USC 2006: Game #1 Arkansas
When: September 2nd
Where: Fayetteville, Arkansas
2005 Record: 4-8 (2-6 SEC)
Last year, SC demolished the Razorbacks at the Coliseum 70-17. This year things will be different. SC has lost their entire backfield including Heisman Trophy winners Matt Leinart and Reggie Bush as well as top scorer LenDale White.
This year John David Booty takes the reigns at QB with Chauncey Washington finally available in the backfield. C Ryan Kalil and OT Sam Baker will anchor the Offensive Line. Wide Receivers Steve Smith and Dwayne Jarrett bring big game experience and will play a big role in the success of JDB.
Arkansas is looking for revenge from last year and is rated by Phil Steele to be the most improved team in the nation with 19 returning starters on Offense and Defense.
The Arkansas Offense:
There has been some question as to who will get the call at QB at Ark. Will it be Mitch Mustain, Robert Johnson or Casey Dick. New OC Gus Malzahn, who coached Mustain in High School should have a more balanced offense by integrating a broader passing attack to go with a strong running game, provided he is calling the plays.
With running back Darren McFadden out due to surgery on a dislocated toe, due to a bar fight. Felix Jones and Peyton Hillis will share the running duties. Marcus Monk is the top receiver in the group and should see a lot of action, but some of the other veteran receivers and new freshman need to step up to give him some help.
The Offensive Line is experienced with 8 players returning with starting experience. Although, they will have to learn some new blocking schemes this year.
The Arkansas Defense:
With 9 starters returning the defense should be solid at stopping the run. Key Players: Marcus Harrison, Keith Jackson and Jamaal Anderson
Sam Olajubutu is the only returning starter at linebacker and earned 1st team SEC honors. Desmond Sims has moved back to MLB after playing DE last year. Another player to watch is Freddie Fairchild who played as true freshman last year.
Darius Vinnett, returns from a season ending injury after game 3 in '05, leads the secondary. Michael Grant, who led the Razorbacks' National Champion 4 X 100 relay team can play both CB and S and will be called upon to not give up the big play.
After 2 losing seasons Arkansas is looking to rebound and hope to get off on the right foot by avenging their loss to SC last year. The loss of McFadden doesn't help that cause. It will be interesting to see how new OC Malzahn adjusts to the D-1 level of play. The question of who starts at QB will also determine how their season plays out. They have a lot starters returning so that's a plus.
At first glance I thought that this was one game that SC could potentially lose because of all the new faces in the backfield, playing the season opener on the road and team chemistry that still hadn't come together. Also JDB's dad played football at Arkansas so there may some jitters with playing in front of dad's hometown crowd. But the loss of McFadden, the questions at QB and a new inexperienced OC may prove too much to overcome.