FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. — It’s finally time for college football in Arkansas.
Arkansas takes on Louisiana Tech on Saturday afternoon to open the 2016 season inside Donald W. Reynolds Razorback Stadium.
To help get you ready for the game, SEC Country’s Arkansas beat writers are providing their picks for players to watch and making bold predictions.
Players to watch
Senior wide receiver Keon Hatcher. Hatcher looked like he was headed for a great 2015 season before a broken foot in the second game forced him to take a medical hardship. Hatcher returns for a second senior season Saturday against Louisiana Tech and is part of a deep, experienced receiver group that might be one of the best on the team.
Hatcher has scored touchdowns on four of his last nine touches in the Hogs’ previous two home openers. This is a guy who has been itching to get back on the game field, and I think he might be in line for a big comeback game.
— Jason Kersey
Junior defensive back Kevin Richardson II. Richardson, Arkansas’ starting nickelback, expects to be on the field often against Louisiana Tech as the Bulldogs regularly deploy three and four wide receivers. And while Louisiana Tech’s quarterback situation is shaky, its receiving corps is not. Senior Trent Taylor is once again expected to lead the way after having 99 catches for 1,282 yards and 9 touchdowns last season.
Taylor (5-foot-8, 178 pounds) has primarily been used in the slot during his career, which is why Richardson will likely draw the difficult assignment as the Hogs’ third cornerback. Taylor has been especially effective in games against Power 5 conference opponents. Last season, he caught 10 passes for 130 yards and a touchdown against Mississippi State, and caught 12 passes for 148 yards and a touchdown against Kansas State. Look for Louisiana Tech to do its best to get the ball in Taylor’s hands as the Bulldogs’ quarterbacks try to gain some confidence. But if Richardson is up to the task of limiting Taylor, the Razorbacks’ chances of winning in a blowout will be greatly increased.
— Trent Shadid
Arkansas picks off at least three passes. The Razorbacks’ pass defense was dreadful in 2015, but the combination of new position coach Paul Rhoads and lots of experience should lead to the Hogs’ secondary being drastically better in 2016.
Those things, combined with the fact that Louisiana Tech is starting a freshman quarterback will result in a big day for the Arkansas defensive backfield.
— Jason Kersey
Arkansas will have two running backs rush for at least 100 yards. Running backs Rawleigh Williams III and Devwah Whaley are the type of talents that will be capable of rushing for 100 yards against most opponents. The real question with Arkansas’ running game is going to be how the offensive line performs with three first-time starters. The unit had some struggles in fall camp, but showed drastic improvement as camp progressed and finally settled on the five starters in the past couple weeks.
With the offensive line now in place and ready to prove itself, and coach Bret Bielema’s reputation for big rushing numbers, look for both the sophomore Williams and the freshman Whaley to rush for at least 100 yards against Louisiana Tech. Williams should gain the majority of his yards in the first half before Whaley breaks out in the second with Arkansas comfortably in front.
— Trent Shadid