2002 Final Rankings
AP-UR, Coaches-UR, BCS-UR
a boatload of returning starters, especially
on offense, Arkansas has the potential for
greatness. The Razorbacks should enter 2003
with a bad taste in their mouths after being
exposed in their final two 2002 tilts. The
SEC Championship loss to Georgia ranks as
a relatively mild disappointment - after
all, the Bulldogs were an outstanding team
and went on to a convincing Sugar Bowl win
over a marginally-credible Florida State
team. The same cannot be said for the 15-point
defeat at the hands of Minnesota in the
Music City Bowl, in which the Hogs were
outplayed in every facet of the game.
from that disappointment will be the focus
throughout the off-season for Houston Nutt
and his staff. If Cedric Cobbs can keep
his head straight while Matt Jones continues
his improvement under center, Arkansas'
offense will be one of the top units in
defense, replacing Ken Hamlin will be a
tall order. But Tony Bua is poised to become
their next outstanding impact player. The
defense will be dominated by experienced
juniors and seniors, most with the talent
to make an impact. If questions can be answered
up front and some strides made in the secondary,
this team area will be responsible for elevating
the entire team's results.
schedule is a tough one, starting Sept.
13 with a trip to Texas. In conference,
Arkansas hosts top-notch foes Auburn and
Florida on consecutive weeks (Oct. 11 and
18, respectively) and must travel to Ole
Miss, Kentucky, and LSU - all 2002 bowl
teams with decent shots at returning in
2003 - as well as Alabama.
difficulty of the schedule means that Arkansas,
despite having as much talent as any team
in the conference, will be hard pressed
to repeat last year's surprising run to
the title game. They needed many helpful
results to get them someplace they couldn't
have gotten alone. Although the Hogs should
finish at .500 or better - Tulsa, North
Texas, and New Mexico State round out the
nonconference slate - it's unlikely that
the postseason destination will be an improvement
over the Music City Bowl. But, like in recently
past years, this squads will lose to a team
they shouldn't, and beat one likewise. During
the fall months, this team has never let
its fans sleep soundly.
2003 record: 8-4
QB/WR Matt Jones
RB Cedric Cobbs
DE Jeb Huckeba
WR Steven Harris
Matt Jones, 234-122-8, 1592 yds., 16 TD's
Rushing: Matt Jones, 129 att., 614
yds., 5 TD's
Receiving: George Wilson, 49 rec.,
626 yds., 7 TD's
Scoring: David Carlton, 12-16 FG,
28-29 PAT, 64 pts.
Kicking: David Carlton, 12-16 FG,
28-29 PAT, 64 pts.
Tackles: Tony Bua, 131 tot., 77 solo
Sacks: Tony Bua, 4 sacks; Caleb Miller,
Interceptions: Lawrence Richardson,
4 for 25 yards
Kickoff returns: Decori Birmingham,
28 ret., 22.8 avg.
Punt returns: Decori Birmingham,
28 ret., 12.2 avg.
Mark Pierce has left the team for the time being
and it is unknown whether he will return this
year. Pierce had been experiencing personal troubles
with the loss of his father and needed to take
time off to get squared away.
Fred Talley-TB, Marcellus Poydras-TE, Nathan
Ball-OG, Tarvaris Jackson-QB (transferred)
House-DE, Gavin Walls-DE, Pervis Osborne-DT,
Richie Butler-P, Ken Hamlin-FS (NFL)
by Collin Mickle
Hayes would have loved last season's Arkansas
offense. The Razorbacks were the quintessential
"three yards and a cloud of dust" team
- leading the SEC in rushing offense. The offensive
strategy is unlikely to change this season, despite
the graduation of tailback Fred Talley.
