Sep 1, 2012; Fayetteville, AR, USA; Arkansas Razorbacks quarterback Tyler Wilson (8) looks to handoff as offensive guard Alvin Bailey (67) and tight end Chris Gragg (80) protect in the game against the Jacksonville State Gamecocks at Donald W. Reynolds Razorback Stadium. Arkansas defeated Jacksonville State 49-24. Mandatory Credit: Nelson Chenault-US PRESSWIRE
Little Rock, Ark. – The No. 8 Arkansas Razorbacks will host University of Louisiana-Monroe Saturday night at War Memorial Stadium in Little Rock. While the Arkansas coaches prepare for a tough upcoming game against the Warhawks, Razorback Nation seems to be ready to push the panic button after one game.
Make no mistake about Saturday’s game, the Razorbacks will be tested and will have a tough game on their hands come kickoff and possibly deep into the second half. Fumbles, interceptions, and special team touchdowns aside ULM offers Arkansas an exceptional test before facing nationally ranked No. 1 Alabama on Sept. 15.
Over the last five years Louisiana-Monroe has presented a challenge Razorback fans do not like, they have been very competitive. In nine total tries the Warhawks have never beaten the Hogs but they have sure fought tooth and nail over the last two meetings to buck that losing trend.
In 2008 ULM extended a 10-6 halftime lead to a 27-14 fourth quarter lead before the Hogs came storming back to win 28-14. In 2010 the Warhawks put up a good fight against Arkansas eventually losing 31-7; the final score was not indicative of the competitive nature on the field.
Third-year head coach Todd Berry feels confident about his squad and returning talent for the 2012 season. Berry has gone as far as to claim this year’s Warhawks second unit is better than his starters on his 2010 team.
ULM returns seven starters on offense including third-year starting quarterback Kolton Browning. Browning is dual-threat quarterback who has passed for over 5,000 total yards in his redshirt freshman and sophomore seasons. During that time he has tucked the ball and ran for 828 total yards.
New Arkansas defensive coordinator Paul Haynes should be well aware of the challenge opposing running quarterbacks presented Arkansas in 2011. Ole Miss and Vanderbilt were able to sustain drives and stay in the ball game when the opposition’s quarterback was flushed out of the pocket and into open spaces in the Hogs defense.
Look for the Warhawks to use running backs Centarius Donald and Jyruss Edwards behind offensive lineman Jonathan Gill whenever possible. Interior linemen Ben Risenhoover and Joseph Treadwell (Pine Bluff, Ark.) combine for a formidable trio of run blockers with Gill pacing ULM to rushing game averages of over 150 yards in 2011.
Arkansas’ offense should have a size and experience mismatch against a ULM defense that only returns four starters from last year’s 4-8 team.
Kentarius Caldwell is a key returning starter for Louisiana-Monroe on defense. During the 2011 season Caldwell lined up at nose tackle but makes the move to defensive end this year.
Berry has three senior linebackers starting with redshirt freshman Mitch Lane making his first start at the Hawk position, similar to Arkansas’ star position played by senior Ross Rasner.
ULM should have a couple of familiar faces and names for Arkansas Razorback players and fans. The Warhawks feature two players that transferred from Arkansas, junior linebacker Austin Moss and senior running back, a former walk-on at Arkansas, Mitchell Bailey.
Bailey and Jyruss Edwards picked up touches on offense last season after Centarius Donald suffered a season ending knee injury. Bailey totaled 212 rushing yards on 64 attempts.
Arkansas heads into Saturday’s game with room for improvement after a sloppy opening game against Jacksonville State.
The Hogs secondary was slow to adjust to the Gamecock’s passing attack. Senior starting cornerback Darius Winston gave up big plays in the first half of action before being replaced in the second half by Kaelon Kellybrew. Paul Haynes has challenged Winston to regain his starting position before Arkansas heads into their first SEC game of the season next week against Alabama.
Ross Rasner played well for Arkansas especially close to the line of scrimmage. Rasner finished with a team-high 11 tackles but looked a step slow covering receivers in space. Perhaps Rasner was caught over thinking his position instead of reacting instinctively to the opposition?
Look for Rasner and Winston to get tested by the Warhawks offense in passing situations.
Arkansas got strong play from their defensive line against JSU. The linebackers looked a step slow at times missing some tackles that should not have been missed. This could be accredited to starting linebackers Tank Wright (concussion) and Alonzo Highsmith (hamstring) missing the majority of fall camp due to injury.
The good news is the Razorback offense will get preseason first-team All-SEC wide receiver Cobi Hamilton back after Hamilton left Saturday’s game early with an “above the neck injury.” Basically Hamilton got his bell rung but there are no reported lingering concussion symptoms.
The bad news is starting fullback Kiero Small is out indefinitely after having surgery on his foot Thursday for an injury suffered in practice. No word on Small’s timetable for his return.
In place of Small expect redshirt freshman Kody Walker to be used when Knile Davis lines up at tailback. On short yardage and goal line running plays Arkansas offensive coordinator Paul Petrino may call upon offensive lineman Grady Ollison (6’5”, 286 pounds) to lead the way to six for the Razorback running backs.
Many media outlets and college football prognosticators have pegged Arkansas as Knile Davis’ team. While the label maybe true by season’s end this year’s team looks like it will go as far as senior quarterback Tyler Wilson can carry them.
Last year Wilson carried the Hogs to an 11-2 season behind a makeshift offensive line with no running game. What Wilson should be able to accomplish with an improved line and the return of Davis to compliment his passing attack is left to be seen, but Razorback Nation should expect a lot.
