OXFORD, MS - OCTOBER 22, 2011: This wasn't one of CB Darius Winston's (21) highlights, and he is fighting to keep his job in 2012. (Photo by Wesley Hitt/Getty Images)
Where last we left off, the interim leadership of Arkansas Razorbacks football was full of week one surprises. Coaching staff changes since last December seemed to favor defense. The February recruiting class appeared to bring in more defensive talent than usual. FigureHead Coach John L. Smith was even known as something of a defense-oriented guy. Everybody was supposed to be worried about the offense and its absence of Bobby Petrino, Joe Adams and Jarius Wright.
Instead, Tyler Wilson, Chris Gragg, Brandon Mitchell and Javontee Herndon made the passing game look unstoppable for much of the opener against Jacksonville State. On the other hand, senior cornerback Darius Winston so displeased D-coordinator Paul Haynes that he was benched and forgotten. Supposed-to-play-a-lot safety Rohan Gaines also had to grab pine for a while, though he came back to force a turnover. In all, the D gave up three big plays and five sustained drives.
Combine the defensive blunders with three offensive turnovers, and Arkansas was lucky to give up only 24 points. It will take dramatic improvement for the Razorbacks to avoid allowing more against the Louisiana-Monroe Warhawks.
Last we saw the Warhawks, their blitzing 3-3-5 defense held Ryan Mallett and the Hogs to 7 points in the first half of a 2010 game that came one week before defending national champion Alabama visited Fayetteville. Here we go again.
Only this time, Coach Todd Berry's Warhawks do not have an incredibly green offense ensuring their demise.
- QB Kolton Browning, TB Jyruss Edwards, and WR Tavarese Maye made their first collegiate starts as true freshmen against Arkansas in 2010. They all return in 2012 as decorated veterans.
- Browning is the same kind of run-pass threat that succeeded last week in the Jacksonville State offense. His tailbacks have speed, and his receivers are tall and physical. This offense averaged four 20+ yard gains per game in 2011.
- ULM's starting offensive lineup features players with double-digit career starts at eight positions.
- Troy Reffett's defenses at ULM are known for being strong against the run and piling up sacks. The scheme relies on blitzes aimed at disrupting running plays, and playing with three safeties allows pressure from anywhere.
- Only six defensive starters are experienced, but the nose tackle will be Missouri transfer Gerrand Johnson. The Tigers know how to recruit defensive linemen.
- In 2011, ULM won a road game at Troy 38-10, four weeks after the Hogs beat the Trojans by 10 at home. And this is the school that won at Alabama in 2007.
- A good number of Warhawks hail from the state of Arkansas, and some of them feel the Razorbacks slighted them in recruiting.
Throw in the fact that this is Louisiana-Monroe's season opener, and we have a perfect setup for "fans don't know what's coming." I have seen lines on this game of 30-plus points, and that seems outrageous:
- The Warhawks gave up 30+ points six times last season, so it's likely that Arkansas scores plenty. But did anybody actually watch last week's game? The chances of ULM scoring liberally are not insignificant.
- If Arkansas uses this game as a chance to work on the running game the week before Alabama, you'd be surprised to find what deliberately running into run blitzes can do for your punting game.
- This is ULM's first game, so nobody really knows what they've got.
I can tell you this much: Alabama sure wouldn't mind Arkansas looking past ULM.