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Friday, September 1st 2006

Preview: Arkansas Razorbacks

How Did The Fall Look For Arkansas?

The USC Trojans face their first competition of the season on Saturday, September 2nd in Fayetteville. Last year USC routed Arkansas 70 – 17, scoring four times in their first eight offensive plays. Don’t expect that in Reynolds.

If You Squint You Can Just Make Out John David Booty

Arkansas Offense v. USC Defense
There’s a lot of question marks in this match up. Last year Robert Johnson was knocked out of the USC game. Not that it mattered, even before the Razorback’s implosion in Los Angeles (and after) Johnson struggled throughout the season.

In his six starts before being beaten out by Casey Dick, Johnson threw 5 touchdowns versus 6 interceptions. Although he has beaten out Dick to start versus USC (the depth chart was reverse in the Spring) and apparently looked much better over camp than at the beginning of last season Johnson may still be more of a burden than a boon on the field.

As well, in the wings the Razorbacks have “QB Mitch,” a recruit they were so seeking they hired his high school football coach as offensive coordinator. Of course, he’s at least a year away from tearing up the SEC.

Matt & Mitch = BFF?

Johnson’s mobility may cause some problems, especially as the new Razorback offensive coordinator speeds up the game with a no huddle, spread offense. Guz Malzahn, who this time last year was coaching Mitch Mustain in high school, has even written a book on it.

Has This Been Sitting In Pete’s Bathroom Throughout Camp?

The Trojans however are more mature a year after a Rose Bowl defeat. No one denies the speed of the front seven or the depth at linebacker. As well, despite his mobility, Johnson isn’t exactly Vince. Expect the Trojans to have no problem keeping him from improvising. As well, at least for the front seven expect no mental lapses in the up tempo pace of Arkansas’ new no huddle sets. This despite the fact the Trojans didn’t see it last year.

Arkansas’ recieving corp led by Marcus Monk have shown flashes of talent. Indeed the Spring Game video below (poor quality) focuses on another Arkansas reciever who might make a name for himself (although I have never heard of the guy).

A lot of questions have been made of how the USC Trojans are going to be better in the secondary this year. We shouldn’t forget, as so many people do, that USC suffered massive injuries in its secondary last year – Kevin Ellison, Will Harris, Kevin Thomas (illness), Terrell Thomas – were all major contributors or starters (i.e. they would’ve seen the field in every game) that missed 2 or more games last season.

As well, although Antwine Perez has dissappointed in camp, Taylor Mays (freshman safety) is a beast, and Vincent Joseph is an energetic corner who is catching on quick.

The two Thomas’ will start at cornerback against Arkansas and it will be a major boost to USC’s coverage. The loss of hard hitting Darnell Bing might be felt, especially these first few games, but with all the questions surrounding Arkansas’ passing game no one should be overly concerned with getting burned through the air on September 2nd.

From this perspective, despite USC’s question marks and Arkansas’ “hype” (?), the news that All – SEC running back Darren McFadden would miss the opener after injuring himself kicking a car door in a liquor store parking lot (!) basically sealed the deal on who was going to win this game. It turns out however McFadden will play on September 2nd, although it remains to be seen how close to 100% he will be.

More Moves Than Shakira

McFadden runs behind a monster offensive line that every Razorback fan should be proud of. The only loss from last year was a replacement center for the projected starter who had to undergo season ending knee surgery last spring. Well, he’s back, meaning the line is basically 5/5 from last year. They also appear to have depth.

The left side of the Trojan defensive line is a massive strength and proved more than the Arkansas offensive line could handle last year with Lawrence Jackson and Sedrick Ellis. If the other side, with newcomers in Kyle Moore, Chris Barrett, and the more experience Schwieger subing in, can at least hold their own and allow the talented (very underrated and talented) USC linebacking corp to come up and make plays then the Arkansas backfield will be neutralized.

McFadden, who it turns out is starting, is the Razorback’s best hope on offense. Despite the new offensive schedule, Robert Johnson is still Robert Johnson (no matter how many years of experience) and the front seven for USC are too fast and physical to allow themselves to just be disseminatedon the ground.

New defensive coordinator Nick Holt should put his head together with Carroll to come up with some surprises for the Razorbacks, especially coming out of the new 3-4 the Trojans might throw on the field some on September 2nd.

USC Offense v. Arkansas Defense
Question marks, question marks, question marks. From here the biggest one’s revolve around the USC running backs more than John David Booty.

Don’t Worry ‘Bout Me

With Chauncey Washington still injured (we’ve basically given up hope), true freshman C.J. Gable beat out Moody and Johnson to start on September 2nd. True, like all USC recruiting classes under Carroll, this last one was a monster and no one comes even close to contending with the talent the Trojans pulled in at tailback. But it is a long way from high school to Fayetteville and even running behind the Trojan’s offensive line there is some worry for the early games of this season.

