Arkansas Season Review

M. James Esarte, Junior Analyst

After the offseason firing of head coach Bret Bielema, and subsequent hiring of SMU head coach and offensive guru Chad Morris, optimism abounded in Fayetteville. Bielema’s ground-and-pound style had become irrelevant in a surprisingly high-scoring SEC, and the Hogs only won one SEC game in 2017. Morris’ uptempo scheme (the Mustangs were 14th in total offense in 2017) was supposed to cause an immediate turnaround in the Razorbacks’ fortunes.


However, the Razorbacks slogged their way to a disappointing 2-10 season, losing every single SEC game and only picking up wins against FCS squad Eastern Illinois and the 3-9 Tulsa Hurricanes. The problems began with the offense, Morris’ supposed area of expertise. He and offensive coordinator Joe Craddock, who followed Morris to Arkansas from SMU, were far too indecisive in choosing a starting quarterback, and the first three games of the season were marred by a quarterback controversy that set an uncertain tone for the rest of the season. Sophomore Cole Kelley, whose best quality is his 6’7”, 260 pound size, got the start in the first game of the season against Eastern Illinois, but he was quickly overtaken by junior Ty Storey. Both Kelley and Storey got benched mid-game, and this lack of certainty made it tough for Arkansas to get anything going.


Storey eventually established himself as the superior option, and he started eight of the last nine games (he suffered an injury late in the loss to Ole Miss and sat out against Tulsa). He threw for 1,584 yards and 11 touchdowns, but also threw 10 interceptions and only completed 57% of his passes–and he was clearly the best option at QB. One of the main things holding Storey back was his lack of weapons in the passing game. The first year transitioning from Bielema’s run-focused system to Morris’ spread system was always expected to be tough, as the coaching staff had been focused on recruiting high-quality running backs and linemen, but the lack of ability at the wideout position was concerning. The Hogs only had one player exceed 500 receiving yards (junior WR La’Michael Pettway, who had 503 yards on 30 catches), and the consistent lack of separation made it very hard for the Hogs to move it downfield. It wasn’t all bad, though–one of the rare bright spots for the Razorbacks was at RB, where former Last Chance U star Rakeem Boyd established himself as a bona fide star. Junior Devwah Whaley began the year as the starter, but after an injury against Auburn, Boyd took over and never looked back. He showed off his big play ability soon after, carrying 15 times for 102 yards against #1 Alabama, and finished the year with 734 yards rushing on 6 yards per carry. Arkansas fans will certainly look forward to seeing what he’ll do in a full season as the starter.


As bad as the offense was, the defense was even worse. They gave up a whopping THIRTY-SIX points per game and just over 400 yards per game. That figure is really surprising when you consider the strength of Arkansas’ D-line. Led by studs like Armon Watts (7 sacks, 8.5 tackles for loss, 3 forced fumbles), McTelvin Agim (4.5 sacks, 10 TFL, 3 FF) and Randy Ramsey (3 sacks, 7 TFL), the Hogs had one of the best pass rushes in the SEC. However, that pass rush, even with a pair of disruptive linebackers (junior De’Jon Harris and senior Dre Greenlaw) who combined for almost 200 tackles, 15.5 TFL and four sacks, couldn’t overcome an awful secondary. Outside of senior CB Ryan Pulley, who picked off three passes and broke up six more, the secondary was a mess. Opponents consistently were able to complete deep and intermediate passes consistently, and with only one solid tackler in the defensive backfield (senior safety Santos Ramirez), opposing receivers were able to get a lot of yards after the catch, leading to easy points for the other team.


Even after an extremely disappointing year, there are still reasons for optimism. Boyd and Storey are back on offense, and the Hogs add four-star receivers Treylon Burks, Trey Knox, and Shamar Nash, along with stud TE Hudson Henry, the brother of former Arkansas and current NFL TE Hunter Henry. And with a defensive line mainly composed of juniors, the Hogs keep the strength of their defensive unit intact.