1. Brandon Allen has been fantastic this season under new OC Dan Enos. What's been different?
I'd say two things. One, he's much more confident. After winning a few games to end last season, it's easy to tell he's a different player. Even when Arkansas struggled in early games this season, he still played really well except for late game situations. He seems to have gotten over that after seeing what he's done against Auburn and Ole Miss.
Two, he's got the best group of weapons around him he's ever had. Even with losing Jonathan Williams and Keon Hatcher to injury, other players have really stepped up and taken over those positions. Drew Morgan has become statistically one of the top receivers in the league. Juco transfer Dominique Reed is really beginning to live up to the expectations fans had when he signed. Jared Cornelius has returned after a gruesome broken arm from earlier in the year. Arkansas' tight ends in Hunter Henry and Jeremy Sprinkle might be the best pair in the country. So I think Brandon has a lot more confidence in the players around him and that shows.
2. Does it feel like maybe the Hogs have lost a little of the oomph in the running game in the new passing success?
It depends how you look at it. You can argue the team is losing it's reputation as a ground-and-pound offense, but I think that's ok because I've always felt that was overblown to begin with. Alex Collins is actually having his best season. He's already over 1,000 yards for the year. Rawleigh Williams was really coming on strong as a freshman until a neck injury against Auburn stopped his season. Kody Walker missed most of the first half of the season with an injury but he's back to give Arkansas a more bruising option at running back. He's 250+ pounds. Arkansas still relies on the running backs for sure.
3. Can you tell us something else about the Razorback offensive line besides its size that TV commentators constantly bring up?
Uhhhhh (thinking.....) that's really the most frequent thing we hear about too. The group struggled with penalties in September but they seem to have cleaned that up for the most part, which is a big part of why Arkansas' been succcessful the last few weeks. They're really good at protecting the quarterback. Dan Skipper's really tall at 6'10" and Arkansas puts him in on field goal block teams, and he's knocked down a few of them over his career. Frank Ragnow is from the same town in Minnesota where Prince lives, which I think is cool.
4. What's the story with the defense's struggles this season?
Start with losing 4 NFL draft picks on defense and not having recruited well enough to replace them immediately. While Arkansas has solid defensive linemen, they don't have anybody who is an elite playmaker like Trey Flowers and Darius Philon were, so they've struggled to put pressure on opposing quarterbacks like they did last year. Against Ole Miss, they did manage to get in the backfield quite a bit, but did a bad job of containing Chad Kelly and he gashed the Hogs for over 100 rushing yards. Arkansas did a great job of containing Josh Dobbs at Tennessee, but that effort hasn't been there the last few weeks.
Also, Arkansas is stupid-thin at linebacker. Brooks Ellis is good at middle linebacker and Dre Greenlaw has played well as a freshman, but he's a freshman. He shows all the signs of being really good, but he's a freshman. That's really all Arkansas has right now that's worth talking about. A third starting linebacker, Josh Williams, broke his leg against Tennessee and won't return this season.
The hope is returning to facing a pro-style offense will be beneficial. Arkansas played really well against Alabama, holding Derrick Henry to fewer than 100 yards on, I think, 27 carries, but struggled against Auburn and Ole Miss' HUNH styles.
5. Arkansas' season has kind of mirrored last year in terms of tight wins and losses, but expectations were much higher this summer. How is this season being viewed by the faithful, and has opinion turned on Bret Bielema at all?
As of this moment, people are pretty excited. Coming off thrilling wins over Auburn and Ole Miss, there's a lot of enthusiasm right now. It wasn't that way in September when Arkansas started 1-3. There was a lot of concern about whether Bielema could ever get this thing going, and while his ceiling is still to be debated, he's done a great job of turning this season around.
How fans will look back on this season after it's over and have to lump the big wins in with the terrible losses? I have no idea. It's not something I've really ever been a part of before. There will always be a gnawing "what if" about that Toledo game, but as of today, fans seem to have moved beyond it. It will probably stay that way as long as the team keeps winning, I'd guess.