Tailback Cedric Cobb has returned to full health
and should be more than ready to step back into
the starting job, which he lost after an injury
in the Hogs' fourth game. Cobb's career has not
been smooth - he had problems with the law earlier
in his stay in Fayetteville - but as long as he
can stay in good health and in head coach Houston
Nutt's good graces, he will be one of the conference's
If Cobbs does have success in 2003, plenty of
the credit should be heaped on the sizeable shoulders
of the Razorbacks' offensive line. The unit, by
far the best group in Nutt's six years at Arkansas,
will start four seniors and a junior, all of whom
started last season. The unit averages 6-4, 307
pounds, and is a fearsome match up in the run
Other than Cobb, the rest of the offense is based
largely on the outstanding physical ability of
junior quarterback Matt Jones. At 6-5, 225, Jones
has prototypical size, and his ability to contribute
both as a passer (1,592 yards and 16 touchdowns)
and a runner in the option attack (614 yards rushing,
second on the team) gives the Razorbacks a big-play
threat from anywhere on the field. In his first
year as a starter, Jones suffered some growing
pains, but his role in the biggest play of the
season - the miraculous touchdown pass that capped
Arkansas' 21-20 comeback victory over LSU - showed
his potential. Despite its dominance on the ground,
Arkansas was hopeless through the air, averaging
just over 134 yards passing per game. Part of
the difficulty lay with the offensive line. One
thing is for sure, OT Shawn Andrews is most likely
the best OT in college football...and could easily
be the first lineman taken in next year's NFL
draft should he decide to leave early.
Still, expect Jones to build upon those flashes
in 2003. The Razorbacks are counting on him to
do just that. Sophomore Tarvaris Jackson had an
opportunity to push Jones as a redshirted 2002
freshman, but eventually appeared lost in his
rare game appearances and ended up transferring.
Unless senior Ryan Sorahan shows considerable
improvement, Jones will be Nutt's only real option
Jones' receiving corps returns en masse. Ten Razorbacks
caught more than one pass last season, and nine
of them will be returning to Fayetteville. The
ground game will remain the primary focus, with
Cobb and Jones running the option, but the opportunities
for the passing attack will present themselves.
It is imperative that these opportunities not
be squandered so the field can be legitimately
stretched even before the first snap is taken.
A constant threat of the deeper routes will back
corners off so the option can succeed more as
the season grinds forward..
Flanker Richard Smith and split end George Wilson
will be Jones' main target(s). The two combined
for more than half of Arkansas' catches, yards,
and touchdowns in 2002. Junior Decori Birmingham,
the co-hero with Jones of the LSU win, came on
late in the season and should continue his improvement.
Junior tight end Jason Peters is the only player
likely to catch more than three or four passes.
Someone has to step up, or else defenses will
be able to take these two guys out and make stopping
the Razorbacks an easily solved, one-dimensional
Pass protection was a problem, when the Hogs gave
up a sack every ten passing attempts and struggled
against speed rushers on the edge. Another year
of experience may be the answer. If the line can
get its pass-blocking problems ironed out, Arkansas'
offense automatically becomes a much more dangerous
weapon. But Jones was sacked also due to his own
Although Jones appears to have great potential
both as a passer and as a runner in the option,
he must improve his drop-back passing and play-faking
ability. Other than the miraculous ending of the
LSU game, the Razorbacks struggled to pick up
yards through the air, making it difficult to
mount comebacks. He may not have the subtle ability
to know, as option QBs must, when to run and when
to pass if the option is presented. He may know
the other tough ability - of when to take it himself
or when to pitch - but this passing/running choice
is what keeps this option-team grounded while
others use the option optimally to put defenses
on their heels and set up the pass.
2003 DEPTH CHART
Returning Starters in bold
by Collin Mickle
Arkansas has been a physical, grind-it-out team
on both offense and defense throughout the Houston
Nutt-era, the 2002 Hogs allowed more than 25 points
per game in five SEC games. Arkansas lost four
of those five. The Razorbacks were plagued by
defensive inconsistency. They ranked second in
the conference in rushing defense, surrendering
just over 113 yards-per-game, but were dead last
(48th in I-A) in pass efficiency defense. The
departure of defensive coordinator John Thompson
to take the same post at Florida was part of the
problem. Quality opponents were able to take advantage
of the Hogs' secondary, which, despite a surfeit
of talent, was mostly unimpressive.
strength of the 2003 defense will be in the middle
unit. Arkansas returns one of the conference's
top linebacking corps. Bua is the standout, recording
131 tackles, four sacks, and a pair of interceptions
as a junior in 2002. A do-everything player from
the weakside linebacker position, Bua terrorizes
opposing offenses in much the same way as former
Razorback Quinton Caver, lining up at various
positions on the field and using his remarkable
athletic ability to wreak havoc.
