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Tag:Jerry Franklin
Posted on: December 6, 2011 5:49 pm
 

Arkansas defensive coordinator Robinson resigns

Posted by Jerry Hinnen

The 2011 Arkansas defense was supposed to be the Razorbacks' best yet under Bobby Petrino, with star seniors like defensive end Jake Bequette and linebacker Jerry Franklin. That didn't happen, and so it's probably not a coincidence that defensive coordinator Willy Robinson resigned his position Tuesday.

"I want to thank Willy Robinson for his role in helping our defense, which he leaves in better shape than when he arrived," Petrino said in a statement. "I have the utmost respect for Willy Robinson as an individual who wants the best for the young men he coaches. I give Willy credit for his part in the building process the last four years and wish him future success."

Robinson's departure continues a substantial shakeup on the Razorback coaching staff. Offensive coordinator Garrick McGee recently accepted the UAB head coaching position and special teams coach John L. Smith has done the same at FCS Weber State, making Robinson the third Hog assistant to leave in three days.

Robinson had been in Fayetteville for all four years of Petrino's Razorback tenure but had come under fire for his first two defenses, both of which finished in the bottom half of the FBS in total defense; his 2009 unit ranked dead last in the SEC in total defense, yards per-play, and pass defense. Petrino stuck by Robinson and was rewarded with substantial improvement in 2010, as the Hogs cut their yards given up per-play by more than a half yard, finished 36th in the FBS in total defense, and placed fifth in the SEC in total D.

But even with the most experienced defense of his tenure and an SEC as offensively deficient as it's been in years, the Razorbacks still backslid in 2011, finishing 51st in the FBS in total defense and ninth in the SEC. Rush defense was a particular problem; the Hogs gave up an average of 203 yards on the ground to their nine BCS-level opponents and finished 79th in the FBS.
Posted on: October 29, 2011 4:28 pm
 

QUICK HITS: No. 8 Arkansas 31, Vanderbilt 28

Posted by Jerry Hinnen

ARKANSAS WON: In the wildest, most unpredictable, best game in the SEC in weeks, the Razorbacks scored the contest's final 14 points for their second upset-avoiding comeback victory in as many weeks. But this one was an even closer shave than the one at Ole Miss, as Vandy's Carey Spear missed a 27-yard field goal with less than 10 seconds remaining that would have sent the game into overtime. The difference in the placekicking made the difference in the game, as the Hogs' Zach Hocker made three tries from 35 yards out or further, including the game-winner from 42 yards with 6:53 to play.

WHY ARKANSAS WON: The continued brilliance of Tyler Wilson had an awful lot to do with it. Despite taking yet another pounding from an opposing defensive front (especially late in the first half), Wilson connected on 27 of his 43 passes for 316 yards, one huge late first-half touchdown, and no interceptions. With the Hog ground game reverting to its usual sputtering self (71 yards on 26 carries, 2.7 an attempt), Arkansas doesn't come close to winning this game without Wilson.

But the largest factor in Vanderbilt's defeat was that Vanderbilt -- for all of James Franklin's culture-changing confidence, bravado, and game-planning -- is still Vanderbilt. Opening up the second half with the ball and a 21-14 lead, Zac Stacy threw a halfback pass into excellent coverage that was picked and turned into a Hocker field goal. Stacy redeemed himself with a tackle-breaking 62-yard third quarter touchdown run and could have salted the game away when he took an early-fourth quarter handoff from the Arkansas 3, with his team up 28-20. But he fumbled without being touched, and Jerry Franklin scooped and scored from 94 yards on the game's biggest play. And then Spear capped what should have been an inspirational 8 play, 80-yard drive with the game on the line -- the sort of thing Vandy never does -- with the sort of thing Vandy always does.

Franklin clearly has the 'Dores on the right path, and faster than anyone could have imagined. But the exorcism isn't complete yet.

WHEN ARKANSAS WON: Spear's miss and Stacy's backbreaking fumbles were huge plays. But they might not have been any bigger than the touchdown thrown from Wilson to Jarius Wright (pictured) with five seconds remaining in the first half. The Hogs had taken over on their own 38 with just over 90 seconds left in the half, down 21-7, with Vandy having scored three long touchdown drives in four first-half attempts and getting the ball to start the third quarter. All the momentum was with the home team. But Wilson hit Wright for a 30-yard gain on 4th-and-10, and on the next play Wilson and Wright connected again from 11 yards out. The Commodores were never fully in control of the game again.

