On a very hot Saturday afternoon in Fayetteville, the Arkansas Razorbacks defeated the Louisiana Ragin Cajuns 34-14. The Hogs have improved.
While extreme heat taxed other players in other games, the Razorbacks never seemed to wilt and showed they are conditioned to be a much better team than most thought possible.
Here are seven other observations from the game on Saturday.
Improved strength and physicality
There was much talk in the offseason about the Hogs being more physical. What do you do when the offensive line was not good the year before? You get them in the weight room. That is what Strength and Conditioning coach Ben Herbert did. Herbert added strength and size to the line who, now, averages over 305 pounds per man.
The coaching staff molded the line and changed them to a run blocking line. The results were noticeable as they opened hole after hole for Jonathan Williams and Alex Collins. The first two plays, gains of over 10 yards, was a sign of what was to come.
Improved defense, but still work needed
The defense made stops. In the past few years, one of Arkansas’ defensive weaknesses was not getting off the field. Louisiana was 4-of-13 on third downs. Lafayette has a mobile quarterback in Terrance Broadway. In previous years, mobile quarterbacks were big problems for the Razorbacks. Last year in the Louisiana-Monroe game, the Warhawks made Arkansas pay, especially on fourth down.
These kind of stops are an improvement, and, it can be argued, that the Louisiana Ragin Cajun offense this year is better than the ULM offense was last season when the Hogs played them.
The secondary and the linebackers still have work to do, but they held their own. It will get harder as the competition level gets better. An offense who can control the line of scrimmage and win the time of possession will be very beneficial for this defense.
The defensive backs are still a little timid. Once defensive backs become more sure, they get more swag and start jumping routes. Once this defense is doing that, the Hogs will be very dangerous.
Improved offensive line
With the improved strength and physicality, the improvement is most noticed up front on the offensive line. Led by All-world Center Travis Swanson, this group did not look the same. They were active, physical and dominant.
Improved running game
With the improvement in strength, physicality and offensive line play, well, the running game is much, much better. Both Jonathan Williams and Alex Collins have the ability to take a run all the way on any given play. Several times each of the backs were close, and Williams broke one in the third quarter that was a joy to watch. That 75 yard touchdown by Williams put the stamp on the revamped running game at Arkansas.
Play action was solid
With a great running game comes the potential for a good play action passing game. Brandon Allen did not disappoint. His fakes on the play action were great and he delivered the ball where the receiver could catch the passes. Almost every pass was on target.
If the Hogs are running the ball well, the play action will be a very good part of the game. The only question, now, is can Allen run a passing attack when the Hogs need to pass to score or win the game.
Brandon Allen looked comfortable
Unlike last season when Allen had to step in for Tyler Wilson, Brandon Allen looked fully in command and comfortable. He managed the game really well and his ball placement was spot on. He had command of the huddle. His teammates were playing for him.
While taking most of the reps in practice can help in making Brandon comfortable, an offense that takes a lot of pressure off the quarterback to be perfect is helpful, especially for a new QB. When Brandon has to deliver with his arm for the Hogs to win, we will see if he will be a better-than-serviceable quarterback.
Kiero Small is back
Early in the third quarter, the Hogs had driven to the Louisiana ten yard line. QB Brandon Allen dropped back with the backfield clearing out and found Kiero Small in the right side flat. Small planted his feet at the sideline with a Ragin Cajun defender bearing down, slipped the defender and turned up the sideline delivering a crushing blow to two UL defenders while crossing the goal line.
With the touchdown, Kiero Small announced to the college football world, and, more importantly, to the Razorback fans that he was back. He showed exactly why the Hogs missed him last year. He is potent as a pass receiver out of the backfield and he delivers wipe-out blocks to linebackers on running plays. Also, he is able to get a yard for the Hogs for a first down. His presence is immeasurable. His slimmer, stronger frame will allow him to wow fans more than ever.
Next week, the Hogs host Samford in Little Rock. This game will present different challenges. No doubt, Samford is not near as good as Louisiana whom many think will win the Sun Belt Conference. Anything that needs fixing, like penalties, the Hogs will need to work on to get ready for Southern Miss, and, ultimately, for Rutgers.