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2009 CFN Arkansas Preview
Arkansas DT Malcolm Sheppard
Arkansas DT Malcolm Sheppard
CollegeFootballNews.com
Posted May 18, 2009


Last year was about transition for the Hogs under Bobby Petrino, but this year the expectations are higher. Is the program, led by DT Malcolm Sheppard, about to make a big leap forward and become a steadier star in the SEC West, or will Petrino need more time? Check out the CFN 2009 Arkansas Preview.

Arkansas Razorbacks

Preview 2009

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- 2009 CFN Arkansas Preview | 2009 Arkansas Offense
- 2009 Arkansas Defense | 2009 Arkansas Depth Chart
- 2008 Hog Preview | 2007 Hog Preview | 2006 Hog Preview

By
Pete Fiutak

Yes, Bobby Petrino is still the head coach at Arkansas.

There haven't been any secret meetings with Auburn (at least not yet), there haven't been any Dear John notes taped inside the players' lockers (at least not yet), and he hasn't been rumored for any other job openings (at least not yet). Despite being vilified by NFL types, and destroyed by an NFL Network piece as the No. 1 coach that should've stayed in college, Petrino really is a superior head coach, and he's about to show everyone why.

Head coach: Bobby Petrino
2nd year at Arkansas: 5-7
56th year overall: 46-16
Returning Lettermen
Off. 24, Def. 24, ST 2
Lettermen Lost: 17
Ten Best Hog Players
1. DT Malcolm Sheppard, Sr.
2. RB Michael Smith, Sr.
3. TE D.J. Williams, Jr.
4. LB Jerry Franklin, Soph.
5. DE Adrian Davis, Sr.
6. LB Freddy Burton, Jr.
7. LB Wendel Davis, Sr.
8. WR Joe Adams, Soph.
9. WR Lucas Miller, Sr.
10. QB Ryan Mallett, Soph.

2009 Schedule
CFN Prediction: 7-5
2009 Record:
0-0

9/5 Missouri State
9/12 OPEN DATE
9/19 Georgia

9/26 at Alabama
10/3 Texas A&M (Arlington)
10/10 Auburn
10/17 at Florida
10/24 at Ole Miss
10/31 Eastern Michigan
11/7 South Carolina
11/14 Troy
11/21 Miss State
11/28 at LSU

2008 Schedule
CFN Prediction: 6-6
2008 Record: 5-7

Aug. 30 West Illinois W 28-24
Sept. 6 ULM (Litt.Rock) W 28-27
Sept. 13 at Texas PPD
Sept. 20 Alabama L 49-14
Sept. 27 at Texas L 52-10 
Oct. 4 Florida L 38-7
Oct. 11 at Auburn W 25-22
Oct. 18 at Kentucky L 21-20
Oct. 25 Ole Miss L 23-21
Nov. 1 Tulsa  W 30-23
Nov. 8 at So Carolina L 34-21
Nov. 15 OPEN DATE 
Nov. 22 at Miss St L 31-28
Nov. 28 LSU W 31-30

Lost in all the weeping and gnashing of teeth about how Petrino left an Atlanta Falcon franchise that fired a head coach (Jim Mora Jr., who made some off-the-cuff remarks about being interested in the Washington Huskies head coaching job even though he was the head man for the Falcons) basically because its feelings were hurt is that he can punch his weight with any of the superstar coaches in the SEC. Forget about last year's rebuilding season, Petrino was 41-9 at Louisville and came close to getting the Cardinals in the BCS Championship game. He knows how to coach, he knows how to recruit, and he should know how to make Arkansas one of the hottest stories of the 2009 SEC season.

While everyone will be focusing on Ole Miss, the new coaching changes at Auburn and Mississippi State, the expected resurgence at LSU, and the Alabama rebound from the two losses to end last year, Arkansas has the ability and the potential to come up with a sneaky-huge year out of the West with a little bit of work and a lot of breaks ... maybe.

Last year, the retooling Hogs went 5-7 with two of the losses (Ole Miss and Mississippi State) that would've been wins if not for a few makeable missed kicks. The three ugly blowout losses all came in a row against national title-level BCS teams (Alabama, Texas and Florida), and three of the seven defeats came by a total of seven points. On the flip side, the Hogs should've lost to both Western Illinois and UL Monroe and ended up winning all five of their games by a touchdown or less and by a total of 16 points.

So which is it? Is Arkansas just a few tweaks away from being special, or is it still in a retooling mode and another year away from being in the hunt for the SEC title? It's probably a little bit of both considering 18 starters are back and that doesn't include QB Ryan Mallett, who in a little bit of time should be an NFL-caliber passer. Forget about an SEC West title with games at Alabama, Florida, Ole Miss and LSU, but that doesn't mean this team won't have the ability to bomb away with anyone and get hot for a game or two to get everyone fired up.

The receiving corps is incredibly fast with huge upside, the running backs, led by Michael Smith, are extremely quick, the O line should be a little bit better, the special teams will be far better with former Louisville and Michigan State head coach John L. Smith coaching them, and the defense is loaded with talent and athleticism, especially on the front seven.