WHAT ARKANSAS WON: A continued spot in the polls' top 10, a 7-1 overall record, a 3-1 SEC record, and the knowledge that no matter how poorly they might play over the first 30 minutes, the Razorbacks always have a second-half comeback in them. But if one escape from a heavy underdog is a fluke, two is a trend, meaning that it's hard to argue the Hogs are playing like a top-10 team right now.

WHAT VANDERBILT LOST: As with the Rebels a week ago, this wasn't one of the games the 'Dores would have had circled as a must-win for bowl eligiblity. But to play as well as Vandy did and have the game so ... close in hand only to lose on a handful of mistakes must be crushing. Franklin will have his work cut out for him keeping his players' positive and focused after this kind of heartbreaker.
Posted on: September 22, 2011 8:21 pm
 

Arkansas DE Jake Bequette to miss 'Bama showdown

Posted by Jerry Hinnen

Over the summer we named Arkansas senior defensive end Jake Bequette to our CBSSports.com CFB 100, a list of the 100 most influential players, coaches, etc. of the 2011 season. Why? Because Bequette appeared to be the star player that could take the Razorback defense from "decent" to "potentially SEC-championship caliber."

But if the Hogs are going to take that step Saturday in their potentially season-defining showdown at Alabama, they'll have to do so without Bequette. Per Arkansas RapidReporter Jimmy Carter, Bobby Petrino announced Thursday that Bequette's nagging hamstring injury will prevent him from taking the field against the Tide.

“It’s really hard for him,” Petrino said. “He made huge improvement throughout the week, but didn’t quite get ready to practice. Hopefully he’ll be back next week.”

Starting in Bequette's place will be sophomore Chris Smith. The good news is that Smith has been one of the few bright spots for what's been a surprisingly tame Hog pass rush to date, having collected two of the team's three sacks and tying for the team lead in tackles-for-loss as well. Petrino expressed confidence in Smith's ability, lauding his "athleticism" and change-of-direction skills.

But that doesn't mean there's not plenty of bad news, too. The veteran Bequette would have likely been better-prepared for the raucous environment the Hogs are certain to face in Tuscaloosa; his strength and experience would have been a substantial boost against the Tide's powerful ground game; and no other lineman on the Razorback roster (Smith included) has Bequette's potential for a two-sack, four-TFL game-changing performance.

The news is, in short, a big blow. It doesn't doom the Hogs, either as an entire team or even just as a defense -- with Jerico Nelson and Jerry Franklin two of the SEC's better linebackers, the front seven still has some bite -- but winning on the road at Alabama is the sort of victory that doesn't usually happen without a good bit of good luck. Losing Bequette is entirely the opposite.

Posted on: August 8, 2011 9:48 pm
Edited on: August 9, 2011 1:27 pm
 

CBSSports.com Preseason All-SEC team

Posted by Jerry Hinnen

As part of CBSSports.com's season preview, we offer one blogger's choices for preseason All-SEC.
Our team includes 11 players on either side of the ball, because any more is cheating.

Offense

QUARTERBACK

Aaron Murray, rSoph., Georgia.
A 24-to-8 touchdown-to-interception ratio would be damn good for any quarterback. For a redshirt freshman in his first year on the job playing without the benefit of a strong running game, it was downright outstanding. (And, in fact, made him the most efficient underclassman quarterback in the country.) Murray should emerge as the conference's clearcut best passer as a sophomore.

Also watch for: Mississippi State's Chris Relf, the conference's best rushing quarterback and option operator; Arkansas's Tyler Wilson, like all Bobby Petrino pupils a 300-yard day waiting to happen; and South Carolina's Stephen Garcia, Murray's biggest competition for first-team honors if he can eliminate the backbreaking turnovers that have plagued his career.

RUNNING BACK

Trent Richardson, Jr., Alabama.
Boasting arguably the nation's best combination of power and speed at the position, Richardson should find himself carrying the lion's share of the load for a Tide offense that's never shied away from pounding out wins on the ground--and will shy away even less in 2011 with an unsettled passing game and ruthless defense.