Wilson set a school record for passing yards in a season opener last week- 19 of 27 for 367 yards with three touchdowns. The offensive line protected well after being tested by run and passing blitzes on seemingly every other play. The result was Wilson was only sacked once but Davis was caught behind the line in the second half on missed run blocking assignments for loss yardage.
Tight end Chris Gragg started his senior campaign with a seven catch 110 yard performance with two touchdowns – 4 yards and 30 yards. His efforts were rewarded by the Mackey Award voters as the top tight end in college football for week one.
The one sour spot was Gragg’s fumble. Gragg accounted for one of three turnovers the Hogs committed against a FCS opponent; an area of concern for the Arkansas coaching staff in preparation for ULM.
A question mark spot for the Razorbacks last week was their receiving core. Question no more.
Even without Hamilton on the field for much of three quarters, Wilson was able to set school passing records. Slot receiver Brandon Mitchell had a 100-yard game in his first experience at wide receiver after playing quarterback for three seasons on the Hill ( four catches, 122 yards).
Junior wide receiver Javontee Herndon chimed in with 96 receiving yards on four catches with one touchdown.
Clichés serve a purpose, mostly because they are true. This football cliché should serve as comfort for Razorback Nation, college football teams show the most improvement between game one and game two. Expect this to hold true for the Razorbacks on Saturday.
Arkansas will face a challenge from Louisiana-Monroe on Saturday. How great that challenge will be is left up to Arkansas.
ULM Head Coach Todd Berry is saying all the right things about his team’s depth, talent, and his team’s positive outlook entering their 2012 season and season opener against the Hogs.
All Berry’s personal insights maybe true but Arkansas has a wealth of offensive talent few college football teams can match.
ULM has faced a wealth of BCS talent over the past two years- FSU, TCU, Auburn, Iowa, and Arkansas. The experience of playing against the “big boys” should help the Warhawks in Sunbelt Conference action.
Arkansas was able to work out their first game jitters and bugs last week against JSU while ULM watched. ULM had a by-week in week one. They will be rested but should experience some growing pains on the field to the tune of missed assignments and adapting to the speed and mismatches Arkansas brings to the game.
If Arkansas can limit their turnovers and get strong lead blocking from their new starting fullback, look for the passing offense to score at will against an inexperienced ULM secondary with the Arkansas running game eating up game clock.
Paul Petrino tried and tried to knock the rust off Knile Davis in week one. Davis ended up with 18 carries for 70 yards with one touchdown. Not Heisman Trophy numbers but a great performance when put into perspective. Those carries were Davis’ first in over one year’s time. Expect better recognition of holes and explosive runs from Davis against ULM as he heats his season up.
The key to the game, as it maybe for the rest of the 2012 season for Arkansas, is the Razorbacks’ back seven on defense. Can the Razorback secondary play the ball better going forward? Will the linebackers gel in time for conference play?
Arkansas’ last three opponents have been running teams with quarterbacks that can tuck the ball and run- LSU, Kansas State, and Jacksonville State. Haynes drew up a winning defensive game plan against Kansas State in the Razorbacks’ Cotton Bowl win shutting down the Wildcats running game asking KSU to throw the ball; look for a similar approach on Saturday.
Expect Browning to give Arkansas fits early but adjustments after three or four defensive series will slowly shutdown the Warhawks offense culminating in three-and-outs instead of seeing sustained ULM drives.
Tyler Wilson will be Tyler Wilson, which translates to one of the best college football players in the nation. Look for Wilson to push his passing numbers towards week one totals; one of Arkansas’ wide receivers will break loose for that long score to pad Wilson’s stats.
Davis will end up close to the 100 yard mark and Chris Gragg will continue to be a nightmare matchup for opposing team’s linebackers and safeties.
The Arkansas defense has been known for giving up big plays over the past five years. That trend will continue allowing the Warhawks to stay in the game during the first half of play.
Arkansas 38, Louisiana-Monroe 15
Location: War Memorial Stadium, Little Rock, Arkansas
Game time: 6 p.m. CT
TV: ESPN3, check local listings for game channel
Arkansas vs. Louisiana-Monroe News and Notes
Todd Berry is 9-15 in two seasons at ULM, 38-75 overall in 11 seasons
2011 Arkansas Razorback starter Jason Peacock is scheduled to return from his one-game suspension against the Warhawks. Several questions center upon Peacock’s return:
How will Paul Petrino use Peacock? Former walk-on David Hurd started against JSU at weak side tackle, a spot Peacock battled for during pre-fall practices. Will Peacock start or split time with the first unit as the game progresses?
Peacock’s playing time could be a direct link to who will start at offensive tackle against Alabama next week. Petrino will want Peacock to get into a flow with the first unit in a game opportunity before facing the Crimson Tide defense.
The other interesting note of interest is which tackle will play the “strong” tackle spot, Peacock or Brey Cook?
Which team will be the home team when the No. 8 Arkansas Razorbacks take the field against Louisiana-Monroe?
If you guessed the Razorbacks you are wrong. In an effort to help Louisiana-Monroe’s home attendance numbers to remain a BCS/Division-I program the University of Arkansas agreed to allow the Warhawks to claim Saturday’s attendance numbers as a home game.
Make no mistake which university will be better represented in the stands come game time.
Where do I know you from?
Warhawks linebacker Austin Moss may not suit up against his old team on Saturday. Moss is said to have an illness with flu like symptoms which could keep him out of the game. Moss is a second-string linebacker for ULM.
ULM has two former Arkansas prep players on their squad, sophomore offensive tackle Joseph Tredwell and redshirt junior defensive back Mitch Lane. Both players are from the Pine Bluff area.