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Nevada football offseason opponent preview: Arkansas

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: OCT 19 Auburn at Arkansas Photo by Andy Altenburger/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Barring any unforeseen setbacks, which could occur with the COVID-19 outbreak, there are 11 Saturday’s until the Nevada Football team will begin its 2020 season. Here is a look at its 2020 schedule:

Nevada Football 2020 Schedule

Date Opponent Time TV 2019 Final FPI Rankings 2020 Preseason FPI Rankings
Date Opponent Time TV 2019 Final FPI Rankings 2020 Preseason FPI Rankings
August 29 vs. UC Davis TBD TBD --------- ---------
September 5 at Arkansas TBD TBD 93 66
September 12 vs. UTEP TBD TBD 128 129
September 19 at South Florida TBD TBD 95 86
September 26 vs. San Diego State TBD TBD 71 88
October 3 at Hawai'i TBD TBD 79 119
October 10 BYE --------- --------- --------- ---------
October 17 at New Mexico TBD TBD 121 124
October 24 vs. Fresno State TBD TBD 81 93
October 31 vs. Utah State TBD TBD 73 85
November 7 at San Jose State TBD TBD 103 108
November 14 vs. Wyoming TBD TBD 68 77
November 21 BYE --------- --------- --------- ---------
November 28 at UNLV TBD TBD 116 117

Each Friday leading up to the season, I will be previewing each Pack opponent on their 2020 schedule. This week, we will be previewing their week two matchup: the Arkansas Razorbacks.

Previous weeks:

6/12: Week 1 vs. UC Davis

Week 2: Arkansas Razorbacks

2019 record: 2-10 (0-8 SEC)

When: Saturday, Sept. 5

Where: Reynolds Razorback Stadium in Fayetteville, Ark.

Matchup History: First ever meeting

Arkansas 2019 season-in-review:

Head coach Chad Morris was fired after ten games after winning four games in two years. Barry Lunney Jr. was the interim coach for the final two contests, going 0-2. The Razorbacks began their 2019 campaign winning two of their first three games. Their only win versus an FBS program last year came against Colorado State (55-34) in the third week of the season. In the following week, San Jose State defeated Arkansas 31-24 in Fayetteville — the first of nine consecutive losses to conclude its dreadful season. Arkansas dropped all eight of its conference games for the second consecutive year, increasing its losing streak versus conference opponents to 19.

2020 Preview:

Offense:

Newly-hired head coach Sam Pittman brings in Kendal Briles at offensive coordinator. Briles has had tremendous success in the same position at Baylor (2015-16), Florida Atlantic (2017), Baylor (2018) and Florida State (2019). He inherits a struggling offense that ranked No. 110 nationally in scoring (21.4 ppg), No. 111 in total offense (340.1 ypg) and No. 102 in passing (192.9 ypg).

Briles will have star running back Rakeem Boyd at his disposal, who is returning for his senior season. Boyd, who starred in season’s 3 and 4 of the Netflix documentary “Last Chance U”, has been the centerpiece of the Hogs’ offense over the last two seasons.

In 2018, Boyd totaled 123 carries for 734 yards (6.0 ypc) and two rushing touchdowns, adding 23 catches for 165 yards through the air. Last year, he recorded 184 carries for 1,133 yards and eight touchdowns. He is the first Arkansas player since Rawleigh Williams III (in 2016) to rush for 1,000 yards in a single season.

NCAA Football: Portland State at Arkansas
Arkansas Razorbacks running back Rakeem Boyd (5) runs the ball during the third quarter against the Portland State Vikings.
Brett Rojo-USA TODAY Sports

Boyd accumulated five 100-plus yard games last season — including a career-high 185 yards on eight carries (yes, you read that right) against Western Kentucky. He has eight games with triple-digit yard performances in two seasons, becoming one of 16 running backs in Arkansas history to record that feat. Boyd was projected by 247Sports.com as the 5th-best running back in the nation heading into 2020. Arizona State transfer Trelon Smith will seek playing time behind Boyd after sitting out last year due to NCAA’s transfer policy.

With the departure of Nick Starkel, who transferred to San Jose State, Briles needed a quarterback to lead his air-raid offense. Florida graduate transfer Feleipe Franks is expected to fill that void after coming off an injury-plagued 2019 season.

Franks appeared in just three games before suffering a season-ending ankle injury versus Kentucky. He was replaced by then-redshirt junior Kyle Trask, who posted an 8-2 record as a starter en route to an Orange Bowl victory over Virginia. Prior to the injury, Franks completed 54-of-71 passes (76.1 percent) for 698 yards, five touchdowns and three interceptions.

