Back in the summertime, and even a bit before, as some local media personalities and their Razorback-red sunglasses watched spring practice, proclamations were made. This Arkansas team was going to be awfully good, they said.
Not all of them. Some right-minded individuals spared the rest of us the sanctimony. But there were enough people close to the team and the coaches, a nine-win season, to them, not only was a possibility, but a likelihood.
Those folks could end up being correct, what with Arkansas sitting at 5-3 with four games left. A clean sweep of the rest of the schedule is all that is required to reach that predicted mark.
Of course, those who weren’t trying to sell subscriptions, paid message-board content and national TV shows backed off a bit. Some people went eight wins. Some more want seven. In July, I was the only one of about 30 day-to-day media types who predicted six (ultimately I swapped a game out and projected Arkansas to finish 7-5). Depending on your predilection for emotional roller-coasters, you fell in one camp or another.
It isn’t even that the devout and silently ardent supporters could end up wrong. They might be right. Exactly right, even. But it showed the glaring difference between blind optimism and realism.
It was about July, perhaps August, when a handful of us were asked something along the lines of, “Which units do you have the most faith in this year?” Based on my response at the time, with this bye week almost finished, let’s take a look at which have lived up to, exceeded and fallen woefully short of expectation.
Units are listed in the order of strength I projected over the summer.
Wide Receivers (Rank then: 1, rank now: 1)
Dominique Reed has been a disappointment. Everyone else? Beyond expectation, really. Drew Morgan doesn’t quite have the yards you’d expect from a No. 1 receiver, but in Arkansas’ offense, the No. 1 receiver doesn’t really exist. There are three of them. Keon Hatcher is a little short in predicted yards and catches, but only barely, and he’s ahead on touchdowns. Jared Cornelius is exceeding expectation in every way. Cody Hollister is doing almost exactly as expected. But there’s Reed, who hasn’t come to close to re-filling his role as big playmaker.
Morgan predicted: 55 catches for 750 yards, 5 touchdowns
Morgan on-pace: 62 for 630, 3 touchdowns
Expectation: Meeting it
Hatcher predicted: 50-700, 5
Hatcher on-pace: 42-653, 8
Expectation: Meeting, maybe a touch exceeding
Cornelius predicted: 30-500, 3
Cornelius on-pace: 36-698, 6
Reed predicted: 35-650, 5
Reed on-pace: 12-207, 2
Expectation: Falling well short
Hollister predicted: 15-250, 1
Hollister on-pace: 14-209, 0
Defensive line (Projected: 2, Actual: 5)
We all bought the hype on this one. Our fault. Arkansas coaches said last spring, I’m talking spring of 2015, they would roll deep, eight or nine along the front. It didn’t happen, then they said it again in spring 2016 and, while it’s happened more often, the top-end guys haven’t done as well as they did last year, individually or as a unit. The rushing defense, which starts with the line, is second worst in the SEC after finishing second best last year. No explanation for it.
Deatrich Wise Jr. projected: 45 tackles, 15 tackles for-loss, 12 sacks
Wise on-pace: 54 tackles, 7 TFL, 4 1/2 sacks
Expectation: Fallen below
Ja’Michael Winston projected: 20 tackles, 2 TFL, 1 sack
Winston on-pace: 8 tackles, 1 TFL, 1 sack
Expectation: A bit below
Taiwan Johnson projected: 30 tackles, 6 TFL, 2 sacks
Johnson on-pace: 26 tackles, 4 1/2 TFL, 1 1/2 sacks
Jeremiah Ledbetter projected: 45 tackles, 12 TFL, 5 sacks
Ledbetter on-pace: 47 tackles, 6 TFL, 5 1/2 sacks
Expectation: Mostly meeting.
McTelvin Agim projected: 30 tackles, 6 TFL, 3 sacks
Agim on-pace: 21 tackles, 4 1/2 TFL, 2 1/2 sacks
Expectation: A little below
Tevin Beanum projected: 20 tackles, 4 TFL, 2 sacks
Beanum on-pace: 26 tackles, 0 TFL, 0 sacks
Cornerbacks (Projected: 3rd, Actual: 3rd)
Results here have been mixed. The top three — Jared Collins, Henre’ Toliver and Ryan Pulley — have been excellent most of the time in stopping the pass. Not always. Mostly. They have struggled a bit in stopping runs on the edge, though that’s not entirely on them. Pulley’s development has been especially impressive as I figured he’d be the team’s No. 5 cornerback. Things are tempered by DJ Dean, who has battled injury and time in the doghouse. But as far as being figured the third-best unit on the team, they’re it.
Henre’ Toliver projected: 60 tackles, 6 tackles for-loss, 2 interceptions, 10 pass break-ups
Toliver on-pace: 48 tackles, 1 1/2 TFL, 3 INT, 8 PBU
Jared Collins projected: 50 tackles, 1 TFL, 2 interceptions, 10 PBU
Collins on-pace: 21 tackles, 1 TFL, 0 INT, 6 PBU
Collins expectation: Meeting, as his tackle total is short because the ball rarely comes his direction.
Kevin Richardson projected: 45 tackles, 2 TFL, 1 interception, 7 PBU
Richardson totals (he’s out for the season): 7 tackles, 0 TFL, 0 interceptions, 0 PBU
DJ Dean projected: 40 tackles, 4 TFL, 5 PBU
Dean on-pace: 15 tackles, 0 TFL, 1 PBU
Expectation: Well below.
