10 Cedric Washington, #6 Cedric Logan

This position starts and stops with Marcus Monk. While his 6'6" frame makes him a great target, his hands and athleticism make him an invaluable weapon. A true sophomore, Monk leads the team with 11 catches for 136 yards and two touchdown grabs on the season. Although he presents obvious physical match-up problems, the lack of an opposite receiving threat has allowed teams to double and triple cover Monk without the fear of getting beat. To stay in the game against the Trojans, the two Cedrics will need to change that. Through two games, Washington has four catches for 36 yards while Logan has just one for 24. With the USC defense more than likely keyed in on the running game, it could be up to the Razorback receiving corps to keep the ball moving down the field. Terrell Thomas should most likely get the Marcus Monk assignment, and the will be a battle worth watching.

Tight End – #80 Mason Templeton

Mason Templeton may line up at tight end, but we'll call him what he really is: a pass-eligible tackle. Templeton has one reception for twelve yards to his credit, but he'll spend the afternoon blocking down on the Trojan defensive ends and locking up outside linebackers.

Offensive Line – LT #66 Tony Ugoh, LG #74 Stephen Parker, C #70 Kyle Roper, RG #63 Jonathan Luigs, RT #61 Robert Felton

Besides paving the way for their potent ground game, the offensive line has allowed just one sack on the season. Kyle Roper is one of the best centers in the nation and Robert Felton is a solid presence on the right edge. Unlike the Hawaii game, this weekend will be a true test for the Trojan defensive line as the Razorbacks will look to blend the run and pass.

Razorbacks on Defense

Defensive Line - #23 Desmond Sims, #97 Jeremy Harrell, #99 Keith Jackson, #91 Anthony Brown

Through two games, the defensive line has allowed 4.3 yards per carry and 154 yards on the ground per game. Desmond Sims has tallied the line's only sack, Keith Jackson leads the group with 11 tackles and Anthony Brown has the most tackles for loss, with three. With the arrival of new defensive coordinator Reggie Herring from North Carolina State, Sims was moved to defensive end from his outside linebacker position in order to take advantage of his speed coming off the edge. Anthony Brown is lining up at a new position as well. After leading the Razorbacks in receiving during the first spring scrimmage, Brown was moved to defensive end, where his height and athletic ability should allow him to shine. He has the talent, but he will need time to develop into a true threat on the defensive line. Although there is raw talent lining up here for the Razorbacks, they don't have the experience to pose much of a threat to the Trojan offensive line.

Linebackers - #24 Sam Olajubutu, #30 Weston Dacus, #27 Pierre Brown

Sam Olajubutu and Pierre Brown, the outside linebackers, have been let loose under Reggie Herring's new defense. They rank first and second on the team in tackles, with 23 and 22 respectively. Brown has a sack while Olajubutu leads the team with five quarterback hits and a forced fumble. Weston Dacus has also chipped in with a sack and five tackles. With nothing to lose against the Trojans, these three linebackers could find themselves anywhere on the field and blitzing from any angle. Trojan tight ends and running backs will need to keep them occupied and punish them if caught out of position.

Cornerbacks - #19 Michael Coe, #4 Darius Vinnett

Michael Coe and Darius Vinnett are solid cover corners and have produced so far this year for the Razorbacks. Coe has ten tackles, two interceptions and a forced fumble in two games, while Vinnett has 11 tackles and returned a fumble 44 yards for a touchdown. Both corners display great technique, but neither of them should be able to contain either of the starting Trojan receivers. Vinnett, at just 5'9", will have an especially difficult time if matched up against Dwayne Jarrett.

Safeties - #31 Vickiel Vaughn, #16 Matterral Richardson

Vickiel Vaughn is the leader of this Razorback defense. He led the team in tackles in 2004 and is third on the team, with 21, after just two games. His 16 solo tackles leads the team, as do his three pass breakups. He's forced and recovered a fumble and has a tackle for loss. Matterral Richardon lines up along with Vaughn at safety after moving from cornerback. At the cornerback position, Richardson had perhaps the best spring of any defender and his move to safety keeps him on the field. Vaughn and Richardson will try to keep all of the Trojan weapons in front of them, or at the very least, under 63 points.

Razorbacks on Special Teams

Kicker - #55 Chris Balseiro, #52 Brian Vavra

Chris Balseiro handles field goals and extra points, while Brian Vavra is responsible for kickoffs. Through two games, Balseiro is 1-2 on field goal tries (hitting from 37 and missing from 44), and perfect on nine extra points. Vavra has forced two touchbacks on 13 kickoffs, forcing opponents to start, on average, at their own 23 yard line. With Desmond Reed and Reggie Bush returning kicks, however, anything but a touchback is asking for trouble.

Punter - #14 Jacob Skinner

On his seven punts, Jacob Skinner has compiled a 42.1 yard average, forced three fair catches and landed three inside the 20 yard line. He has yet to have one blocked and boasts a best of 57 yards.

Kick Returner – #25 Felix Jones, #5 Darren McFadden

Felix Jones and Darren McFadden both posses the speed and skill to take any kick all the way back for six points. Jones is averaging 29 yards per return on his three chances, while McFadden has averaged 21.5 on his two chances. Trojan kicker Troy Van Blarcom performed well against Hawaii although the USC kickoff coverage allowed a few long returns. It will be important to force Arkansas to travel the length of the field in order to put points on the board.

Punt Returner – #19 Michael Coe

Michael Coe has returned eight punts on the season for 63 yards, averaging 7.9 yards per return. Arkansas is hoping that Coe will see more opportunities to return punts than Hawaii's returners.

My bet is that even after a terrible loss to Vanderbilt, this Razorback squad will be ready to face the Trojans. The Trojans, however, spent the weekend listening to people praise Texas, Notre Dame and LSU for their great wins and should be ready to reach out and focus the national spotlight back on the Coliseum. I still haven't seen a team that could hope to play with the Trojans. Arkansas will come out strong and could rush for more than a few yards on their opening possession. But just like the Hawaii game, the Trojans' home opener should never be in doubt and it will be only a matter of time until Reggie Bush or Matt Leinart add a few more clips to their Heisman portfolios.

As this season starts, there isn't an underclassman at USC (fifth year seniors excluded) that has seen a Trojan loss at the Coliseum. It is truly a great time to be a Trojan. Top Stories