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Dr. Saturday

Debriefing: Arkansas stays grounded for next phase of its high-flying breakthrough

Graham Watson
Dr. Saturday

The least you should know about the 2011 Razorbacks. Part of SEC Week.

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Hammering teams without a Mallett. Thanks, in part, to record-setting quarterback Ryan Mallett, Arkansas enjoyed its first 10-win season last year since 2006 — and just its second since 1989 — and ranked fourth in passing offense, ninth in total offense and 17th in scoring offense. But with Mallett gone to the NFL, the Razorbacks will look to junior Tyler Wilson to pick up where he left off. Luckily for Wilson, the Razorbacks return many of their offensive weapons from a year ago, including nearly all of the team's rushing production and a wide receiving corps that many consider one of the bets in the country (we'll get to all that in a second).

Wilson will have three "warm-up" games against Missouri State, New Mexico and Troy to get acclimated as a new starter. While the playbook might be dumbed down a bit for those contests as to not give anything away to Week 4 opponent Alabama, it will be a great stretch for Wilson to gain some confidence. It also will be an opportunity for Wilson to distinguish himself from Mallett. Wilson doesn't have the quick delivery or cannon arm, but he's smart with the ball (something Mallett wasn't at times a year ago) and is heady enough to escape pressure and throw on the run.

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Jewel of the Knile. Running back Knile Davis made a name for himself during the second half of last season. After a slow start amid a crowded rotation, Davis, eventually led all SEC backs with 1,322 yards and cracked the century mark in six of the Razorbacks' seven contests, including five in a row to end the season. Four times, Davis had more than 150 yards and opened up the passing game for Mallett.

The biggest question heading into this fall is whether Ronnie Wingo is ready to spell Davis and give the Razorbacks the between the tackles runner Davis isn't? Wingo steps in as the top backup after Broderick Green, who was second on the team with 365 yards and three scores, suffered an ACL tear in the spring. The injury actually brought out the best in Wingo, who finally started looking like the back he was hyped up to be. Wingo rushed for 253 and a touchdown a year ago, but will get many more touches this year as the Razorbacks attempt to keep Davis rested and healthy.

Now, about those receivers. Arkansas passing game was the best in the SEC last season, but what made it so special was that there were so many different options for Mallett. Five players had at least 600 receiving yards and the best thing about it is that everyone except All-American tight end D.J. Williams is back. (Cue Wilson's schoolboy giddiness.) There's no reason Arkansas passing game shouldn't be as potent as it was a year ago, which sets the Razorbacks up for another 10-win season.{YSP:MORE}

Joe Adams led the group with 813 yards and six touchdowns, but Greg Childs was the premier receiver with 659 yards and six scores before he suffered a season-ending knee injury with five games remaining. Add in Jarius Wright, who has become a stellar downfield blocker, and Cobi Hamilton, and the Razorbacks receiving corps will rival any in the country.

Hey, don't forget about us. Because the offense has been so good during Petrino's three seasons, the defense has often taken a backseat. No more.

The defense improved from No. 89 in total defense in 2009 to 36th nationally last year. Those numbers should continue to improve this year with seven starters returning, including defensive end Jake Bequette, who led the team with seven sacks and added 8.5 tackles for loss. Linebacker Jerry Franklin, who led the Razorbacks with 100 tackles and 13 tackles for loss, also returns. Defensive tackle will be a position to watch with D.D. Jones and Byran Jones anchoring the middle of the line. Both missed the spring while recovering from surgery, but both are among the best tackles in the conference.

The biggest test will be against the run where the Razorbacks struggled mightily a year ago. They allowed 162.6 rushing yards per game, though it wasn't for lack of getting into the backfield. The Razorbacks did rank ninth and 13th respectively in sacks and tackles for loss.

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