Rawleigh Williams III (Nelson Chenault-USA TODAY Sports)

NW Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reporter Jimmy Carter gives us intel on Arkansas

Each week during the season, TheVTZone.com catches up with the beat writer who covers the Hokies' opponent. This week, we touched base with NW Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reporter Jimmy Carter for details on the Razorbacks.

1) What's been the perception of how the Razorbacks players are treating this game? Disappointment? Or hyped?

CARTER: Early in the year, they more than likely would've been disappointed in a Belk Bowl trip. This team has a lot of seniors that had high expectations after a strong close to the 2015 season. But I think most players watched Virginia Tech in the ACC title game and saw how well the Hokies played Clemson. As a result, they recognize they get to play a good opponent and have seemed eager about the game. Those same seniors are coming off a huge letdown in the loss to Missouri in the regular-season finale and have stressed how they want to end their career on a high note.

2) It seems like there's a good balance between Rawleigh Williams on the ground & Austin Allen through the air. But is Arkansas more dependent on one than the other?

CARTER: Arkansas' offense goes as Allen goes. The Razorbacks' offensive line has played with four first-year starters at different points throughout the year and Williams has struggled to find running room against some good defenses as a result (46 yards against Alabama, 22 against Auburn 49 against LSU). But Allen has been a consistent playmaker even while taking a beating at times behind the inexperienced line. He's surpassed any reasonable expectations as a first-year starter and is well ahead of where his brother, Brandon, was at this point.

3) What is it that has made both so successful this season?

CARTER: Williams isn't as flashy a runner as Alex Collins and Jonathan Williams, Arkansas' go-to backs during Bret Bielema's first three years, but his balance and vision has allowed him to develop into a really good SEC back, an accomplishment made even more impressive given that his football career was in doubt after sustaining a season-ending neck injury as a freshman. His 1,326 rushing yards led the SEC entering bowl season, a testament to his talent and also his durability.

Allen has the ability to fit throws into tight windows across the field. That confidence can sometimes get him in trouble, but he's been dynamic most of the season, especially when healthy. Arkansas has allowed more sacks this year (29) than the previous two years combined (28), but Allen has, for the most part, stood tall in the pocket and delivered good balls consistently.

4) Has there been one breakdown on defense that's given up so many points, or is it a snowball or something else?

CARTER: The defense has been porous against the run all year. They allow 6.16 yards per carry, which ranks last nationally and is the worst mark in school history. They've had trouble against dual-threat quarterbacks all year, which makes the matchup with Jérod Evans daunting. Setting the edge against the run has been a near-constant issue and a defensive line that was supposed to be the strength of the team has underwhelmed.

Safeties Josh Liddell and Santos Ramirez have struggled for the better part of two years and the team only has two quality linebackers. One, sophomore Dre Greenlaw, is maybe their best defensive player, but missed the final six games of the regular season with a broken foot. He's set to return for the Belk Bowl, but it's unclear how much of an impact he'll be able to make given the time he's missed. They've made a decision to experiment with a 3-4 look after being a base 4-3 team the rest of Bielema's tenure, so this game will be the first glimpse of that. It may be a good move long-term, but the same personnel that struggled in other looks all year will be out there, so it may not produce immediate dividends. 

5) How much pressure is there on Brett Bielema to win this game, as far as him being on any perceived hot seat?

CARTER: think most fans expect Arkansas to lose this game and most expect Bielema to be back next year regardless. This isn't a must-win game for Bielema, but he does need to show some progress heading into the offseason. He's yet to top eight wins in four years and is coming off a bad loss to Missouri, the worst team in the SEC, in the last game of the regular season.

The early road win over a ranked TCU team that turned out to not be that good gave the fanbase some false hope and an idea that the program may have turned the corner, but they failed to close strong in November after doing so the previous two years. Beliema has generated optimism heading into the offseason with bowl wins the last two years, so doing so again would keep the proverbial wolves at bay somewhat despite an up-and-down season in which the Razorbacks alternated wins and losses over their final nine games.

Carter's Fearless Prediction:

Evans could have a field day against an Arkansas defense that has made any quarterback with running ability look like a star this year. Allen, Williams and the Arkansas offense have been electric at times and while the Razorback coaching staff has made it clear how much they respect Hokies defensive coordinator Bud Foster, the Hokies' defense isn't as talented as groups like they've seen from Alabama, LSU and Auburn. The game should be high-scoring, but Evans is the Hokies' trump card. Unless something changes drastically from the regular season, Arkansas will have no answer for him. I think Virginia Tech wins 38-31

VTInsider Top Stories