Expect to see some of Allen Bradford as a power back on September 2nd as well.

The Arkansas front seven isn’t exactly awe inspiring however. They return two defensive tackles including Marcus Harrison whose noteworth accomplishment was 15 quarterback hurries, the most subjective of all statistics. A hurry is like almost getting some…

Every Week It Was The Same For Marcus: I Almost Got To the QB

The defensive ends are both new, and both are form wide reciever (!), which supposedly will make them fast. The coaching staff is pleased with the three guys completing the front seven. Although depth is a major issue and of course they proved inept in pass coverage and stopping the run last season versus USC. Of course they have another year under their belt and so the linebackers should be better.

The USC offensive line should be fine. Sam Baker and Ryan Kalil are monsters and both made multiple AA teams. Sam Byers getting beaten out for a starting spot by Chilo Rachal shows the depth USC has on the line (and the fact Pete is always promoting competition).

My guess is despite USC’s strength on the offensive line, expect to see some nickle packages on running downs, tempting USC to try to get Gable and our other inexperienced offerings at RB going.

If anything the Arkansas secondary is worse than last year, when clearly during the USC game it was the worst part of a poor defense. They do have several new JC transfers, both were JC all americans (one an honorable mention), and you might see one of them start at free safety (I should really go look that up).

Despite the return of two corners and Razorback nation confidence in the position, I have my doubts considering not much has changed at the position since the last two times the teams met (no matter how much the cornerbacks proved themselves later in the season).

John David Booty has three years under his belt. He is more Palmer-esque than Leinart, with a rocket for an arm and the physical ability to make all the throws. The question of course remains of his decision making ability. Expect the offensive line to give him time. We’ll see how well the backs pick up any blitz schemes from the Razorbacks.

The corp John David Booty is throwing to I think, and I don’t see a lot of bias in this claim, is the best in the nation. Dwayne Jarrett, Steve Smith, and Fred Davis will all be favorite targets. C.J. Gable has proved to be the best recieving of the freshman tailbacks. As well, backing up the two hot returning recievers is former #1 WR recruit Patrick Turner and promising freshman Vidal Hazleton. In no way can the Arkansas defense expect to keep these recievers in check. It is merely a question of Booty finding the open man.

Expect JD Booty to make some mistakes but to progress as the game goes along and get some much needed experience for following weeks as well.

Other Stuff
Special teams is a big part of any game. Arkansas had a great kick return game last year. Of course some of those were against USC, which had a terrible kick coverage team. Pete has made it known he made improving kick coverage one of the key points of the off season. USC of course has the talent and I see no reason not to take Carroll at his word but of course we won’t see until actual game day.

USC is bringing out a new punter who is untested and who I know nothing about. Danelo, while not college football’s greatest foot, is solid and is returning for the Trojans. Who will kick off for USC is a question mark. Van Blarcom (sp?) a returning kicker gets the first shot at it against Arkansas but it is unclear how secure he is in that position.

Arkansas’ kicker is solid and their punter even better. The advantage here is clearly with the Razorbacks.

There are strange goings ons which appear in college football. Whether you believe in karma or not any team would be looking to avenge a 70 point run up. Arkansas is no different,

The 70 points were the most scored in a game by the Trojans in 35 years, and the most allowed by an Arkansas team since 1918. USC’s 736 yards of total offense were the most ever gained against the Razorbacks.

“We’ve never experienced anything like that,” Arkansas coach Houston Nutt said.

The Trojans can’t repeat that this year but the hope is Arkansas can’t repeat this little piece of deja vu,

A maturing Arkansas team hosted highly-ranked Southern California in the season opener — and the Razorbacks were eager for payback.

Sound familiar?

USC’s last visit to Arkansas was in 1974, and the buildup wasn’t much different than it is this week. The Razorbacks rolled to a 22-7 win before a raucous crowd at Little Rock’s War Memorial Stadium.

The Razorbacks were coming off a pair of mediocre seasons — much like they are now. Arkansas went 6-5 in 1972 and 5-5-1 in ’73, missing the postseason both years. Arkansas played USC to open each of those seasons, losing 31-10 and 17-0.

Led by tailback Anthony Davis, the Trojans were ranked No. 5 going into the ’74 opener. Just like this year, they were coming off a loss in the Rose Bowl the season before — and a national championship two years previous.

Don’t expect 70 points but don’t expect this either. The USC Trojans are a giant question mark, which explains some of those overrating us and some underrating us. For those expecting growing pains for the Trojans or a breakout season for the Razorbacks, they’re in for a surprise.

Pick: USC 27, Arkansas 17

Other resources to look at include this story on things in Arkansas’ favor come game time, CFN’s preview of Arkansas, ESPN’s preview of Arkansas, and CFN’s pick’em for Week 1.