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OPINION | WALLY HALL: Razorbacks' belief in themselves is reassuring

by Wally Hall | September 2, 2021 at 2:30 a.m.

Going into the Arkansas Razorbacks' season opener against Rice at 1 p.m. Saturday, fans can expect to see a lot of familiar faces.

The Razorbacks return 19 starters.

There are 12 super seniors, guys who took the NCAA up on the chance to play an extra year.

Yet, by all accounts, the only way you'll recognize most of them is by their jersey number. All are apparently bigger, stronger and almost able to leap tall buildings.

Coach Sam Pittman cannot say enough nice things about strength and conditioning coach Jamil Walker. Pittman brought Walker with him from Georgia for a reason.

The defense may be the glue of this year's team.

The unit has more depth at every position, and the fact that the returning starters were pushed for their jobs from Day One should mean not much drop off when substitutions are made.

And there will be a lot of substitutions Saturday because of the heat.

Rice will try and keep the defense on the field. The Owls play what Pittman called "bully ball." They want to get it and keep it for six- or seven-minute drives.

If that happens, there may be even more substitutions than thought possible and not just because of the heat.

Of course there's no guarantee Rice can win the battles up front, which is where it starts.

The Hogs have much more depth on the D-line than last year. The linebackers are good and smart. The defensive backs will be better.

The big question on offense is new starting quarterback KJ Jefferson, who has two starts in two years but has thrown only 72 passes. He completed 34 for 492 yards and 3 touchdowns with only 1 interception.

He also has rushed for 125 yards on 58 carries.

A little experience is better than none. He knows you don't make a move unless you know there is a move to make.

The O-line is supposed to have gained weight and lost belly fat, which is a very good combination.

The starting running back may be true freshman Raheim "Rocket" Sanders because of several injuries.

Any time a running back is nicknamed Rocket, he is interesting. Sanders was a three-sport athlete in high school. In addition to football he ran track -- of course he did -- and played basketball.

When the running backs are healthy, expect to see multiple players tote the rock.

Arkansas won't grind it out on every down, but when you can move the ball on the ground it opens up passing lanes.

The Razorbacks are deep at receiver led by Treylon Burks, the latest pride of Warren, although he's been slowed by an injury.

There's good depth at tight end, although Koilan Jackson, who moved there from receiver in the spring, has given up football for medical reasons.

Jackson had great hands and good speed and athleticism. He also had one injury after another.

On paper and on the field, the Razorbacks look to be better in Pittman's second year.

Can they shock the world of perspiring arts and win enough games to get bowl eligible?

Most so-called experts are predicting no, but those guys have not seen this team or read the daily reports.

There is a true Razorback attitude on the 2021 team.

They like each other.

The play hard on every down.

They believe with all their heart they have something to prove.

They believe in their coaches, which was the first challenge facing Pittman. He had to win the players' confidence, and going into his second season the players love and respect him and the staff.

This team believes in itself and is ready for Saturday.

Print Headline: Razorbacks' belief in themselves is reassuring


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