Arkansas will lose star power along the offensive side of the football after the Liberty Bowl.
That means the Razorbacks will need to use the 15 practices leading up to their bowl game to beef up the, um, defense. More important, the secondary.
Coach Bret Bielema expects running back Jonathan Williams to declare for the 2016 NFL Draft while tight end Hunter Henry and running back Alex Collins — both juniors — each had great years and could declare as well.
Arkansas got into some shootouts this season and had to rely on a high-scoring offense. With one running back expected to declare, two more stars that could turn pro, a senior quarterback playing his final game and the departure of senior offensive linemen, the 2016 Arkansas squad will need to rebuild its offense.
A defense that gave up gobs of yards and points this season can’t allow a young offense to get into shootouts. And it starts with the secondary.
The Arkansas secondary can make a statement — and set the tone for 2016 — with an improved performance in the Liberty Bowl against a Kansas State team that doesn’t necessarily throw the ball well. The Wildcats average 177 yards passing per game and the team only has 13 touchdown passes.
That’s a good sign for the Arkansas secondary that gave up more than 300 yards passing five times this season — including 508 yards to Mississippi State — and allowed 17 passing touchdowns. It allowed more than 250 yards three other times this season.
Toledo upset Arkansas in the second week with 237 passing yards. The Razorbacks then lost games to Texas Tech (315 passing yards, 2 TDs) and Texas A&M (358, 2 TDs).
In games with big passing yardage allowed, the results weren’t all losses. But that’s because the Arkansas offense kicked it into high gear. Tennessee-Martin passed for 380 and Ole Miss passed for 368.
The front seven on defense was pretty salty this season, allowing only 119.6 yards per game and only allowing one 200-yard game.
The Hogs could also let backup quarterback Austin Allen get plenty of reps in the Liberty Bowl should they get a sizeable lead. Allen, the younger brother of senior starting quarterback Brandon Allen, should take the helm next year, and good, live reps in the postseason could springboard him into a leadership role for the spring and next fall.
With a home game against Louisiana Tech to start the 2016 season and a road trip to TCU, the Hogs need leadership and confidence heading into those early battles.