Marcus Lattimore, Soph., South Carolina. The league's near-unquestioned leader in yards-after-contact, Lattimore's ruggedness and stamina sometimes overshadowed his other stunning gifts: his Mark Ingram-esque balance, surprising acceleration, and maybe the best pair of hands for a back in the SEC. Maybe the nation's best all-around back.

Also watch for: pretty much everyone, given even the SEC's least-heralded backs (like, say, Tennessee's overlooked Tauren Poole) have the potential for a 1,200- to 1,300-yard season. But we'll spotlight Arkansas workhorse Knile Davis, a good bet to finish as the league's top rusher despite the Heisman candidates above.

WIDE RECEIVER

Alshon Jeffery, Jr., South Carolina.
The league's leading receiver in 2010 by nearly 400 yards, there are sea urchins that could tell you Jeffery belongs here. A consensus preseason All-American and first-round lock, don't be surprised if he walks away with this year's Biletnikoff Award.

Greg Childs, Sr., Arkansas.
We're five selections in now and have yet to break ranks with preseason consensus, but we're not going to in this slot, either; at an NFL-ready 6'3", 215, Childs was step-for-statistical-step with Jeffery last season before an injury cut things short. Expect him to make up for lost time in 2011.

Also watch for: Childs' Razorback teammates Joe Adams and Jarius Wright, either of which could top 1,000 yards themselves; Tennessee sophomore home-run threat Justin Hunter; and junior Emory Blake, who could see a massive statistical bump as the No. 1 receiver in Auburn's more aerial-friendly offense.

OFFENSIVE LINE

C William Vlachos, Sr., Alabama.
The senior leader of what shapes up as the conference's best offensive line, Vlachos will have a shot at the Rimington Trophy.

OT Barrett Jones, Jr., Alabama.
After two years at guard, the All-SEC performer and All-American candidate moves to tackle for 2011.

OT Bobby Massie, Jr., Ole Miss.
Senior teammate Bradley Sowell could fit in this slot, but we like the immensely talented 6'6", 315-pound mauler to take another big step forward, especially in the run game.

OG Alvin Bailey, rSoph., Arkansas. Speaking of steps forward, Bailey started all 13 games in 2010, earned freshman All-American honors, and should be the focal point of an improved Hog ground game.

OG Larry Warford, Sr., Kentucky. The future pro was named second-team All-SEC a year ago and preseason All-SEC this year by both the media and coaches--not an easy thing to do at Kentucky.

Also watch for: Sowell, for one. But every SEC team has at least one player or two with all-conference potential. Perhaps the most likely candidates not listed above are at Georgia, where center Ben Jones and tackle Cordy Glenn could put an end to the Bulldogs' years of line underachievement in their senior seasons.

TIGHT END

Orson Charles, Jr. Georgia.
No other returning tight end in the league was close to his 26 receptions for 422 yards last year--and with A.J. Green and Kris Durham gone, Charles's role in the Bulldog offense should only expand from here.

Also watch for: Auburn's Phillip Lutzenkirchen, also due to see a numbers spike thanks to other receivers' departures. And if Florida jack-of-all-trades Jordan Reed sticks to TE, expect an impact from him as well.

Defense

DEFENSIVE LINE

DE Jake Bequette, Sr. Arkansas. In collecting seven sacks a year ago, Bequette emerged as the most explosive performer in the Hogs' highly-underrated front seven.

DE Devin Taylor, Jr., South Carolina. The Gamecocks finished a quiet third in the SEC last season in rush defense, due in large part to Taylor's 13 tackles-for-loss (tops among returning linemen) and 7.5 sacks.

DT Malik Jackson, Sr., Tennessee. It won't be easy for the talkative Jackson this season--he's the Vols' only returning starter in the front seven, and he's already missing two weeks of practice with a knee injury--but no returning SEC tackle was as disruptive in 2010.

DT Sharrif Floyd, Soph., Florida. Part of Urban Meyer's famous five-star haul in February 2010, Floyd collected 6.5 tackles-for-loss despite only starting two games and has reportedly been unblockable in recent Gator practices.

Also watch for: the nose tackles in either Alabama's or Georgia's 3-4 schemes--Josh Chapman in Tuscaloosa, and Kwame Geathers or Johnathan Jenkins in Athens. Ole Miss end Kentrell Lockett is in his sixth year and could lead the league in sacks if healthy. And the early reports are that megarecruits Jadeveon Clowney (at Carolina) and Anthony Johnson (at LSU) are as good as advertised.

