2014 Missouri Tigers football preview: Arkansas

Missouri vs. Arkansas
Date
: Nov. 28
Record: Arkansas was 3-9 in 2013. The Razorbacks lost to Missouri 38-7 in the 2008 Cotton Bowl. Missouri leads the series 3-2.

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Darren Hellwege, Sports Commentator

Like Tennessee, this is a once great program that’s gone through a revolving door of coaches the last few years and it’s left the Razorbacks as one of the lower teams in the SEC. I like the hire of Bret Bielema from Wisconsin, but his first year in Fayetteville obviously left a lot to be desired.

Quarterbacks
Junior Brandon Allen is pretty well agreed upon as the Razorbacks starting quarterback. He wasn’t especially sharp in 2013, throwing almost as many interceptions (10) as touchdowns (13) as the Hogs finished dead last in the SEC in passing yards. Needless to say, improvement will need to be seen from Allen. However, it’s worth noting that Allen was injured early in the year, and some say played hurt through most of 2013. There’s virtually no experience behind him in the QB ranks, with Allen’s younger brother, freshman Austin Allen, the likely number two man to start things off, but Rafe Peavey may push the issue. A true freshman from Bolivar, Missouri, who was recruited by Mizzou, Peavey has people excited with his throwing and running ability. But, he’s probably the future of the position at Arkansas, if we see much of him this year, chances are the Hogs are in real trouble.

Running Backs
While the passing game was struggling last year, Arkansas was stout in the run game, and they return two very good backs. Alex Collins was quite possibly the best freshman running back in the nation, topping 1,000 yards. The only other Razorback to top that mark as a frosh was Darren McFadden, who finished second in Heisman voting twice and is still doing his thing in the NFL. And the scary part of this for SEC defenses is that Collins may not even be the best running back UA has, as Jonathan Williams also returns, and he actually was ahead of Collins in yards per carry at 6.0 and is a little less likely to fumble. Oh, and there’s also the return of Korliss Marshall —all he did was average 8.6 yards per carry on 17 attempts. Bielema has an embarrassment of riches at this position, and you cannot write off Arkansas offense with a run game this good.

Receivers
Demetrius Wilson was supposed to lead the receivers for Arkansas last year, but suffered a serious knee injury before the season and was lost for the year. I’ve been told he’s back to full health, and that’s a major plus for a team that really struggled at the position last season. Keon Hatcher returns but a couple of new guys may make an impact. Jared Cornelius is a sure-handed true freshman who enrolled early and turned heads at spring practice; and Cody Hollister also looked good in the spring, he’s a big, physical juco transfer out of Arizona. If Wilson’s knee holds up for his senior year and Cornelius and Hollister are as good as I’ve been hearing, this offense could be substantially more explosive, especially with their outstanding run game. Add in the guy who was, surprisingly, probably the Hogs best receiving threat last year, tight end Hunter Henry. Henry was a freshman All-American but Bielema also liked what he saw from former quarterback A.J. Derby at the position in spring ball.

Offensive Line
Which leaves the offensive line. They lose an All-American center and their starting LT, but could still have a pretty good line if the interior works out the kinks. Dan Skipper, who played well at guard last year, slides to the left tackle slot and the right side is solid with Denver Kirkland and Brey Cook. Mitch Smothers starts the conversation at center but didn’t blow anyone away in spring ball. Luke Charpentier could be the LG or center, but juco transfer Sebastian Tretola could step in, as could true freshman Brian Wallace. UNLV transfer Cameron Jefferson may also contribute. Someone will need to take the reins at center, if that happens they’ll be adequate up front.

Defense
The defense is anchored by outstanding end Trey Flowers, a second team All-SEC performer last year who could have gone pro but decided to return to the Ozarks for his senior year. The other end slot is a bit of a question, with sophomore Brandon Lewis the most likely possibility. Some sources say it could go to Deatrich Wise, but Wise is a big’un and probably better suited to playing inside at tackle. The only problem is the Hogs also have Darius Philon, who shined as a freshman last year, and big (perhaps too big) DeMarcus Hodge at the tackle slots, with Bijhon Jackson an intriguing new freshmen also at DT. If Hodge is in shape, this could be a strong line overall, and my sources at UA say Hodge showed up for fall camp in greatly improved condition.

Linebacker has been a trouble spot for the Razorbacks for a while now, and improvement is badly needed here. At least there’s experience here, with seniors Martrell Spaight and Braylon Mitchell looking to start on the outside. Both received very high praise from Bielema for their performance in the spring. Brooks Ellis did well as a freshman reserve last year, and may start in the middle, and Otha Peters has some talent but injuries have held him back. Tiquention Coleman also provides some depth, but this may be a place where a newcomer could have an impact as well. Watch for the Hogs to move an OLB up closer to the line in a 3-technique (one hand on the ground) in a position they call the “dollar” in a 5-2 set at times, also.

The secondary is a similar story, with experienced players who’ve not been terribly impressive and the opportunity for youngsters to step in. Bielema acknowledges this was a weak position in 2013, especially at corner, but said they looked improved in the spring. Tevin Mitchel returns for his senior year and the corner looked sharp earlier in the year. Another senior, Carroll Washington could be pushed for playing time by Will Hines, a junior. If that name’s familiar, the Texan originally committed to Missouri before flipping to Arkansas. At free safety Alan Turner led the team in tackles last year but a lot of folks think freshman De’Andre Coley could play here right away. Rohan Gaines probably starts at strong safety.

I was always impressed with Bielema’s work at Wisconsin and if he and his staff can establish a little stability in Fayetteville the program should bounce back. They’ve recruited well the last couple of years. But this is a serious rebuilding project and they’re still a ways away from being able to hang with the best of the SEC. I’ve said for a lot of years Missouri and Arkansas should play in football, this will be the first regular season meeting since 1963 for what ought to become a really fun rivalry. There may be some great games in the series down the line, but for now, this should be a big win for the Tigers to put the finishing touch on a 10-win regular season.

Here’s the recap of my prediction for Missouri’s regular-season record:

Darren’s 2014 season prediction
vs. South Dakota St. Win
at Toledo Win
vs. Central Florida Win
vs. Indiana Win
at South Carolina Loss
vs. Georgia Win
at Florida Win
vs. Vanderbilt Win
vs. Kentucky Win
at Texas A&M Loss
at Tennessee Win
vs. Arkansas Win
FINAL 10-2

Darren Hellwege is a member of the Football Writers Association of America and the United States Basketball Writers Association. Find him on Twitter: @KBIAHellwege

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