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VOL. 132 | NO. 167 | Wednesday, August 23, 2017

With Same QB and New 3-4 Defense, Arkansas Aims to Surpass 7-6 Mark from 2016

By Don Wade

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Given the Arkansas Razorbacks’ second-half implosions – notably blowing a 24-7 lead to Missouri and a 24-0 lead over Virginia Tech in the Belk Bowl – they wouldn’t mind forgetting that part of their 2016 season.

But forgetting or ignoring also would wipe out the chance to learn from past mistakes.

“We’re making sure we don’t act like last season didn’t happen,” said senior center Frank Ragnow, who is expected to be a high NFL draft pick next spring. “But we definitely learned from it and are growing from it. It is a blessing that we have been through these hard times; they say you learn more when you lose or go through hard times and we definitely have.”

The Razorbacks finished 7-6, 3-5 in the SEC last year. Among the other obvious disappointments: absorbing a 56-3 beatdown at Auburn and losing a fifth straight time to Texas A&M since the Aggies joined the league in 2012.

Arkansas Razorbacks quarterback Austin Allen (8) passes during the 2016 Belk Bowl between Arkansas and the Virginia Tech Hokies in Charlotte, North Carolina. (Cal Sport Media via AP Images)

The defense allowed 205.5 rushing yards per game last season, which ranked 94th nationally. The Hogs also gave up an average of 31.1 points per game, which ranked 85th in the country.

This year, Arkansas will switch from a 4-3 alignment on defense to a 3-4.

“Just by pure math you’ve got 11 guys on the field and now eight guys will be on two feet (and three down in a stance),” said coach Bret Bielema, who has taken the Razorbacks to three straight bowl games and is entering his fifth season. “You’ve got eight guys being able to change (direction) and run.

“You naturally become athletic with the 3-4 scheme. … The ability to bring different pressure. And it’s a little bit more simplistic to (defend) multiple offenses in a shorter amount of time.”

Offensively, the SEC’s leading passer (3,430 yards) returns at quarterback in senior Austin Allen. The Razorbacks suffered a huge hit with running back Rawleigh Williams (1,360 rushing yards in 2016) suffering a career-ending injury, but Devwah Whaley (610 yards last season) is more than capable.

Arkansas will be young at receiver, which puts much pressure on Ragnow and the line to give Allen solid protection. At times last season, Allen took huge hits.

“It’s not acceptable,” Ragnow said. “You should be utterly embarrassed if you let your quarterback get hit or sacked or anything like that.”

For his part, Allen wants to improve his decision-making in real time. He threw 25 touchdown passes with 15 interceptions.

“Just take what they (defenses) give me,” Allen said. “A few times last year, I felt like I had to make a play to get us back on track. I thought I had to get out of my comfort zone and it didn’t always work out. Punting isn’t always the worst thing.”

Arkansas opens with a home game in Little Rock on Thursday, Aug. 31 vs. Florida A&M. TCU comes to Fayetteville on Sept. 9 and the SEC opener is in Arlington, Texas vs. Texas A&M on Sept. 23.

Bielema likes the schedule, which ends with home games vs. Mississippi State and Missouri.

“Last year we had two or three teams that had bye weeks before they played us,” he said. “Nobody has a bye week before they play us this year. That’s a nice stroke for us.”

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