LINEBACKERS

OLB Courtney Upshaw, Sr. Alabama.
Seven sacks and 14.5 tackles-for-loss a year ago, and those numbers should only improve as Nick Saban makes him the cornerstone of a more-dedicated Tide pass rush.

ILB Dont'a Hightower, Jr. Alabama. Hightower's rusty 2010 return from an ACL injury doesn't merit inclusion here, but his experience -- combined with the expected return of the athleticism he flashed a freshman All-American in 2008 -- certainly does.

MLB Danny Trevathan, Sr., Kentucky. We're fudging the formation a bit with two inside 'backers and just one OLB, but it's worth it to make room for the SEC's leading tackler from a year ago.

Also watch for: the excellent tandem of Jerico Nelson and Jerry Franklin at Arkansas, or Chris Marve at Vanderbilt, or LSU's underrated Ryan Baker.

DEFENSIVE BACKS

CB Tyrann Mathieu, Soph., LSU.
Teammate Morris Claiborne has received most of the preseason love, but Mathieu came on like gangbusters at the end of his freshman season -- culminating in an MVP performance at the Cotton Bowl -- and should be ready for an all-conference season.

CB Casey Hayward, Sr., Vanderbilt. The Commodores' disappointing 2010 wasn't Hayward's fault; his 17 passes defended led the SEC, and his six interceptions placed him second.

S Mark Barron, Sr., Alabama. His All-American status overrates him ever-so-slightly -- it's possible to get deep on Barron occasionally, if not frequently -- but no defensive back in the league (and maybe the country) has a better nose for the ball or knack for the game-changing play.

S Robert Lester, Jr., Alabama. Two Tide safeties might feel like overkill, but there's not really any arguing with numbers like these: an SEC-high eight interceptions, 12 passes defended, 52 tackles, and the Tide's league-best opposing passer rating of just 103.56.

Also watch for: Tennessee's Janzen Jackson, now that he's reportedly reported to camp in great shape after his layoff; Claiborne, obviously; Razorback safety Tramain Thomas; Georgia corner Brandon Boykin; and oh, fine, Stephon Gilmore. We don't think netting two pass breakups and three picks for a Gamecock pass defense ranked 97th in the country adds up to being an All-SEC player, but we're in the minority.

SPECIALISTS

P Drew Butler, Sr., Georgia; PK Blair Walsh, Sr., Georgia.
We wish the Bulldog specialists the best of luck in their 11th year in Athens. (No, we refuse to believe the pair of them have only had four years of eligibility each.)

Posted on: May 27, 2011 1:03 pm
Edited on: June 13, 2011 9:56 am
 

CBSSports.com College Football 100: 80-71

By the Eye on College Football bloggers

To celebrate the 100 99 98 days remaining until the first Saturday of the new college football season, this is the CBSSports.com College Football 100: our countdown of the 2011 season's 100 most influential players, coaches, administrators, venues, or any other related
things in college football. It's like that other "most influential" list, but, you know, more important. Also: it's supposed to be fun. Enjoy.

80. KIRK COUSINS, quarterback, Michigan State. Saying a team has "a lot to prove" after an 11-win season usually bodes poorly for how the season ended, and for Michigan State, that's no exception; the Spartans went 11-2, but those two losses were a 37-6 shellacking by Iowa and a 49-7 massacre in the Capital One Bowl against Alabama that didn't even seem that close. It was bad. Fortunately, MSU has the personnel to put together another strong showing in 2011.

The backfield hydra of Le'Veon Bell, Edwin Baker and Larry Caper will be the main focus of MSU's offense, but just like with Wisconsin's massive rushing attack last year, it's the senior quarterback at the helm that'll really keep defensive coordinators up at night. Not only that, but Cousins' arm is better than Scott Tolzien's. Significantly better. This'll be Cousins' third season starting, too, and though Mark Dantonio may not need his senior QB to average over 200 passing yards per game again, it'll be hard to keep Cousins' production down--especially when he's facing eight men in the box half the time. It's not a stretch to think Cousins could lead the Big Ten in passing efficiency in 2011--and even less of a stretch to think he could lead his men to double-digit wins once again. -- AJ

