Game Time: 4 p.m. ET
TV: SEC Network
How to watch online: WatchESPN
Odds: Arkansas (-20.5), -1700 (Arky Moneyline), +800 (LaTech Moneyline), 55.5 O/U
After winning 15 games over the last two seasons in Bret Bielema’s tenure in Fayetteville, the Arkansas Razorbacks walk into 2016 looking to buck the trend and push themselves up in the pecking order of the loaded SEC West. The Hogs have been a victim of being good but not good enough in that very division the last two seasons as they have had to settle for middling records of 7-6 and 8-5 in 2014 and 2015 respectively.
Meeting them in their first game of the 2016 season are the Louisiana Tech Bulldogs. LaTech is coming off a successful 9-4 season in 2015 that was capped off with a bowl win over the other team from Arkansas - the Arkansas State Red Wolves, in the New Orleans Bowl. LaTech ranked 54th in S&P+ at the conclusion of the year and 57th in F/+, so it’s fair to suggest that they were one of the better teams in the country and their record certainly indicated that.
A New Vision on Offense
What’s that? Arkansas may be passing more often?
It sounds crazy to suggest that a Bret Bielema-coached team may be favoring the pass. You don’t have to look too far back in the past to see the type of success that Bielema has had when he’s had talented tailbacks toting the rock. Just look at what went down at his former job with the stable of backs he had.
That identity continued on at Arkansas over the last few years. Alex Collins and Jonathan Williams were the keys to success for the Razorbacks offense and Brandon Allen, under center, wasn’t too shabby himself. They certainly did lean on the run lots but the change actually started last year when the Razorbacks had the No. 1 passing offense in the country via S&P+.
Allen’s departure opens the door for the bloodline to remain under center. Austin Allen, Brandon’s brother, was recently given the nod to be Arkansas’ signal caller. What he brings to the table for the moment is a mystery. The former three-star recruit had very minimal burn in 2015, only amassing three total pass attempts all year. He’ll have a lot of help though as four seniors headline the weaponry in the form of leading receiver Drew Morgan, Keon Hatcher, Dominique Reed, and tight end Jeremy Sprinkle.
Arkansas will have plenty of opportunities to attack a Bulldogs defense that is weak at the third level after the departures of cornerbacks Adairius Barnes and Bryson Abraham. The safety position is a concern as well so the Razorbacks may open it up a lot on Saturday afternoon and go for broke.
Continuity on defense should help the Hogs, but they will be tested out of the gate
The Razorbacks took a mighty step back last year on defense thanks to a lot of youth. That youth is now seasoned after a turn of the page, so shall it bring improved play? Arkansas will have to hope so. The competition around them hasn’t gotten much easier and that will prove to be true on Saturday as well.
Leading receiver Trent Taylor is back for his senior season and after amassing 1,282 yards on 99 catches a season ago, Taylor will look to make another impact in 2016. Carlos Henderson, Marcus Gaines and Kameron McKnight are also back for the Bulldogs as the experienced group represents a good chunk of the receiving yards returning from 2015.
The Bulldogs lost Kenneth Dixon in the offseason but will return the duo of Jarred Craft and Boston Scott at tailback. Craft was good in spots, amassing 230 yards on 58 carries. Scott meanwhile got much more limited burn - just 34 carries, but picked up 275 yards for a YPC of 8.1. Craft will be the starter for the Bulldogs Saturday, but don’t be surprised if Scott gets himself a share of touches with his dynamic abilities.