Miller, Bua's running mate on the strong side,
matched him essentially stat for stat. Both players
are seniors who will be starting opposite one
another for the third year in a row, so the glue
has been set for their symbiotic nature to hold
together well, making one plus one equal much
more than two.
Junior Arrion Dixon returns as the starting noseguard.
Dixon will be the key to Arkansas' rush defense.
Senior defensive end Justin Scott, a key 2002
reserve, will be counted on to replace Gavin Walls'
output at one defensive end position. He won't
be the same force, but should hold his own nicely.
At the other end, junior Elliot Harris returns
for his second season in the starting lineup.
Harris is a big, strong player with a great deal
of natural ability - a good candidate for a breakout
season. Look for Harris to play inside or outside.
The entire front-seven inherits numbers of allowing
just 3.15 yards-per-run and 11 TDs all year. Look
for these to drop slightly, with similar actual
results. Opponents will have to go to the air
on this squad for success.
The struggling defensive backfield, which lost
its leader and best player when free safety Ken
Hamlin declared for the NFL draft, will be under
a great deal of pressure. Corners Lawrence Richardson
and Ahmad Carroll return - good work by Richardson
was offset by Carroll's less-spirited 2002 performance.
Both will need to be improved. Senior strong safety
Jimmy Beasley has a good nose for the ball. A
second year of using the new coverage schemes
and knowing each other's tendencies will vastly,
yet still only marginally, improve this unit's
2003 DEPTH CHART
Returning Starters in bold
punter Richie Butler, a four-year starter at the position,
has graduated. His position will be filled by the most
likely candidate, Brennan O'Donohoe, who spent time
doubling as a kicker during his tenure.
No uncertainty exists for the placekicking spot, which
will be held by junior David Carlton. He also served
as the team's KO specialist. Carlton was impressive
as a replacement for ineffective Brendan O'Donahue in
2002, making 12-of-16 field goals (but 0-of-3 from 50+)
and scoring a team-best 64 points.
Decori Birmingham will return as the top returner on
both kickoffs and punts, unless he breaks into the starting
lineup at wideout. Birmingham averaged 12.2 yards per
punt return and 22.8 on kickoff returns. The coverage
units were every bit as solid as the return squads,
holding opponents under 10 yards per punt return and
16.8 yards per kickoff.
Most people know, by now, the experimentation
that QB Matt Jones has been undergoing at
WR. He had a fruitful spring in that transition,
while maintaining his QB status. Backup
Ryan Sorahan has picked up his play at QB
this spring, getting better and better with
each practice. This progress leads me to
believe the Hogs will eventually insert
Sorahan under center and give Jones primary
responsibility on the wings. He is an incredible
athlete who can pay big dividends with a
pocket passer like Sorahan tossing to him.
Look for the Hogs to rotate the two to start
WR Steven Harris was the
big play threat this spring and currently
sits as a third receiver
the running game very encouraging with Cedric
Cobbs breaking off frequent big gainers,
and invariably running with authority. He
is currently in the making for an outlandish
senior season. De'Arrius Howard has been
almost equally as impressive and the Hogs
should have no trouble on the ground.
Moving Jeb Huckeba from LB to DE paid off
this spring, as the coach-described "playmaker"
did just that from the rush spot. His addition
on the end gives them a solid defensive
front and should help maintain a solid pass
rush, which the Hogs have been known for
the past few years. Seriously- Huckeba will
put up some numbers and I expect him to
finish All-SEC. NG Arrion Dixon has also
picked up his play, helping strengthen this
Nutt says he is very pleased
with the aggression, but more so, the speed
of his linebackers. They have shown they
can fly to the ball and disrupt a play before
it gets anywhere. The front seven will make
this defense one of the better ones in the
SEC. LB Michael Robinson is a great tackler,
who will give the group a great player off
the bench, in the case that one of their
stud starters needs a breather.
KRs Lawrence Richardson and DeCori Birmingham
will team up one of the better kick return
duos in the SEC, as both have the ability
to take one deep. Marvin Jackson returns
as the punt returner, after sitting out
last season with an injury. Placekicker
David Carlton had a good handle on his kicks
this spring, leading us to believe he will
be a worthy candidate for the Groza Award.