A.J. Derby will likely start Saturday.AP-Danny Johnson
Bret Bielema has yet to lose a game as coach of the Arkansas football team, but some would say that he also hasn’t faced a tough opponent.
This Saturday he gets the opportunity to show what kind of team he really has in his first year as Arkansas.
The Razorbacks (3-0) last win came against Southern Miss 24-3 and now have their sights on getting a tough road win as they travel north east and take on the Scarlet Knights of Rutgers.
Freshman running back Alex Collins was honored with the SEC freshman of the week for the second week in a row. Collins ran for 115 yards on 25 carries and added a touchdown in the Southern Miss game. This makes him the first freshman ever in the SEC to rush for more than 100 yards in his first three games and first in the NCAA since Adrian Peterson in 2004.
Senior defensive end Chris Smith also received SEC player of the week for defensive lineman. Smith racked up 3.0 sacks in the Southern Miss game and now is tied for the most in the nation averaging 1.5 sacks per game.
Athletic director Jeff Long, mentioned earlier this week that the Texas A&M game set for next weekend in Fayetteville is sold out. If the Razorbacks can pull out the win at Rutgers and go into that game 4-0, Razorback Stadium will have an intense atmosphere especially with the 6 p.m. kickoff.
Starting Quarterback Brandon Allen is going to be highly doubtful for this game. A shoulder bruise that occurred on a touchdown run against Southern Miss, has kept Allen out of practice all week and most-likely the game on Saturday. A.J. Derby will get the start if Allen can’t go.
Linebacker Otha Peters, tight end Austin Tate, wide-receiver Keon Hatcher and offensive linemen Grady Ollison and Davis Hurd should all play against Rutgers according to coach Bielema.
Safety Rohan Gaines has been practicing, but will travel and see if he’s ready.
Knowing Your Opponent:
Rutgers University is located in Piscataway, New Jersey and is a member of the American Athletic Conference (formerly Big-East). Rutgers is 2-1, with a loss to Fresno St. in overtime52-51 and convincing wins over Norfolk State, 38-0 and Eastern Michigan 28-10.
Running back Paul James leads the nation in rushing with 493 yards so far this season and is averaging 8.1 yards per carry.
Starting quarterback Gary Nova suffered a concussions last game, but has been practicing this week and is listed as questionable for the game. Nova passed for 397 yards last year against Arkansas as Rutgers won the matchup, 35-26 in Fayetteville.
Arkansas has been preparing all week with JUCO transfer A.J. Derby taking first team snaps behind center and this will more than likely be this way on Saturday. Brandon Allen is listed as a game-time decision and baring a miraculous recovery will be spending this game on the sidelines and the job will be given to Derby.
Derby only passed six times last game after the Hog’s relied completely on the run after Allen’s injury. The quarterback also looked a bit shaky taking snaps and in the pocket on his first time out, but this should not be a factor on Saturday.
Giving this quarterback an entire week of practice with first team reps and a game plan all revolving around his abilities will be huge for the offense. Derby was thrown into an unlikely situation last week, but will be much more prepared for this game.
The 6-foot-5, 240 pound junior has a very good arm and surprisingly decent scrambling ability. Confidence is key this game for him, especially on the road. Unlike the Bobby Petrino offense, the quarterback in Bielema’s is not relied solely upon to throw, he just need to manage the offense well and make accurate throws.
Offensive coordinator Jim Chaney is going to have a perfect game plan set up for the quarterback and will most likely consist of short throws at first to boost Derby’s confidence with a lot of play-action passing because of the high amount of times that the Hog’s will be running the ball.
There are a lot of worried Hog fans and skeptics out there that think without Allen we are destined for a loss, but Derby will be fine and will surprise some people this game.
Rutgers is a seemingly good team on offense and has put up some points, but like the Razorbacks, they’ve come against some weak opponents.
Again like Arkansas, their starting quarterback is injured but Rutgers coach is “highly optimistic” that Nova will play this game. Without him the Razorbacks should get the win, but if he plays the game becomes much tougher for the Hogs.
The defensive line for Arkansas will need to play big as the nation’s leading rusher will be running against them and the linebackers will have to play huge roles for the Razorbacks to get the win.
Something has got to give as the Hog’s defense is ranked 11th in the FBS in average rushing yards per game and 6th overall in total defense. Those statistics are something that Arkansas fans aren’t used to seeing, but they will be tested heavily Saturday.
All of the players coming off injuries and playing for the first time this week is a tremendous help for both sides of the ball and look for all of them to have an immediate impact on this game.
Bret Bielema has done well in his first three games as the coach at Arkansas, but now finally reaches his team’s first true test. This Rutgers team will be hyped up as this is their biggest game of the year.
There will be a blackout Saturday in High Point Solutions Stadium and the fans and players will be ready for this game. Arkansas will be ready too and the Razorbacks get the tough road win in a very close game to stay undefeated.