Louisiana (0-0) at Arkansas (0-0)
The Sports Network
DATE & TIME: Saturday, August 31, 4 p.m. (et)
FACTS & STATS: Site: Donald W. Reynolds Razorback Stadium (72,000) -- Fayetteville, Arkansas. Television: FSN, ESPN3.com. Home Record: Louisiana 0-0, Arkansas 0-0. Away Record: Louisiana 0-0, Arkansas 0-0. Neutral Record: Louisiana 0-0, Arkansas 0-0. Conference Record: Louisiana 0-0, Arkansas 0-0. Series Record: Arkansas leads 4-0.
GAME NOTES: Brett Bielema will make his coaching debut for the Arkansas Razorbacks when they host a talented Louisiana Ragin' Cajuns squad to kick off the 2013 season.
Led by the multi-faceted quarterback play of Terrance Broadway, the Ragin' Cajuns went a respectable 9-4 last season, while compiling a 6-2 mark in the Sun Belt. The Ragin' Cajuns also managed a 43-34 win over East Carolina in the New Orleans Bowl for their second-consecutive bowl victory. This season Louisiana is looking to rise even higher with the target set on a first-ever outright Sun Belt Conference crown.
The dismissal of Bobby Petrino in the 2012 offseason really did a number on Arkansas. Considered a top 10 team to begin last season, the Razorbacks went just 4-8 and missed out on a bowl game for the first time since 2008. Enter Bielema, who has a record of consistently producing winning teams. The former head coach at Wisconsin led the Badgers to a 68-24 record in seven seasons as well as Rose Bowl appearances in each of the last three campaigns.
It comes as no surprise that Arkansas has dominated the brief all-time series between these squads. Arkansas has won all four meetings, including a 24-17 victory in 2002.
There are few players in college football more enjoyable to watch as Broadway. The junior was second on the depth chart last season but when starter Blaine Gautier was injured in September, Broadway took hold of the job and was impressive. Broadway threw for 2,847 yards and 17 touchdowns, completing 65.4 percent of his pass attempts. Defenses were constantly on edge lined up against him, as he also ran for 769 yards and nine additional scores.
Alonzo Harris (881 yards, 10 TDs) makes the Ragin' Cajuns that much more dangerous in terms of moving the ball on the ground, though he adds little in the passing game.
That's just fine for the Ragin' Cajuns, who have plenty of talent and depth at receiver. Jamal Robinson (630 yards, three TDs) and Darryl Surgent (569 yards, three TDs) both averaged more than 16 yards per reception a year ago. Each will have a chance to elevate those numbers with leading receiver Harry Peoples (64 receptions, 817 yards) gone.
While the offense was busy tearing up the field to the tune of 35.5 points and 455.3 yards per game, the Ragin' Cajuns were less formidable on the defensive side of the ball. Louisiana let up 428.1 yards per game to opponents, while being especially susceptible to the pass where it ranked among the 10 worst teams in the nation (283.5 ypg).
Making matters worse for this season's unit will be that only three starters return. Two are on the defensive line with sack-leader Christian Ringo (seven sacks) and Justin Hamilton (three sacks) will each be tasked with keeping pressure on opposing backfields.
Middle linebacker Justin Anderson enters his senior season as the only other returning starter. Anderson did a little bit of everything last season as he led the team with 98 tackles while also collecting a pair of sacks and an interception.
The weakness against the pass isn't likely to be alleviated without inexperienced defensive backs like Jevante Watson and Trevence Patt really surprising.
Even though Petrino left the team before the season started, his fingerprints could still be felt as the Razorbacks were still as productive offensively, at least in picking up yards, as when he was on the sideline. Arkansas picked up a respectable 420.2 yards per game last season.
However, the Razorbacks were unable to turn those yards into many points. Arkansas scored just 23.5 points per game and were second to last in the conference in red zone conversion rate (70.4 percent). In fact, Arkansas was the only team in the SEC to score touchdowns on fewer than 50 percent of its trips to the red zone.
Under Bielema the Razorbacks will likely abandon the pass-heavy offense employed a year ago, though losing starting quarterback Tyler Wilson makes the decision that much easier.
Bielema had a reputation of employing productive running backs at Wisconsin in Montee Ball, James White and John Clay. Arkansas does not return its top two rushers from last season opening the job for Jonathan Williams. Just a sophomore, Williams rushed for 231 yards and averaged 5.1 yards per carry last season.
Another sophomore, Brandon Allen, takes over at quarterback. Allen completed less than 50 percent of his pass attempts last season in limited playing time. Cobi Hamilton caught 90 passes last season but is gone. No other player caught more than 25 passes. Javontee Herndon (21 receptions, 304 yards, 3 TDs) should be the No. 1 target heading into the new season.
Arkansas was not a particularly disciplined team last year as it had a league- high 31 turnovers and league-worst -19 turnover differential. The differential wasn't helped by the lack of disruptive plays by the defense. The Razorbacks allowed 409.9 yards per game and managed to force just 12 turnovers.
The reason for those paltry numbers was not because teams weren't pressured by the Razorbacks. Chris Smith (9.5 sacks) and Trey Flowers (six sacks) were each dangerous players on the defensive line and should once again create problems for opposing quarterbacks.
The secondary is also filled with returning starters with sophomore Rohan Gaines (75 tackles) looking to build on an impressive rookie campaign. Getting better coverage and ball-tracking from the secondary will be key as the linebacking corps is largely unproven.
Last season Arkansas lost at home to ULM, another team from the Sun Belt. With Broadway under center the Ragin' Cajuns are a team that poses quite a threat to repeat the performance. Still, Bielema is a coach that preaches discipline and should have the Razorbacks playing with fewer mistakes. That alone could be enough to hold off Louisiana.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Arkansas 30, Louisiana 21
08/28 10:47:24 ET