Wrapping up SEC Country’s look at Arkansas’ 2016 non-conference opponents, here is a glance at Alcorn State, which plays the Razorbacks at War Memorial Stadium in Little Rock, Ark., on Saturday, Oct. 1 at a time to be determined.
Alcorn State — an FCS program — has never played Arkansas. The Braves will be led by first-year head coach Fred McNair, who took over after Jay Hopson left to become Southern Mississippi’s head coach.
McNair spent the previous four seasons under Hopson as Alcorn State’s assistant head coach and quarterbacks coach.
Alcorn State 2015 recap
Alcorn State began the 2015 season with a resounding 69-6 loss at Georgia Tech, but went on to win its second consecutive Southwestern Athletic Conference championship and finish the season with a 9-4 record.
The Braves lost starting quarterback John Gibbs Jr. in late October, but Lenorris Footman more than capably filled Gibbs’ shoes for the rest of the season. Footman, now a junior, enters 2016 as the starter with Gibbs now graduated.
By the time the season ended, Footman had rushed for 1,023 yards and 11 touchdowns while also passing for 1,106 yards and 14 scores.
The Braves lost 35-34 to Grambling State in mid-October, but avenged that loss with a 49-21 victory in a SWAC championship game rematch. Alcorn State played in the Air Force Reserve Celebration Bowl on Dec. 19 and lost 41-34 to North Carolina A&T.
The Braves offense
With Footman now the established starting quarterback, Alcorn State’s offense appears to be — at least at the top — in good hands entering 2016.
Who will protect Footman? That remains to be seen. Alcorn State must replace the good chunk of its offensive line that was lost to graduation.
Alcorn State also must find a way to replace the production of graduated running back Darryan Ragsdale. He rushed for 1,183 yards last season, including a SWAC championship game-record 191 yards in the rematch against Grambling State.
The Braves defense
The Alcorn State defense ranked 10th in FCS in total defense last season, allowing just 294.8 yards per game. And although the Braves defense lose some of their best players like Warren Gatewood, Darien Moody and Damon Watkins, it still returns several good ones.
Senior defensive back Eric Foster picked off four passes last season and recorded two sacks. Senior linebacker Darien Anderson was the team’s leading tackler in 2015 and added 5.5 sacks.
At the defensive end spots, senior Stacy Garner notched 15 tackles-for-loss and six sacks last season, while junior Michael Brooks also had six sacks and 11 TFLs.
Reasons for confidence
Alcorn State is 1-11 all-time against FBS opponents, with its only win coming in 1978 against Central Michigan. Arkansas should win this game comfortably while getting its young players plenty of game action.
Reasons for concern
Does last year’s game in Little Rock count as a reason for concern? On Sept. 12, 2015, the Hogs lost 16-12 to Toledo inside War Memorial Stadium.
The big difference, of course, is that Toledo was a really good, mid-major FBS opponent — the Rockets went 10-2 last season — and Alcorn State is FCS.
The Braves are a solid FCS squad, but in no way should they be able to hang with the Razorbacks.