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Year Zero: Arkansas Offense Preview

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Alabama v Arkansas Photo by Wesley Hitt/Getty Images

Arkansas is in its first year under Chad Morris. It has struggled this year, and that bodes well for Vanderbilt. After facing four current top 15 teams and playing three of them close, Vanderbilt would like to see success for their effort. Arkansas is that chance.

Where ND, Florida, and Kentucky won through to tough ground games and smattering of luck, Arkansas does not pose that type of threat. They are 94th in total offense with 2959 yards on the year and only 5.34 yards per play. They are a little better in the S&P+ coming in at 78th.

Under Chad Morris, Arkansas runs a read option, spread offense that requires a running QB and one who can drop passes into single covered receivers. Think Clemson under Taj Boyd with a stable of backs and Nuke Hopkins and Sammy Watkins. That was a Chad Morris offense on full tilt.

They are relatively balanced between passing and rushing in total yards each. They’ve passed for just over 1500 and rushed for just under 1400. However, they attempt more rushes than they do passes, 318-236. Which is not atypical of a Chad Morris offense, but it certainly doesn’t portend confidence in the passing game, which is essential for his preferences.

Alabama v Arkansas Photo by Wesley Hitt/Getty Images

The QB situation has evolved over the last two years. Last year, Cole Kelley was the next big thing. He is a 6’7”, 260 lbs former basketball player who has a big arm and can run. But he isn’t starting this year, and has only 10 passing attempts since week 4.

This year’s starter is Ty Storey. Storey is a 6’2” 215lbs Junior. He has led Arkansas in each game this year, except their last one... which they won their first game against an FBS team since defeating Coastal Carolina 11 months ago.

Storey was out with a concussion that he suffered in the previous week’s game. His replacement, not Kelley, was Connor Noland, a true freshman. He was 10-16 for 124 yards with a pick on the opening drive and then a touchdown later in the game. He was not asked to throw the ball down the field, and he managed the game well so the rushing attack and Arkansas defense could get the victory over Tulsa.

Storey is expected to return this week. Morris said he was pleased with Noland but missing Storey was noticeable, not just in his abilities but his leadership. Storey is 81-142 with less than 60% completion rating and just under a 1,000 yards. He averages over 6 yards per attempt and has 7 TD’s and 5 INTs.

He has improved every game in conference play starting with Auburn where he was 13-31 for 141 and ending with Ole Miss where he was 12-16 for 121. Against Alabama he threw 39 times completing 25 and totaled 230 yards in the air.

Storey has 45 carries for 177 yards, making him their fourth best runner.

Since Arkansas has struggled, most of his attempts have come when they are behind, with only 39 when the team is tied or ahead. He also likes to throw between the 20’s, but very few times against his own goal line (19) or in the opponent’s Red Zone (15). He’ll throw on any and any distance as long as it’s outside of 6 yards from the line to gain.

His primary receiver is La’Michael Pettway. He has 19 receptions for 303 yards and 4 Touchdowns. Pettway has longs of 48 and 39, but his best games are not against SEC opponents. He has only one conference touchdown, and that was against Ole Miss, who is technically conference, but maybe their defense isn’t?

Cheyenne O’Grady is the next target with 15 catches for 201 yards and three touchdowns. O’Grady is the 6’4”, 251lbs TE. He did not play the first four games, but since has been an active participant in the passing game. He had his best game against Alabama with 7 receptions for 48 yards and 2 TD’s. Against A&M he had 3 catches for 77 yards and a long of 36.

Alabama v Arkansas Photo by Wesley Hitt/Getty Images

The rushing game is the backbone of the offense. Rakeen Boyd has 75 carries for 505 yards at 6.7 ypc and a long of 69 yards, accounting for his only touchdown of the year. Boyd is 6’0” and 200lbs. He also has runs of 36, 45, 25, and 32 in conference. He is a big boy and hit home runs. He is averaging 8.1 ypc in conference and 7.3 against ranked teams. Most of Boyd’s touches come on his side of the field and on first down (51).

This is the kind of ground game that can give Vanderbilt fits.

Arkansas is fairly predictable with their play calling, in regards to what types on what down and distance. They like to run on first, play action on second, and throw on third. They have not really broken that trend this year. If Vanderbilt can make the Razorbacks play from behind, then they force them into uncomfortable passing situations.

Beware, Morris will call some trick plays. He loves them, and they are easy ways to break trends and get a score to change the tide of a game.

But, if Arkansas hangs around, and they will because they are beginning to improve in Morris’ offense, Vandy could see another game like they did against other conference foes. They will be ground down by the 4Q.