79. JOE PATERNO, head coach, Penn State. JoePa gets his own special Memorial Day weekend breakout entry; read it here.

78. BRANDON LINDSEY, defensive end, Pitt. The Pittsburgh defensive end had a stellar junior season in 2010, leading the Big East in tackles for loss (18.0) and finishing second in sacks (10.0). The Panthers have all new leadership up top, with Todd Graham in as head coach and Keith Patterson coming with him from Tulsa as defensive coordinator. Patterson is moving Pitt to a 3-4 defense that utilizes a hybrid "Panther linebacker," one often standing at the line of scrimmage.

The plan, according to Patterson and Graham, is to put Lindsey's explosiveness to use at that new "Panther" position. Graham compared Lindsey's role in 2011 to that of James Harrison--the ultimate playmaking linebacker in the city. Unfortunately, Lindsey missed spring practice with a shoulder injury. But the coaching staff is still counting on his frightening burst and ability to swarm to the ball in the backfield once fall camp opens. If Lindsey racked up 18 tackles for loss coming off the line, it would not be surprising to see the senior among the nation's leaders in his new role. -- CP

77. TRAVIS LEWIS, linebacker, Oklahoma. Travis Lewis's importance to the Oklahoma defense was already enough to warrant his inclusion on this list before the tragic recent death of fellow linebacker Austin Box. Now, not only will Lewis be looked to to lead the defense, but also help his teammates get over the loss of a teammate. He's the senior member of the Oklahoma linebacking corps, racking up an impressive 360 tackles (47.5 for loss), 6 sacks and 8 interceptions in his first three seasons.

As impressive as Lewis has been, though, he'll have to help improve one key part of Oklahoma's defense in 2011: stopping the run. The Sooners gave up 151.8 yards per-game on the ground last season, and while that number isn't terrible, it's not good for Oklahoma on the whole. Why? Because when teams are running on Oklahoma they're killing the clock, and every second that ticks away is a second that the Sooners' high-powered offense isn't on the field. As the leader of the linebacking corps, it will be up to Lewis to help stuff the run and get the Sooner offense back on the field. Whether he's able to do this or not could be the deciding factor between a Big 12 championship and a national championship in Norman. -- TF

76. "THE FLORIDA WAY," team code of conduct, Florida. So how, exactly, did one of the nation's most talented teams suffer five regular season losses in 2010, one shy of their total for the previous four years combined? As per usual with questions like these, it wasn't one factor but a perfect [deleted]storm for the Gators: poor coaching from the coaches, poor execution from the players, poor treatment from the football gods. (How many times out of 100 does LSU's accidental bounce-pass to their kicker on their game-deciding fake field goal actually wind up in the hands of the kicker?) But in retrospect, it appeared to be poor focus that cost the Gators more than anything. With Urban Meyer at the end of his coaching rope, Florida frayed in all kinds of directions: transfer rumors, sloppy fundamentals, petty arrests, Twitter embarrassments. The effort on gameday was there; the discipline needed for it to produce Meyer's usual results was not.

Enter Will Muschamp and the "Florida Way," his name for the team's new all-encompassing code of conduct. With most coaches and most teams, we'd call this sort of thing a P.R. sop for the coaching honeymoon, and move on to on-field matters. But when it comes to the Gators, 2010 proved this is an on-field matter. Before Charlie Weis's schemes can take root, before Muschamp can create his usual teeth-rattling D, the Gators have to rebuild the foundation of focus and discipline forged in the Tim Tebow days. If they do, though -- if the still supremely-talented Gators can follow through on the "Florida Way" -- expect them to follow it right back up the SEC East standings. -- JH

75. PRESEASON TOP 25'S, polls, mid-August.  To some extent, the polls will always be the most influential component of all college football--they're what ultimately awards that national championship everybody's after, after all. (Or do through the BCS middleman, anyway.) But it's also true that the polls, for the most part, respond to the events on the field rather than vice versa.

