Four games into the 2015 season the Arkansas Razorbacks were having to stomach a 1-3 record with losses to Toledo, Texas Tech and Texas A&M. Usually when an SEC team starts a season that far behind the eight ball, its chances of redemption in SEC play are slim to none.
Despite fewer healthy bodies and tougher opponents each week, the Hogs currently sit at 4-2 in the conference, 6-4 overall and are riding a four-game winning streak that includes back-to-back victories over ranked opponents.
So what gives? What transformed Arkansas from a pushover to a powerhouse? It involves a lot of resilience, but even then there are a few noteworthy X-factors now making plays each week that helped this turnaround.
Utilizing Dominique Reed
Through the first three games, Hogs wide receiver Dominique Reed was held without a catch; through four games, he had two catches for 9 yards. Since then, Reed has scored in every single game with 416 yards off just 19 catches and seven total touchdowns (one was a rushing touchdown against Auburn).
It’s no coincidence Arkansas’ offensive success is paralleled with Reed’s emergence. Offensive coordinator Dan Enos has shown he’s not afraid to rely on quarterback Brandon Allen’s arm, with four games with more than 30 attempts. But it wasn’t until Reed’s usage went up that we really saw Allen become more efficient in finding those big plays.
Arkansas is a power offense, meaning it’s going to give its ball carriers extra blockers as often as it can. Enos likes to keep things as controlled as possible with low-risk passes and favorable numbers in the trenches. But college football teams need plays like the one above to go their way if they want to win, especially in the SEC.
The Vine above is a broken play that Allen and Reed turned into something great. Finding the space to get that throw off was impressive, and Reed also had the football IQ to cut back into open space and then outrun six Tennessee defenders. That’s something no one else on that offense had shown the capability of doing up to that point.
In the Auburn game, Enos got even more creative. Reed is a burner by nature, so open space is his friend. When a team is down in the red zone, there is less space to work with, so pure speed receivers can sometimes have trouble remaining efficient. Here Enos stayed determined to get the ball into the hands of his best playmaker and it paid off. It appears one or two Auburn defenders had the angle to stop Reed short, but he proved again that if you give him the smallest window to shoot a gap, he has the speed to do so.
Week-to-week usage turned into confidence for Reed. In the Ole Miss game, Reed took a step from just a speed guy to full-time reliable receiver. What’s important to note about the play above is that it was on third-and-11 with Arkansas down a touchdown and the game on the line. Enos had the confidence in Reed to make a play not only with his speed but with his hands, too, and Reed did. Two plays later, it was Reed who was again called upon to score the tying touchdown.
Without Reed’s emergence as a full-time contributor, I’m not sure Arkansas would have tied that game. And if that didn’t happen, we would’ve never seen one of college football’s craziest plays of the year. So thank you, Dominique Reed.
In Arkansas’ win over LSU, we continued to see the Razorbacks take strides in areas they had been improving. But they also added elements to their game that now make the college football world think, “Boy, I sure wouldn’t want to play Arkansas right now.”
On the defensive side, one big reason for that is the pressure Arkansas was able to get on LSU quarterback Brandon Harris, specifically off the edge.
In a game where the Razorbacks defense nearly doubled their season sack total, defensive end Deatrich Wise, Jr. led the way. He’s the man who finished off the play above, but it’s important to note how Arkansas was able to make a difference and disrupt the pocket with only four rushers.
Instead of having to complement the pass rush by adding an additional player on the blitz, the Razorbacks did so with both edge players working together. Below is another example, and we see an edge rusher who didn’t stuff the stat sheet but was a huge factor to their success.
I hope the first thought when you watched that play was, ‘Oh my. Who is No. 97 on the near side of the screen?’
I’m so glad you asked. That was sophomore defensive end Tevin Beanum, who was nearly unstoppable early on. Beanum didn’t record any stats that game, but his impact was certainly felt. In the play above, the tight end releasing off the line gave him space against the right tackle. Because he noticed the tackle leaning in expectation of a speed rush, Beanum went right at his chest and pushed him straight back into the quarterback. This forced Harris to scramble, resulting in the sack. To me, that’s just as much, if not more, Beanum’s sack as it was Wise’s.
In this play, Beanum does the opposite. He saw the right tackle bracing for a power rush to avoid getting knocked back into the quarterback. After a good jump on the snap, Beanum dipped his shoulder and was able to disrupt the quarterback’s drop back, forcing another sack. Again, pressure by Beanum caused that play. Arkansas could have a strong pass-rushing cornerstone in Beanum for the next year or two if he can disrupt the pocket like that consistently.
Arkansas’ winning streak was caused by a positive change in a lot of areas, but it’s the X-factors like dynamic speed plays from a power-based team and consistent edge pressure that have turned a few good games into a great winning streak. The Razorbacks are going in the right direction, and if they keep it up, I certainly wouldn’t want to be the team that plays them in a bowl.