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Texas A&M Football

With 19 starters returning, Arkansas is aiming to rebound in 2021

July 7, 2021
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The concept that a large number of returning starters typically equates to a large number of victories will be tested in Fayetteville.

The Arkansas Razorbacks welcome back nine offensive and 10 defensive starters from the 2020 team that finished 3-7.

Perhaps that experience means a spike in the Hogs’ 2021 win total, but nothing should be taken for granted at Arkansas, which had managed just four victories in the two previous seasons combined.

No doubt, the arrival of coach Sam Pittman, who brought organization and common sense to the program, made a significant difference for the Hogs.

“When we’re able to run him (Jefferson), I think he’s going to become a very, very good quarterback for us.”
- Arkansas head coach Sam Pittman

But so did quarterback Feleipe Franks, who transferred from Florida. Franks had a solid season with more passing yards and touchdown passes than any Razorback quarterback since 2016.

Franks is one of the starters who will not return. Adequately replacing him is vital. That role figures to fall on third-year sophomore KJ Jefferson, a dual-threat who completed 20-of-41 passes for 274 yards as Franks’ understudy last year. Pittman liked what he saw from Jefferson in the spring.

“He’s certainly maturing,” Pittman said. “He’s got command of the team. His teammates believe in him, and you have to earn that as a quarterback. He certainly has. When we’re able to run him, I think he’s going to become a very, very good quarterback for us.”

Jefferson will have weapons with which to work. Receiver Treylon Burks has All-SEC credentials. Running back Trelon Smith rushed for 710 yards. The offensive line returns intact. Of course, that line also allowed 34 sacks.

The defense is even more worrisome. Though linebackers Drew Morgan and Bumper Pool and star safety Jalen Catalon are among the returnees, the Razorbacks allowed 34.9 points per game and were extremely vulnerable against the run. Half of Arkansas’ opponents scored at least 37 points.

The Razorbacks aim to bolster the defensive front with the additions of John Ridgeway (Illinois State) and Markell Utsey (Missouri) from the transfer portal. Skeptics will doubt either can replace the production of Jonathan Marshall, a sixth-round draft choice of the New York Jets.

The Razorbacks hope to be better in their second year under Pittman, but there are doubts that a team with largely the same players will have significantly different results.

Arkansas Razorbacks

  • Coach: Sam Pittman
  • 2020 record: 3-7
  • Postseason result: Texas Bowl vs. TCU canceled due to COVID-19 concerns

Returning startersOffense 9, Defense 10

Sam Craft, USA Today
Arkansas fans hope for an answer at the quarterback position after former signal-caller Feleipe Franks signed a free-agent deal with the Atlanta Falcons. 

Area of strength: The secondary is led by All-SEC safety Jalen Catalon, a big-hitter. He heads a group of five returning starters in the defensive backfield. The Razorbacks were respectable in pass defense in 2020 and grabbed 13 interceptions. Only Kentucky had more.

Area of concern: The departure of Feleipe Franks creates uncertainty at quarterback. Third-year sophomore KJ Jefferson is the likely starter, but he has little playing experience. He did throw for 272 yards and three touchdowns in a loss to Missouri. However, he’s completed fewer than 50 percent of his career passing attempts. If he falters, the Hogs figure to turn to redshirt freshman Malik Hornsby.

Top three players:

  • Treylon Burks, WR: A potential NFL first-round pick. The 6-foot-3, 232-pound junior is a serious big-play threat. Last season he had 51 catches for 820 yards and scored seven touchdowns.
  • Jalen Catalon, S: Another future NFL player. Catalon made an impressive first impression in his debut season. He was credited with 99 tackles, had three interceptions, forced two fumbles and broke up four passes.
  • Grant Morgan, LB: An overachiever who opted to come back for an extra year. Once a walk-on, Morgan earned All-SEC honors for leading the conference in tackles per game average at 12.33.

Significant losses: QB Feleipe Franks (NFL free agent), RB Rakeem Boyd (NFL free agent), DT Jonathan Marshall (NFL sixth-round draft choice), WR Mike Woods (transferred to Oklahoma).

Key additions: DL John Ridgeway (transfer from Illinois State), DL Markell Utsey (transfer from Missouri).