But there's one set of ballots that not only wind up shaping the narrative of the entire season, but can and do influence results between the lines. Those are the preseason top 25's, easily the most influential polls of the season. Not do only do they establish a blueprint that forms the basis for every ballot that comes afterwards, but seemingly every year they build a wave of hype and expectation that drowns some team's championship season before it even begins. Ask Ole Miss in 2009 (the most recent, striking example) about the latter phenomenon. Ask Auburn in 2004 -- and their inability to overturn the two teams entrenched at the the top of the polls since preseason -- about the former. In college football, polls matter; the preseason variety matter even more than most. -- JH

74. JEFF GODFREY, quarterback, UCF. How do these stats sound for a starting freshman quarterback? 168-294, 2,071 passing yards, 12 TDs, 122.9 passing efficiency, 17 rushing yards, and 5 rushing TDs. Pretty solid production overall for a freshman, no? Probably one of the best freshman seasons in UCF history, right? Yes, it was one of the best: that was Daunte Culpepper's freshman year at UCF. Godfrey's, meanwhile, was better across the board.

Here's what Godfrey put up: 159-238, 2,159 passing yards, 15 TDs, 154.3 passing efficiency, 566 rushing yards, and 10 rushing TDs. Godfrey's throwing motion needs work, but the arm strength is there; he's surprisingly adept at the deep ball. Then there's the rushing. Godfrey doesn't have Denard Robinson's level of speed, but he's still darn fast--fast enough to be a nightmare for opposing secondaries when he's scrambling. Put it all together, and Godfrey -- as a true freshman -- was a more efficient passer than super-sophs Matt Barkley, Landry Jones, Robinson, Darron Thomas and even Godfrey's closest prototype: Robert Griffin III. Godfrey is already one of the brightest stars in Conference USA, and we have a feeling he's nowhere near done collecting accolades. -- AJ

73. KYLE WHITTINGHAM, head coach, Utah. One of two coaches to join the Pac-12 this year, Whittingham has been around the block before. He's got a BCS bowl win and undefeated season on his resume already, making him one of the most accomplished coaches in his new league from the get-go. His first task is trying to avoid the terrible stretch run the Utes had last season (losing three of their last five) and get them back to where they were earlier in the season.

The seventh-year head coach has plenty of weapons at his proposal and has brought in one of the school's most well known alums, Norm Chow, as offense coordinator to give the Utes a boost. Whittingham should be able to lean on Chow, who comes over from UCLA has has years of experience in the Utes' new conference. Whittingham is known more for his defensive instincts and he'll have to get the pass defense up to speed before jumping into league play and facing the Pac-12's the plethora of good quarterbacks. The schedule is manageable but most of the tough games are on the road. Welcome to the league, Kyle. -- BF

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72. GARRETT GILBERT, quarterback, Texas. It wouldn't be fair to pin the entirety of Texas' 5-7 season in 2010 on Garrett Gilbert, but it wouldn't be honest to say the young quarterback didn't have a substantial role in it either. It was never goign to be easy to just walk onto the field and fill the formidable shoes of Colt McCoy ... and Gilbert proved it. He completed nearly 60 percent of his passes, but he also completed quite a few to the wrong team, throwing 17 interceptions to only 10 touchdowns.

Obviously, if Texas is going to rebound in 2011 and get back to playing for a Big 12 title, then Gilbert is going to have to perform a lot better. Odds are he will. He has a year of experience under his belt now, and has a new offensive coordinator in Bryan Harsin, a coordinator that had quite a bit of success with quarterbacks at Boise State. If Gilbert can improve his grasp of the offense, be more efficient with his throws, and -- most importantly -- turn the ball over less, life should be a lot happier in Austin this fall. If not? Well, then heads are going to roll. -- TF

71. JAKE BEQUETTE, defensive end, Arkansas. Is it possible the fate of the SEC West -- a division featuring two consensus top-five teams -- could rest in the hands of a second-team all-conference end few fans outside the SEC (and even a good number in it) have ever heard of? It might not be likely; Alabama and LSU have the hype they have for a reason. But it's certainly possible, ironically enough because of the Razorbacks' offense.

Trust us: Ryan Mallett or no Ryan Mallett, no attack with arguably the nation's best receiving corps receiving, Knile Davis running, a veteran line blocking and (most of all) Bobby Petrino coaching will be less than outstanding. All the Hogs need to make a serious run at Atlanta is the top-drawer SEC defense they've lacked the last couple of seasons ... and Bequette, their most explosive pass rusher, is the key. The Hogs have loads of experience in the secondary and two rock-solid linebackers in Jerico Nelson and Jerry Franklin. If Bequette can more consistently generate the devastating bull rush he showed in flashes in 2010, the Hogs will have a defense that can look their SEC West rivals in the eye--and, when paired with that offense, take them right back into the BCS bowl hunt. -- JH

The 100 will return here to Eye on CFB Tuesday after the holiday. Until then, check out Nos. 100-91 and 90-81, and follow us on Twitter.

