Bielema's blueprint: Run to win at Arkansas

Aug 15, 2017 - 7:41 PM There is no shortage of storylines for the Arkansas Razorbacks as they enter Bret Bielema's fifth season as head coach.

Bielema's Hogs limped to a 7-6 finish in 2016, giving up big halftime leads in the regular-season finale at Missouri and the Belk Bowl against Virginia Tech.

Arkansas fans have been mostly patient with Bielema, who is 25-26 with the Razorbacks after going 68-24 in seven seasons at Wisconsin. But after Arkansas went 8-5 with a victory in the Liberty Bowl in 2015, last season's 7-6 finish was a disappointment. Arkansas' 10-22 record under Bielema in SEC play isn't what Razorback fans were hoping for, either.

When Arkansas has won under Bielema, it's been with a straightforward strategy: Run the ball effectively behind a big offensive line, control the line of scrimmage and avoid turnovers.

With four starters returning on the offensive line this fall, the Razorbacks have a chance to build on that blueprint, although the offense suffered a significant loss when a spring neck injury forced running back Rawleigh Williams III to give up football after rushing for 1,360 yards and 12 touchdowns as a sophomore in 2016.

With Williams sidelined, the Hogs will instead count on sophomore Devwah Whaley as their top running back. Whaley is capable, having rushed for 602 yards and three scores on 110 carries last season.

Senior Austin Allen returns for his second season as the starting quarterback. Allen completed 61.1 percent of his passes for an SEC-leading 3,430 yards and 25 touchdowns last season, but he also led the SEC with 15 interceptions and was sacked a league-high 34 times.

Arkansas' offensive line will be anchored by senior center Frank Ragnow, a first-team preseason All-SEC pick who has started 26 consecutive games.

Defensively, the Hogs have a new coordinator in Paul Rhoads, a former Iowa State head coach. Rhoads will oversee a shift from a 4-3 to a 3-4 base defense. The Razorbacks have five defensive starters returning, led by junior linebacker Dre Greenlaw and sophomore defensive end McTelvin Agim. Arkansas' secondary is deep and talented. A key on defense could be senior Bijhon Jackson, a 339-pounder who is expected to start at nose tackle.

MOST IMPORTANT PLAYER: Sophomore RB Devwah Whaley -- Rawleigh Williams III and Whaley were expected to give Arkansas one of college football's top backfield tandems. But with Williams' career ending prematurely because of injury, the Razorbacks will be counting on Whaley to carry more of the load. Whaley has great speed and acceleration. His durability could be a major key to the Razorbacks' chances of a successful SEC season.

BREAKOUT STAR: Sophomore DL McTelvin Agim -- Agim was among the most sought-after recruits in the country coming out of high school, and he started Arkansas' final five games last season as a true freshman. Arkansas' shift to a 3-4 defense could give the 6-3, 286-pound Agim more freedom to use his outstanding speed, and that could be a problem for Arkansas' opponents.

NEWCOMER TO WATCH: Freshman WR Koilan Jackson -- Jackson, the son of former Oklahoma All-American and NFL All-Pro tight end Keith Jackson, has made some impressive catches in preseason camp and could benefit from Arkansas' lack of experienced depth at wide receiver. Arkansas returns just three wide receivers who caught passes in 2016, and only one of those, senior Jared Cornelius, caught more than two.

--RB David Williams has enrolled at Arkansas and is immediately eligible as a graduate transfer from South Carolina. Williams rushed for 794 yards and five touchdowns during his career at South Carolina, including 239 yards and three touchdowns in 2016.

--OL Hjalte Froholdt, a junior who started all 13 games at left tackle last season, is a native of Svendborg, Denmark, who didn't start playing football until his junior year of high school, when he was a foreign exchange student in Ohio.

--Arkansas' No. 2 quarterback likely will either be sophomore Ty Storey or redshirt freshman Cole Kelley. Senior starter Austin Allen was responsible for 401 of the Razorbacks' 406 pass attempts in 2016, with Storey completing 1 of 4 attempts for three yards.

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