The Arkansas Razorbacks will take the field for the annual Red-White Spring Game on Saturday afternoon.
The Razorbacks are coming off an 8-5 season in which they spoiled Ole Miss’ chances of making the SEC Championship Game in one of the most thrilling overtime games of 2015. Arkansas hopes to play a larger role than just a spoiler in 2016.
Here’s everything you need to know about the spring game:
Red team vs. White team
- Kickoff: 1 p.m. ET, Sat. at Donald W. Reynolds Razorback Stadium
- Weather: High of 79 degrees, zero percent chance of precipitation, 5-10 mph winds
Storylines to watch
Seamless brother-to-brother transition at QB?
Arkansas coach Bret Bielema chose to leave no suspense by naming junior Austin Allen the starting quarterback heading into the spring game.
Allen began to tighten his grip on the starting job in practices with returning players in the fall, according to Bielema. Allen hopes to fill, or perhaps exceed, the shoes of his brother, Brandon, who started for the Razorbacks the past three seasons.
“(Austin Allen) stood out,” Bielema said in a recent interview on “The Paul Finebaum show.” “We had about four or five practices where it was just them (the returning players for the 2016 season) and he was head and shoulders above everybody else and that continued in the spring.”
Austin, who will enter the season with just 19 career passes, has a long way to go to catch Brandon’s all-time school record of 64 touchdown passes, but Bielema thinks Austin is ready after sitting behind his brother.
Bielema said Austin’s statistics were almost identical to Brandon’s spring practice numbers from a year ago, and now he gets a chance to perform in front of more than just teammates and coaches.
Inexperienced running backs
Arkansas’ top two rushers have departed with Alex Collins and Jonathan Williams gone.
Their departure was supposed to open the door for senior Kody Walker, but he broke his foot in spring practice, putting him out until at least June.
With Walker sidelined, junior Damon “Duwop” Mitchell is expected to get most of the carries Saturday. Mitchell is a former wide receiver with 10 career carries for 87 yards.
New look O-Line
It won’t matter who is running the ball if Arkansas’ offensive line isn’t up to snuff.
The Razorbacks lost starting guard Sebastian Tretola, starting offensive tackle Denver Kirkland and starting center Mitch Smothers. Dan Skipper and Frank Ragnow are the only offensive line starters returning.
Skipper and Ragnow will be tasked to lead the unit along with new offensive line coach Kurt Anderson, formerly of the Buffalo Bills. Anderson replaces Sam Pittman, who joined the UGA staff in the same role with new Bulldogs coach Kirby Smart.
The Arkansas offensive line has become known for imposing its size and strength on opponents in the Bielema era. Will that continue with new faces in the picture?
One question that needs to be answered:
How much progress has the defense made?
Many times last season, Arkansas was fine when it came to putting up points, but it struggled with keeping opponents from doing the same. The defensive unit should improve with nine of the top 10 tacklers from a season ago returning, including nine of 11 starters.
The defense is led by senior linebacker Brooks Ellis who led the team with 102 tackles during his junior campaign.
Redshirt senior defensive lineman Deatrich Wise Jr. has impressed Bielema during spring practice. Wise led the team with eight sacks, seven of which came in the final four games of 2015. The next closest player had two sacks.
The spring game should be a good barometer for which side of the ball has further to go before the Razorbacks open the season against Louisiana Tech on Sept. 3.