Hogs’ passing game may benefit from addition by subtraction


It may be counterintuitive to think the Arkansas Razorbacks’ passing game could improve this season considering former standout receiver Treylon Burks is plying his trade in the NFL with the Tennessee Titans rather than playing his senior year with the Hogs.

Maybe it’s just crazy to think the Hogs’ overall passing game could be more effective without Burks?

After all, Burks made 66 catches for 1,104 yards last season as Razorback quarterback K.J. Jefferson’s primary option. Critics might even say Burks was mostly his only option last year, or the only one he really looked for before he took off running.

As you probably know, Jefferson was the Razorbacks’ leading rusher last fall with 664 net yards on the ground. Jefferson actually tallied 838 yards rushing on 146 carries before figuring 174 yards in losses, primarily from sacks in the passing game.

I think it’s fair to say that Jefferson and the Hogs as a whole depended on Burks last season, and why not, the man delivered like Federal Express. Had Burks returned for his senior season, he likely would have crushed most if not all of Arkansas’ career receiving records with a healthy season.

But did that dependence have an overall chilling effect on Arkansas’ passing game?

Next up for the No. 19 Razorbacks

Opponent: Cincinnati
When:  2:30 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 3
Where: Razorback Stadium, Fayetteville
Streaming: ESPN

Remaining Schedule

Sept. 10 – South Carolina
Sept. 17 – Missouri State
Sept. 24 – Texas A&M at Arlington
Oct. 1 – Alabama
Oct. 8 – at Mississippi State
Oct. 15 – at BYU
Oct. 29 – at Auburn
Nov. 5 – Liberty
Nov. 12 – LSU
Nov. 19 – Ole Miss
Nov. 25 – at Missouri

I think it did. Intuitively, Jefferson knew getting the ball to Burks was almost always the Hogs’ best option for a big play, so often he looked only for him instead of moving through the progression of his route tree. For a relatively inexperienced quarterback with legs, it was probably his best option at the time — put the ball in the hands of your best weapon or run.

However, that dependence on Burks might have had an overall chilling effect on the rest of the receiving corps. When you know the ball is probably not coming your way, it’s difficult to put out maximum effort every time. It’s just human nature. Unfortunately, most college players can’t just turn the faucet on and off. If you go three-quarter speed most of the time, it winds up becoming your top speed almost all of the time.

We saw the results of the Razorbacks’ dependence on Burks in the Outback Bowl. Receivers had a difficult time getting open, and Jefferson had a hard time finding them. Astutely, Arkansas offensive coordinator Kendall Briles leaned heavily on the quarterback rush, and Jefferson and back-up QB Malik Hornsby ran all over a depleted Penn State defense that was missing several starters who opted out of the bowl game.

As Briles mentioned to reporters during his interview with the media during training camp, he’s not worried about stats. He just wants to win. The Hogs did just that by running all over the Nittany Lions, 24-10. Running the ball led to a victory over Penn State in the only game between the two proud programs.

The Hogs won, but the way in which Arkansas won is why analysts like Tim Tebow and Jordan Rodgers don’t rate K.J. Jefferson among the best quarterbacks in the SEC.

By the way Tebow and Rodgers will be on campus this weekend for their SEC Nation TV program that airs at 9 a.m. Saturday on the SEC Network prior to the ESPN-televised No. 19 Razorbacks’ 2:30 p.m. season opener with the No. 23 Cincinnati Bearcats.

The Paul Finebaum is also originating from Fayetteville at 2 p.m., and “Marty and McGee” will kick off Saturday’s festivities at 8 a.m. Host Marty Smith all but said John Daly will be a guest Saturday morning. The stage for all three programs will be set up on the lawn of Old Main, unless rain forces other plans.

Tebow and Rodgers see Jefferson as a runner who chunks the ball, but not really a skilled passer. It’s kind of ironic that Tebow made his name being just that type of quarterback for the Florida Gators.

Such experts question what the Hogs will do without Burks, and that is legitimate.

I personally think we are going to see a growth in the Razorbacks’ passing game. Jefferson is going to go through his progressions this season, and because of that the big and fast Razorback receiving corps will bust their tails to get open and make plays.

By midseason, returners like Warren Thompson and Ketron Jackson Jr. as well as transfers like Matt Landers and Jadon Haselwood will be known and respected by the Arkansas fanbase and the Hogs’ opponents.

Is that a pie-in-the-sky outlook on the Razorbacks’ passing game? Probably, but until there is on-the-field evidence to the countrry, I’m going to expect the best, rather than the worst.

What I like most about Pittman as a coach is his positive attitude. He firmly believes that people speak results into to being through their outlook and attitude. Pittman is so positive with people, and particularly with his players. The streaming service Hogs Plus currently has an outstanding feature on Pittman, in which he is wearing a microphone during practice. The positivity just emanates from the man.

Now, he coaches and corrects, but Pittman does so with encouragement and affirmation, and you can see the players bursting with pride and self-worth. No doubt the piece was edited and just a snippet of one, two-hour practice, but it certainly gives you an idea of how the man leads and guides his program. That positivity has been key in the development of Jefferson and will be with the receiving corps this season.

Confidence among Hog fans right now seems to be at a decade-long high. I think that’s good, but Cincinnati isn’t a one-year-wonder of a program. The Bearcats did experience a good deal of manpower churn last year, but coach Luke Fickell has a mature program. Cincinnati is reloading this season, rather than rebuilding.

Pittman summed up his eagerness and anxiety for the season opener Wednesday during his final meeting with the media until after the game.

“The first game, you better be ready because you don’t have a clue about what they are about to do,” Pittman said. “They have their base principles, but you go into LSU and they Cover Zero you all night. You’re going to a different party than you might have expected… We’ve got to adjust… These first games are different. You don’t know what they are going throw at you…You find out a lot about your team the first two or three series of the first game.”

We will know a whole lot more about this Razorback team Saturday around 6 p.m., but there is no certainty in the SEC or with a schedule like the Hogs.

Talking with a longtime observer of Razorback football recently, he summed up Arkansas’ schedule about as well as anyone has.

He said it looks like the Razorbacks have one sure win in Missouri State and one likely loss against Alabama. He labeled the other 10 games toss-ups. I think think that’s a fairly astute summation of an incredibly difficult schedule for what could be the best Razorback team in a decade whether they finish 7-5 in the regular season or 10-2.