By JOEL COLEMAN
When college football teams release their annual media guides, the publications generally use the cover to feature the head coach or star players of that particular team. For Arkansas, that makes head coach Bret Bielema, quarterback Brandon Allen, running back Alex Collins and tight end Hunter Henry the primary suspects to don the front of the book.
Instead, the Razorbacks went a different direction in 2015. This year’s media guide cover athletes are the five starters on the Arkansas offensive line. It’s for good reason. Left tackle Denver Kirkland, left guard Sebastian Tretola, center Mitch Smothers, right guard Frank Ragnow and right tackle Dan Skipper combine to weigh in at over 1,600 pounds making them the largest offensive line of any NFL or Power 5 conference college team for the second straight year.
That size will create quite the challenge for Mississippi State’s defense when the Bulldogs and Razorbacks kick off in Fayetteville on Saturday night.
“We’ve got to be stout,” Mississippi State head coach Dan Mullen said. “We have got to be physical. They move people and we can’t get moved. You’re just fighting for that territory right there. It’s that simple, and you have to be physical and stout. They’re using big human beings to try to move you.”
The Arkansas offensive front averages 327.6 pounds per player. The San Diego Chargers offensive line is the next closest in size in all of football at 325 pounds per man. The Florida Gators have the second-biggest starting offensive line of Power 5 teams averaging 322 pounds per guy.
While there is plenty of mass along the line of the Razorbacks, MSU defensive coordinator Manny Diaz said the talent of Arkansas goes deeper than just the scales. Diaz says the Razorbacks being big has little to do with why they are a successful unit.
“Height isn’t really the issue, it’s reach,” Diaz said. “The taller you are, the longer your arms, generally speaking, are. So they’ve got great reach. They can swallow you up. If your arms are longer than mine, it’s very difficult for me to get off of your block. They do a good job of covering you up and not letting you go and maintaining those blocks. Then they’ve got talented backs that can find the holes.”
One of the men charged with plugging the gaps the Arkansas offensive line creates is MSU junior defensive lineman Chris Jones. Jones says that he personally prefers playing against passing offenses where he can rush the quarterback. He knows that won’t really be the case this week though against the running game and play-action passes Arkansas likes to run behind its huge linemen.
“They’re big, heavy guys,” Jones said. “They’re physical, very physical. They are probably the most physical offensive line we’ll see.
“We’ve got to get under those guys. We’ve got to get under them and play technical, physical football.”
Jones knows the battle up front won’t be easy. He’s used to big challenges in the Southeastern Conference, but he knows, quite literally, he won’t see a bigger obstacle than he will against Arkansas.
“I’m going to have to tighten my shoulder pads a little tighter this week,” Jones said.