Give it one more year. In 2010, Mallett and his receiving corps will be unstoppable, the defense will be loaded up with veterans, and Petrino will have all the pieces in place he needs. In the meantime, don't be knocked off your chair when the Hogs pull off one season-changing upset you won't see coming. (Knock, knock. Who's there? October 17th in Gainesville.)

What to watch for on offense: QB Ryan Mallett. He was one of the nation's top recruits a few years ago when he was picked up by Michigan, and now he's ready to be, eventually, the SEC's best passer. He has the arm, the 6-7 size, and the cock-sure attitude that screams franchise quarterback. Arkansas will have its most vertical passing game in school history with a fleet group of young receivers that are just waiting to bust out and hit home runs. Mallett will make his share of big mistakes, and the team will lose at least one game this year because he'll screw up, but he'll also scare the bejeebers out of SEC defensive coordinators with the way he'll open up the field.

What to watch for on defense: The new defensive backs. The depth chart for the Arkansas secondary might as well be written in pencil considering the new blood that's about to invigorate the pass defense. There's Anthony Leon, a linebacker-sized playmaker who might end up in the front seven, but could be a devastating, tone-setting strong safety. The JUCO transfer and cousin of former Washington Redskin, the late Sean Taylor, was a humongous coup for the program. Fellow JUCO transfer Rudell Crum could be the team's shut-down, No. 1 corner the second he sets foot off the bus, while corner Darius Winston was the team's top recruit and was the best prospect to come out of Arkansas. Everyone wanted all three of these DBs, and the Hogs got them.

The team will be far better if … the defense can get off the field. There are several problems that need fixing from the woeful pass protection to the punt return game to the penalties, but above all else, the defense has to come up with more third down stops and more takeaways. The offense will put up huge numbers, even though Mallett will get sacked around 40 times, but the defense has to be better in big situations after allowing teams to convert on 42% of their third down chances and after forcing a mere five fumbles and 11 interceptions.

The Schedule: Considering the first game is against Missouri State, Arkansas doesn't really start its season until September 19th with the SEC opener against Georgia. Follow that up with a trip to Alabama and Arkansas can either make a huge early statement in the conference race or be knocked out. Going to Florida and Ole Miss in back-to-back weeks is as tough as it gets, but things ease up in a big way with home games against Eastern Michigan, South Carolina, Troy, and Mississippi State to follow. While Arkansas always plays LSU tough, going to Death Valley to close out the year isn't a plus.

Best Offensive Player: Senior RB Michael Smith. Tight end D.J. Williams is the one the NFL types will be looking at, and will be two inches too short for their liking, and WR Joe Adams will be the team's new gamebreaker. But the star will be Smith, the diminutive senior who overcame off the field issues and a torn hamstring to put together a 1,072-yard season. Extremely fast, he can crank out big plays from anywhere on the field and he can catch, too, finishing second on the team with 32 grabs.

Best Defensive Player: Senior DT Malcolm Sheppard. There were problems all across the Arkansas defensive front, and Sheppard turned out to be a bit of a surprise mainly because there were so many other storylines up front. All Sheppard did was finish second on the team in tackles (68) and lead the way with 6.5 sacks showing off tremendous interior quickness and a peerless toughness against the run. He belongs in the discussion of All-America caliber tackles.

Key player to a successful season: Junior OTs Ray Dominguez and DeMarcus Love. The Hog tackles are massive, almost too massive, and while they're built to pound away for the running game, they need to be better in pass protection. Arkansas allowed 46 sacks, only Hawaii (57) gave up more, and with the immobile Ryan Mallett dropping back, the pass protection has to be far, far better.

The season will be a success if ... the Hogs get to eight wins. That's the mark they hit in 2007, Houston Nutt's last year, and this team might be better given a little bit of time. The schedule is a bear with the brutal SEC road slate along with a visit from Georgia, so there needs to be at least one big upset, possibly two, and no slips to ensure a winning season. Eight wins would be a nice stepping-stone to 2010, when the team should really rock.

Key game: Sept. 19 vs. Georgia. It'll be the Arkansas SEC opener while Georgia will be coming off a date with South Carolina and will have opened up the season at Oklahoma State. The Hogs will have two weeks to prepare, not to mention the opening day walk-through against Missouri State, and will look at this as a statement game to set the tone for the season with a trip to Alabama to follow.

2008 Fun Stats: 
- Sacks: Opponents 46 for 287 yards - Arkansas 23 for 148 yards
- Second quarter scoring: Opponents 125 - Arkansas 57
- Third down conversions: Opponents 72-of-173 (42%) - Arkansas 65-176 (37%)

   

Related Stories
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 -by HawgsIllustrated.com  May 14, 2009
HI Radio May 20
 -by HawgsIllustrated.com  May 20, 2009
State of the Hogs: Confidence
 -by HawgsIllustrated.com  May 22, 2009








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