Posted on: March 15, 2011 11:52 am
 

Spring Practice Primer: Arkansas

Posted by Jerry Hinnen

College football has no offseason. Every coach knows that the preparation for September begins now, in Spring Practice. So we here at the Eye on College Football will get you ready as teams open spring ball with our Spring Practice Primers . Today, we look at Nebraska , who opened spring camp on Saturday.

Spring Practice Question: There's no Ryan Mallett. So what is there, exactly?

We'll go ahead and spoil what we expect to be answer this spring: a whole heck of a lot.

But first, let's look at what the Razorbacks are missing without college football's most famous modified razor scooter -user. First and foremost, they'll be missing -- as Mallett himself said when asked how he'd respond to questions about his college career -- "seven thousand-plus yards and 60 touchdowns in two seasons." Those kind of numbers, and the attendant fear they (and Mallett's gatling-gun arm) put into the shell-shocked defenses he faced aren't easily replaced ... if they're replaced at all.

But it's possible that if the numbers and the arm strength aren't coming back, in ascendant junior Tyler Wilson the Hogs will welcome a few new things that even Mallett couldn't offer them. For all his intimidating talent, it's telling that Mallett summed up his resume for the pros with statistics rather than wins-and-losses or championships; while his two years were immensely successful both personally and from a team standpoint (the program's first-ever BCS bowl berth is nothing to sneeze at, to say the least), Mallett never did shake the nagging feeling from many observers he could have been even better than he was. In 2009, he pulverized the Eastern Michigans on the Hog schedule but too often tried to make the spectacular throw rather than the sensible one, resulting in a 39 percent combined completion rate in Arkansas's four games against ranked opponents (all losses). Mallett was much more consistent in 2010, but Hog fans still have to wonder: what if he hadn't had that three-interception meltdown at home against Alabama? What if the final throw of his college career hadn't been another game-ending boneheaded pick in the Sugar Bowl?

So what could Wilson offer that Mallett didn't? A little more poise down the stretch of big games, and maybe even a little more within-the-offense conservatism when necessary against deep coverage. It's worth remembering three other things in Wilson's favor here, too:

1. Bobby Petrino no doubt helped make Mallett the star he was, but he doesn't need an tree-sized, cannon-armed quarterback to be successful, as he proved with players like Stefan LeFors and Brian Brohm at Louisville;

2. Wilson looked outstanding in his one relief performance of Mallett last season, hitting 25-of-34 against Auburn for 332 yards and four touchdowns, nearly leading the Hogs out of a sizable deficit for what would have been a season-defining victory;

3. He won't have to carry the offense himself, and in fact won't have to carry much of it at all.

Per point No. 3, why not? Because in emerging workhorse running back Knile Davis (who topped 1,000 yards in the last nine games alone) and the senior wide receiving trio of Joe Adams, Jarius Wright and Greg Childs, no quarterback in the SEC (and maybe the country) should receive more support from his fellow skill position players that Wilson. He doesn't have to be Mallett to replace him.

And while most of the attention from Razorback fans this spring will likely center on whether the offense keeps humming, the Arkansas defense could be preparing for its best season yet under Petrino. Linebackers Jerry Franklin and Jerico Nelson both return for their senior seasons after finishing 1-2 on the team in tackles and 1-3 in tackles-for-loss a year ago; end Jake Bequette dominated in flashes last year, totaled a team-leading seven sacks, and could be poised for an All-SEC season; and the safety-corner combo of Tramain Thomas and Darius Winston look ready to pick up where last year's tag-team of Ramon Broadway and Rudell Crim left off.

So: the defense should be better. The running game and the receivers are in place. Which will turn all eyes towards Wilson this spring to see if he can deliver on the promise he showed against Auburn. If he can, even the loss of a wunderkind like Mallett might not be the kind of blow his reputation the past two seasons suggested it would be.

 
 
 
 
The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com