Ryan Pulley projected: 15 tackles, 3 PBU
Pulley on-pace: 41 tackles, 15 PBU, 1 INT
Expectation: Far above. The most above of anyone on the roster, in fact.
Tight end (Projected: 4th, actual: 4th)
While Jeremy Sprinkle was correctly labeled as a top-10 tight end in the country, the thought he was the best seemed silly. It’s been silly. Don’t get me wrong, Sprinkle has been good and balls get spread thin with the receivers doing so well on the outside. Sprinkle has also been a great touchdown threat. Feels like there is more here that hasn’t been tapped, though.
Jeremy Sprinkle projection: 40 catches, 550 yards, 6 touchdowns
Sprinkle on-pace: 30 catches, 323 yards, 6 touchdowns
Expectation: A bit short, though he’s been a red zone threat.
Austin Cantrell projection: 8 catches, 80 yards
Cantrell on-pace: 14 catches, 113 yards
Running back (Projected: 5th, actual: 5th)
When coaches say there could be three potential 1,000-yard rushers on the roster, that’s setting a high bar. That was always unlikely, but the push for at least two wasn’t out of the question. Rawleigh Williams III has been great at times as the featured back and Devwah Whaley has had his moments as the backup, though more was expected. The unit’s under-production has more to do with the offensive line, and as a whole, it’s been pretty decent.
Rawleigh Williams III projection: 135 carries, 750 yards, 8 touchdowns
RWIII on-pace: 230 carries, 1,211 yards, 8 touchdowns
Expectation: Well above.
Devwah Whaley projection: 160 carries, 1,100 yards, 12 touchdowns
Whaley on-pace: 86 carries, 476 yards, 2 touchdowns
Expectation: Below, even if the 1,100 yards were a huge stretch, anyway.
Kody Walker projection: 110 carries, 500 yards, 6 touchdowns
Walker totals (he’s out for year): 31 carries, 110 yards, 1 touchdown
Duwop Mitchell projection: 20 carries, 80 yards
Quarterback (Projected: 6th, actual: 2nd)
Austin Allen’s projected offensive totals are close to being perfectly aligned with his on-pace numbers. He’s been as good as hoped. The reason quarterback is listed so low is because no one knew if he would be able to do what he’s done. The projections were best-case. He’s been a star since the second game.
Austin Allen projection: 240 of 380, 3,100 yards, 28 touchdowns, 12 interceptions
Allen on-pace: 233 of 374, 3,072, 27 touchdowns, 11 interceptions
Expectation: Meeting, and given his offensive line, exceeding.
Offensive line (projected: 7th, actual: 8th)
I wasn’t sold on this unit. Ever. We’ve been over that. But second to last in the SEC in rushing and allowing the most sacks in the league is incomprehensible. Imagine if Frank Ragnow, who could be a first-team All-SEC player, wasn’t here. Dan Skipper has been fair on the left side, sometimes bad, sometimes excellent. Every other spot has been a mess at one point or another.
Expectation: Far, far below.
Safety (Projected: 8th, actual: 7th)
Some people thought with Josh Liddell and Santos Ramirez back, a year older and wiser, the safeties would be fine. They haven’t been. Liddell makes a lot of tackles because opponents get to the second level too easily, not because he’s a tackling machine. He probably should have 10 more than he does. Ramirez can still lay the wood, but he often seems lost in coverage and he is regularly out of position against the run. Coley has been a good third safety, but when the two ahead have struggled, the hope would be he would be better than a third safety.
Josh Liddell projection: 60 tackles, 1 tackle for-loss, 2 interceptions, 4 pass break-ups
Liddell on-pace: 62 tackles, 0 TFL, 1 interception, 3 PBU
Expectation: Meeting, numbers wise. Below in reality.
Santos Ramirez projection: 65 tackles, 3 TFL, 2 PBU
Ramirez on-pace: 44 tackles, 0 TFL, 4 PBU
De’Andre Coley projection: 30 tackles, 2 TFL, 2 PBU
Coley on-pace: 33 tackles, 0 PBU
Linebacker (Projected: 9th, actual: 9th)
If you prefer optimism, for the most part, this unit has lived up to being weak. Dre Greenlaw’s loss to injury has clearly hurt, but Brooks Ellis, after a decent start, has appeared too slow (which, really, should have been expected). De’Jon Harris has been OK as a freshman, but no one else in the unit has taken a step forward. Dwayne Eugene has a bit, but after a good game, he had a terrible one against Auburn. It’s the worst unit on the roster and must get better next year. It has to.
Brooks Ellis projection: 100 tackles, 12 tackles for-loss, 2 sacks
Ellis on-pace: 86 tackles, 6 TFL, 0 sacks
Dre Greenlaw projection: 110 tackles, 5 TFL, 1 sack
Greenlaw totals (he’s hurt until maybe the final game): 36 tackles, 1 1/2 TFL, 0 sacks
De’Jon Harris projection: 35 tackles, 3 TFL
Harris on-pace: 23 tackles, 1 TFL
Khalia Hackett projection: 20 tackles, 1 TFL
Hackett on-pace: 8 tackles, 0 TFL
Dwayne Eugene projection: <10 tackles
Eugene on-pace: 26 tackles, 0 TFL