FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. — Arkansas is 5-3 overall and 1-3 in SEC play entering its bye weekend.
Here at SEC Country, we’re breaking down the performance of each position group through eight games. Here’s our look at how the Razorbacks offensive line has performed.
By the numbers
4: Arkansas’ yards per-rush average this season. A Bret Bielema-coached team hasn’t rushed for fewer yards per carry since his first season as a head coach, 2006 at Wisconsin.
21: The number of sacks by Arkansas opponents this season. That number was 28 in the 2014 and 2015 seasons combined. In fact, Razorbacks opponents averaged 13.5 sacks in Bielema’s first three seasons in Fayetteville.
2: The number of starters — Dan Skipper and Frank Ragnow — Arkansas returned on its offensive line. They have been the best offensive linemen for the Razorbacks this season.
3: Number of different starting offensive lines Arkansas has played with this season. That number comes with a small caveat: In the Sept. 17 Texas State game, Ragnow and Jake Raulerson played right guard and center, respectively, rather than the other way around like they have in every other game.
38.32: Arkansas’ third-down conversion percentage this season, the lowest of the Bielema era.
One of the best things about covering Bielema is his candor. The guy typically tells it like it is, has no problem saying it when a particular player isn’t pulling his weight and doesn’t shy away from accepting responsibility for his team’s performance.
Which is why his passionate defense of the Arkansas offensive line this season has been a little strange. And, look, Bielema is right that it’s also the responsibility of tight ends and running backs to block. In some instances, those guys haven’t done well in that role.
The evidence that Arkansas has an offensive-line problem this season is overwhelming. It doesn’t take X’s and O’s expertise to see it. The above numbers speak for themselves.
Ragnow has been the best of the group. Skipper has been good in many instances and had trouble in others. Left guard Hjalte Froholdt, right guard Raulerson and right tackles Colton Jackson and Brian Wallace have had a lot of trouble, especially against the top-tier defensive lines of Texas A&M, Alabama and Auburn.
Heck, the Hogs couldn’t even convert fourth-and-1 against Alcorn State.
Wallace replaced Jackson in the starting lineup after the first three games, and he definitely has been better.
But now we can see why Razorbacks coaches experimented with more than 10 different first-team offensive-line combinations during fall camp. I’m curious why we haven’t seen some of that experimentation — with guys like Zach Rogers, Jalen Merrick, Johnny Gibson and Paul Ramirez — as the season has progressed.
Perhaps the worst thing about the offensive line’s performance has been the 20 times Austin Allen has been sacked — and the countless other times he’s been hit. Allen has shown himself to be extraordinarily tough and clutch. He’s having a great season statistically.
But Allen is getting battered back there, and that has to change if the Hogs are going to win most of these final four games.
Many are placing the blame for the offensive line’s performance on first-year position coach Kurt Anderson, who replaced Sam Pittman after he left for Georgia. Pittman is arguably the best offensive line coach in the country. Would he have had Arkansas’ O-line playing better after eight games? Maybe.
It’s too early to call for Anderson’s head. He deserves the opportunity to develop players for a couple of years and recruit some of his own guys. But there is no question his unit has disappointed, especially considering what Hogs fans have gotten used to from their big uglies.
Things aren’t getting any easier, with games against Florida and LSU looming after the bye week.
You can credibly make the case that if the offensive line were better, Arkansas would have at least one more win this season.
With the game tied late in the third quarter, the Hogs couldn’t score on fourth-and-goal from inside the Texas A&M 1-yard line. The Aggies seized all the momentum after that failure and wound up winning by 3 touchdowns.
The Razorbacks probably still would have lost to Alabama and Auburn with a better O-line. They might have even lost to Texas A&M. But who knows?
What we do know is this: This Arkansas offensive line has been dreadful for most of the season.