FAYETTEVILLE — The grind of preseason camp finally reached its end last Friday, when Arkansas held a mock game in Razorback Stadium.
It was the program’s 19th straight day of practice in preparation for the season opener at Auburn. Afterward, players celebrated what they deemed a successful three-weeks of work on social media. They also were rewarded with a day off.
“We’re real excited,” Arkansas quarterback Brandon Allen said earlier in the week about the end of camp. “We’re kind of tired of playing our own team. We’re ready to get out there and face a different opponent. We’re ready for game day.”
The season opener hasn’t arrived just yet, but the Razorbacks have officially moved into game week now. Arkansas reassembled Sunday to continuing installing its plans for the Tigers. The team will travel to Auburn on Friday, while kickoff is set for Saturday at 3 p.m. on the SEC Network.
Arkansas carries a nine-game losing streak into the opener and has lost 12 straight Southeastern Conference games dating back to the 2012 season. But the Razorbacks did enjoy success during their last trip to Auburn, beating the Tigers 24-7 in 2012.
The Razorbacks are confident they’re capable of stunning Auburn again.
“I think we are really motivated on both sides of the ball – offensively and defensively,” Arkansas tight end Hunter Henry said. “We’re ready to go and I think we’re motivated going into Auburn and just ready to hit the ground running.”
Arkansas will get its chance soon. But before the Razorbacks kick off the 2014 season, there’s time to take a look back at how well they answered the key preseason camp questions we asked three weeks ago. Below are the results:
• Who is Arkansas’ No. 2? — Arkansas has made its decision: Austin Allen. It wasn’t a surprise, but the redshirt freshman stepped in front of freshman Rafe Peavey and “declared himself” as Arkansas’ backup, according to Bret Bielema. His scrimmage numbers weren’t eye opening, but Allen did show much more poise and confidence in leading the second-team offense in camp. His brother, Brandon Allen, said it was because of Austin’s offseason realization he could get the call if Arkansas needs its backup again. If it happens, Arkansas offensive coordinator Jim Chaney said the Razorbacks have much more confidence the offense could stay on track.
• How will newcomers impact the offensive line? — The Razorbacks signed a talented group of offensive linemen, believing each would have a chance to push for playing time. They might not be starting Saturday’s game, but certainly impacted the depth chart during camp. All four — Cameron Jefferson (left guard), Frank Ragnow (center), Sebastian Tretola (right guard) and Brian Wallace (right tackle) — were working with the second-team line during Arkansas’ last open practice. At the very least, Arkansas feels better about its depth up front. Offensive line coach Sam Pittman said he’s prepared to play seven or eight linemen in the opener at Auburn.
• Can the secondary’s success continue? — The group showed signs of life under new defensive coaches last spring. The confidence continued in camp. Arkansas’ cornerbacks, especially, have benefitted from the press coverage schemes installed by defensive coordinator Robb Smith. The defense gave up a few big passes during scrimmage work, but receivers were tightly covered on most of the deep balls. There weren’t any big assignment busts, either, which was a problem last season. It’s a good sign, but the Razorbacks will find out how much improvement they’ve really made soon. Auburn won’t be shy about testing Arkansas over the top.
• Does Arkansas have enough depth up front? —Arkansas knew it had two stars to build around with Trey Flowers and Darius Philon. Filling out the other starting spots – and solidifying a depth chart – was key in camp. The Razorbacks made an interesting move, sliding Taiwan Johnson to first-team nose guard. He’s undersized, but the Hogs believe Johnson will succeed. There’s more size in backups DeMarcus Hodge and Bijhon Jackson, too. Knee injuries to Deatrich Wise and Brandon Lewis tested Arkansas’ depth at defensive end. JaMichael Winston and Tevin Beanum have benefitted from extra work. Staying relatively injury free will be critical, though.
• Are the new receivers ready? — Sophomore Drew Morgan and junior Keon Hatcher led a productive group, which had more success catching the ball and showed more ability to make plays in camp. The two are part of a five-man crew the Razorbacks trust, joining Demetrius Wilson, Cody Hollister and Jared Cornelius. Expect those five to be the top wide receiver targets in the opener. But keep any eye on two more freshmen: Kendrick Edwards and Jojo Robinson. Edwards can make an impact with his 6-foot-6 height, while the slippery Robinson looked a lot like Joe Adams on a touchdown catch during the second preseason scrimmage on Aug. 16.
• How will Chaney spread the ball between backs? — The question hasn’t been answered. At least, publicly. It’s no secret Jonathan Williams, Alex Collins and Korliss Marshall will play a big role when the season starts. But the exact order, rotation and carries haven’t been defined. Williams missed a big chunk of time with a hamstring injury, but returned to practice last week and should to be healthy. Marshall’s speed and Collins’ physical running were impressive during scrimmage work on Aug. 16. One prediction: don’t be surprised if Arkansas has a new wrinkle or two prepared to get its biggest playmakers more touches in the opener.
Robbie Neiswanger writes for the Arkansas News Bureau and can be e-mailed at firstname.lastname@example.org