Franks started in all 13 games in 2018, throwing for 2,457 yards, 24 touchdowns and six interceptions while adding 350 rushing yards (on 110 carries) with a team-high seven rushing touchdowns on the ground. He led Florida to a 10-3 record and earned the Peach Bowl MVP in a 41-15 rout over Michigan.

Mike Woods leads the young receiving corps. He hauled in a team-high 33 receptions for 423 yards and four touchdowns. Treylon Burks and Trey Knox put together quality seasons as freshmen. Burks was third on the team with 29 receptions and Knox was fourth with 28. Knox was second on the team in touchdowns (3) and was third in receiving yards (385). Burks totaled a team-high 475 yards but did not record a touchdown catch last year.

The tight end spot will be Arkansas’ thinnest position offensively. C.J. O’Grady, a fifth-year senior who tied Woods for the team-lead with 33 receptions, was kicked off the team with four games remaining last year. The competition will stand between senior Blake Kern, redshirt freshmen Nathan Bax and Hudson Henry and 2020 signees Blayne Toll and Collin Sutherland. The offensive line returns four of five starters, led by seniors Myron Cunningham and Ty Clary.

Defense:

Arkansas encountered as much struggle defensively as it did offensively. It ranked No. 124 in the nation in scoring defense (36.8 ppg), total defense (450.7 ypg) and rushing defense (221.5 ypg) — ranking dead last in the SEC in each category. Former Missouri defensive coordinator and head coach Barry Odom (DC - 2015; HC - 2016-19) takes over at defensive coordinator.

Mataio Soli is the only returning starter from last year’s team on the defensive line. Soli, who started in 11 of Arkansas’ 12 games as a true freshman, totaled 19 tackles and 1.5 tackles-for-loss.

Soli was thrusted into the starting lineup after Week 1 due to the absence of Dorian Gerald. Gerald played in just 20 snaps in the season-opener versus Portland State before straining an artery in his neck, forcing him to sit out and redshirt the remainder of the season. In his first season with the Razorbacks in 2018, Gerald totaled 21 tackles, 2.5 tackles-for-loss and two pass deflections. Clemson graduate transfer Xavier Kelly, who totaled 23 tackles, 2.5 tackles-for-loss, one forced fumble and one fumble recovery in his career with the Tigers, should add beef to the defensive line.

The Razorbacks lost arguably their best defensive talent last season in linebacker De’Jon Harris. Harris tallied a team-high 101 tackles, third-most in the conference. He signed with the New England Patriots as an undrafted free agent. Bumper Pool returns as the Hogs’ top linebacker heading into 2020. He was their second-leading tackler with a career-high 94 total tackles. Pool recorded 6.5 tackles-for-loss, 0.5 sacks and a team-high five pass breakups.

Pool (back) and fellow linebacker Hayden Henry (shoulder) both received offseason surgery and are expected to be ready by the start of the season. Henry registered 30 tackles, 2.5 tackles-for-loss and one sack. Grant Morgan is expected to be the second starter at linebacker next to Pool. Morgan totaled 38 tackles, 3.0 tackles-for-loss and one sack.

The Razorbacks lost top safety Kamren Curl to the NFL, who elected to forgo his final year of eligibility. Curl was drafted in the seventh round (No. 216 overall) by the Washington Redskins. Joe Foucha is the only returning safety. He was third on the team in tackles with 87. He totaled one tackle-for-loss, and was T-2 on the team in pass breakups (4) and interceptions (1). They bring four-star recruit and early enrollee Myles Slusher, who was the 172nd-best player in the nation according to 247Sports and the 203nd-best player by ESPN.

Jarques McClellion, Montaric Brown and Greg Brooks Jr. all return at cornerback. All had one interception each and combined for 10 pass breakups.

Overall:

This will be the Wolf Pack’s second game on SEC turf in the last three seasons. Nevada is currently 0-5 versus SEC opponents. This could be Nevada’s best chance to date versus an SEC opponent. Pittman enters with zero prior head coaching experience at the college levels, along with two new coordinators who did not have a spring camp to better prepare players on both sides due to the COVID-19 outbreak. An SEC environment is never easy to play in, regardless of how many fans will be allowed in attendance. But this will be a winnable game for Nevada against a rebuilding Arkansas squad that has struggled to find an identity over the last few years.