FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. — The Arkansas offensive line was criticized throughout the 2016 season. Quarterback Austin Allen seemed to take beating after beating — especially early in the season.
Some new numbers provided by Pro Football Focus add more evidence. Arkansas ranked last in the SEC in Pass Blocking Efficiency, according to the website. The Razorbacks allowed quarterbacks — Allen took almost every snap for the Hogs in 2016 — to be hit an SEC-high 36 times.
Arkansas also ranked last in the SEC by allowing 145 pressures. In contrast, Alabama quarterbacks were hit 13 times and pressured 68 times during the season.
The Hogs’ Pass Blocking Efficiency number was 75.4, just worse than 13th-ranked Tennessee’s 75.5 PBE. Missouri led the SEC with a 91.8 PBE.
Arkansas entered 2016 needing to replace three starters on the offensive line, and it showed. Allen often looked like a sitting duck in the pocket. He left losses to Texas A&M and Auburn with injuries, but he returned in both games, displaying remarkable toughness.
Allen actually left the Auburn game — an embarrassing 56-3 loss — twice with the same right knee injury. Afterward, Allen didn’t play as well as he did earlier in the season.
It almost seemed like the beatings he took caught up with him.
Arkansas coach Bret Bielema publicly defended his offensive line during news conferences, frequently citing the need for better pass protection all around, including from running backs. He also said Allen sometimes held onto the ball too long.
But Bielema and offensive line coach Kurt Anderson made their displeasure with that unit clear in other ways, most notably by benching starters Colton Jackson and Jake Raulerson and replacing them with Brian Wallace and Johnny Gibson, respectively.
Arkansas’ offensive line play improved throughout the season, especially after Gibson entered the lineup. Center Frank Ragnow flirted with skipping his senior season to enter the 2017 NFL Draft.
Earlier this month, Pro Football Focus named Ragnow as its choice for college football’s best offensive lineman and best run blocker.
Entering the 2017 season, the Arkansas offensive line should be much improved. The Hogs must replace only one starter — left tackle Dan Skipper — up front.