Like It Is:

Young Hogs trying to catch up in SEC

By: Wally Hall
Published: Wednesday, June 26, 2019
Arkansas coach Chad Morris speaks to members of his offense Saturday, April 6, 2019, during the Razorbacks' spring game in Razorback Stadium in Fayetteville.
Photo by Andy Shupe
Arkansas coach Chad Morris speaks to members of his offense Saturday, April 6, 2019, during the Razorbacks' spring game in Razorback Stadium in Fayetteville.

Lately, it has been thank goodness for the alphabet.

Before every season the University of Arkansas Razorbacks football team is second in the SEC.

The Hogs trail only Alabama alphabetically, then the season starts and everyone falls behind the Crimson Tide. Last year, all were in front of Arkansas, which was 2-10.

Ole Miss, Texas A&M and LSU were winnable games for the Razorbacks, but close doesn’t count in football.

The past two seasons have been hard on the Hogs.

This season, the Razorbacks will again be picked last by most preseason magazines and polls.

The reason is simple: No one knows if the freshmen and redshirt freshman will make them better, although they should.

A year ago something of a quarterback battle was brewing — although it was more of skirmish — between Cole Kelley and Ty Storey.

Storey would emerge, eventually, as the better leader, but both struggled without much protection. It is just hard to find a receiver when you are flat on your back.

Kelley ended up ranked 16th in passing efficiency in the SEC. He’s now at Southeastern Louisiana, an FCS school where he is immediately eligible to compete for the quarterback job.

Storey transferred to Western Kentucky.

Now, the Razorbacks are ready for another quarterback competition. This time the leaders are transfers Ben Hicks, who played two seasons for Chad Morris at SMU, and Nick Starkel, from Texas A&M.

Last season the Razorbacks didn’t have a receiver make the SEC top 20 in receiving yards.

And Rakeem Boyd finished 15th in the league with 734 yards rushing, but he started slow, and by the time he was in shape he looked like an SEC running back.

He, and everyone else, will be in better shape this season.

Arkansas returns 12 starters but it remains to be seen if that means a hill of beans.

By mid-August Morris will know exactly how many true and redshirt freshmen will be counted on, and it is likely to be several. Definitely all he needs.

The offensive line should be helped by redshirt freshmen like Noah Gatlin, who played in four games and even started at left tackle before putting the redshirt on. Gatlin has gained weight and strength and has the attitude of an offensive lineman. He’s a big athlete.

There were a lot of comings and goings among the players after last season, and most of it was addition by subtraction.

Bret Bielema was a player’s coach without a ton of discipline.

Morris is a player’s coach with discipline.

On paper, the defense looks like it should be improved. Two senior starters return in the defensive line, as does linebacker De’Jon “Scoota” Harris, last year’s leading tackler.

The biggest problem facing Morris, and a challenge he is taking head on, is a lack of overall talent and speed in his depth.

For now, he has to get more out of less because he’s not close to catching Alabama, LSU, Auburn, Florida, Georgia and others in recruiting.

Historically, Arkansas is not a great state for producing large numbers of Division I football players. Texas is, and Morris and his staff have spent enough time there to vote in the next Texas governor’s race.

They are also trying to keep the homegrown talent.

It is way too soon to be predicting how much better this Razorbacks football team will be, and it may not show in the record, but they are going to be more competitive.

Morris has added some speed at several positions, and more than likely, they will be more fun to watch, too.

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