2021 schedule

  • Sept. 4 vs. Rice
  • Sept. 11 vs. Texas
  • Sept. 18 vs. Georgia Southern
  • Sept. 25 vs. Texas A&M (Arlington)
  • Oct. 2 at Georgia
  • Oct. 9 at Ole Miss
  • Oct. 16 vs. Auburn
  • Oct. 23 vs. Arkansas-Pine Bluff
  • Nov. 6 vs. Mississippi State
  • Nov. 13 at LSU
  • Nov. 20 at Alabama
  • Nov. 26 vs. Missouri

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Discussion from...

With 19 starters returning, Arkansas is aiming to rebound in 2021

5,182 Views | 9 Replies | Last: 4 mo ago by Emilio Fantastico
hogfan14
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Pretty fair assessment.

I know close doesn't count for anything but Arkansas was amazingly close to going 6-4 last year which would have been a remarkable turnaround. 2 point "loss" to Auburn, 3 point loss to LSU, 2 point loss to Missouri.

Franks won't be easy to replace. I expect the offense to be a lot more run-oriented this year with the loss of Woods, more depth at RB, and Jefferson is a more natural runner than Franks was. Dude is a tank at 245 pounds.
taylorswift13
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AG
Thanks for the insight on Arkansas! Would you say Jefferson is a better open field runner than Frank's or just harder to take down! Also how is the running back room looking, any names to watch out for!
NoahAg
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How is Bumper Pool still there? He's been at arky at least 7 years now.
taylorswift13
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AG
NoahAg said:

How is Bumper Pool still there? He's been at arky at least 7 years now.
I remember last year when TexAgs ppl said Pool and Catalon were gonna shut us down and I remember watching and laughing as Wydermeyer carried them both like 10 yards cause they couldn't tackle him
hogfan14
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taylorswift13 said:

Thanks for the insight on Arkansas! Would you say Jefferson is a better open field runner than Frank's or just harder to take down! Also how is the running back room looking, any names to watch out for!
Franks was a good athlete and had pretty good top-end speed when he got going but he looked like a baby giraffe trying to run at times, just uncoordinated and indecisive. Jefferson takes longer to get going but his momentum makes him harder to stop when he's getting north-south. He's not near as lanky. His accuracy is what worries me the most though.



As for RBs, Trelon Smith was better than Rakeem Boyd last year so I'm glad he's back. Behind him will likely be three freshmen:

-Dominique Johnson (COVID Freshman) is a bigger back at 240 pounds. Some of our fans thought he'd play LB after we flipped him from Missouri late in the 2020 class but he looked good in the spring game...still TBD if he has the speed to play RB in the SEC.
-AJ Green (4* true freshman) has really good speed and had some blue blood offers to play DB, would likely be at OU but wanted to play offense so he came here.
-Rocket Sanders (true freshman) is a guy who has a nice mix of power and speed and physically doesn't look like most freshmen. He was a 4* athlete who could also play WR but was moved to RB in the spring. You can tell he has a lot to learn about playing the position (vision, patience) but the tools are there.

I would expect Johnson to be ahead of the other two on the depth chart to start the season but Green and Sanders are probably too talented to keep off the field as the year goes on. We also have TJ Hammonds who has bounced around from RB to WR for 6 years and then a guy we brought over from the track team in Josh Oglesby (from Katy, Texas) who obviously has great speed but no idea if he can play football at the SEC level yet. He was on the roster last year but missed almost the whole season with turf toe.

NoahAg
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Unfortunately we are arky's Super Bowl. They'll probably go 4-8 and force us into OT.
aggiephoenix02
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Two goals for our team next year is to keep the streaks going against South Carolina & Arkansas...
aggiephoenix02
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NoahAg said:

Unfortunately we are arky's Super Bowl. They'll probably go 4-8 and force us into OT.
Ugh... we are now to Arkansas what we were to Tech in the Big XII. We always get their best game.

On the other hand they play t.u. two weeks before us, so if they lose to t.u. they'll be drained. If they beat t.u. we'll get an inspired Arkansas...

Edit: I hope Arkansas takes t.u. behind the woodshed...
Emilio Fantastico
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AG
If your 19 returning starters went 3-7, I would be looking for some new starters.
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