October 25, 2014

Reality Check

One-third of the way through the regular season, it’s time to evaluate the areas where the Hogs need to improve.

Bobby Petrino (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)With a 3-1 record, things really are pretty good.  Hog fans should take great delight in the fact that our team is now a part of the national college football conversation.  Huge credit goes to Bobby Petrino and Ryan Mallett for making this possible.  I love the direction the program is going.

Unfortunately, that one loss on the record was a pretty tough one to take.  Hog fans need to remember that we played the #1 team in the nation last Saturday.  As Alabama proved — these guys are good.

The Tide’s “Been There, Done That, Got the T-shirt” experience level was simply too much for the Hogs.  The Razorback program under Bobby Petrino doesn’t have the experience level yet to play to the level of Alabama.  The fact remains that most teams have to knock at the door a couple of times before they’re able to break through.

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The trend by the ‘talking heads’ for the past few weeks has placed much of the fault at the lack of a running game.  Folks, the running game is a symptom of other problems. The lack of success passing in the later stages of the Alabama game is a symptom of other problems.  Truth is…the Razorback offense was making mistakes against a very talented and well-coached Alabama defense.

As is my habit for games like this one and the Georgia game, I went back to my trusty DVR with slow motion and watched most of the plays several times to try and figure out what was going on.  Here are the things I’m seeing with the Hogs offense that become more important as the game progresses:

Ryan Mallett (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)Blitz pickup — Georgia and Alabama brought some type of blitz on just about every play.  As the game progressed and the blitzes became more complex, Mallett started getting a bit lost on making calls.

Many of the zero yardage running plays have been due to running right into a blitz and not getting the play blocked correctly.  Most of the time the first defender to make contact with the ball carrier is a linebacker or safety that wasn’t even blocked.

Offensive diversity — Okay…I know this will not be well-received…but here goes.  As sophisticated as the Razorback offense is, it doesn’t seem to have a lot of diversity.  Have we run out of the pistol this year?  Last Saturday we ran one — one! — draw play and it worked really well.  Screens?  Did we see any on Saturday?  Hot reads (slants) into the empty slots being left by the blitzers?  Exactly one.

Have we really made a commitment to having a running game?  Running plays are pretty base.  Even Petrino admitted on his show that the Alabama players were calling out the runs, as the Hogs were always running to the motion side in the first half.

It doesn’t appear that we are giving opposing defenses enough to think about.  They are not afraid to blitz us on every down.  As has been my sense for the entire Petrino period at Arkansas, he tends to get a bit outcoached by opposing NFL- level defensive coordinators at times (think Nick Saban, not the kid serving as front man).

Ryan Mallett (AP Photo/April L Brown)The quarterback  — First, let me say that Ryan Mallett is amazing.  However, I’ll hurry on to say he’s not quite there as a total quarterback.

Greg McElroy seriously outplayed him Saturday.  Good quarterbacks exhibit strong field generalship and keep the chains moving.  While Mallett had a number of very excellent plays, he also had some serious mental lapses when under pressure.

McElroy got the chains moved while under pressure in the fourth quarter and kept drives alive.  Of course, he also had Mark Ingram and the Wildcat formation to change up the ‘look’ and create a lot of yardage.  Offensive diversity was definitely on McElroy’s side to aid him.  Plus, the turtle has a habit of beating the rabbit.

Unfortunately, the ‘book’ on Mallett for the rest of the year will be to get him confused and rattled with pressure so that the Arkansas offense begins stopping itself as the game progresses.  My take is that while Mallett may be more than physically ready for the pros, he has a long way to go to be mentally ready for the NFL.

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Just about everyone’s preseason picks called for the Hogs to lose this game.  We definitely played much better than I expected.  While I wish we had won, overall I was very pleased.

The Hogs have some things to improve on the offensive end.  Otherwise, we will have more opposing defensive coordinators influencing our offense to shut itself down.  I expect our defense and special teams will continue to improve.

The Razorbacks are in the national conversation.  We’ve knocked at the door.  I believe with Bobby Petrino, we will get it kicked down.  There’s a lot of season left to go.

  • http://www.sethgunderson.com seth

    Great post and so true. Season isn’t over by far and while we have some things to iron out, the team is kicking butts. Though, I’m not convinced that McElroy outplayed Mallett. Yes, Mallett made some bad decisions at critical times in the game, but as you mentioned, ‘Bama has a running game (and a really good one at that). It’s a LOT easier to manage a game when the running backs (both of them) are running down our throats. I would never say that Casey Dick outplayed any of his QB competition, only because he had DMac, Felix and Peyton in the backfield.

    It’s probably a bit true that Mallett was getting a bit of an itchy trigger finger in the pocket and I’m sure he felt that he had to put the game on his back in order for us to win. Does that mean he’s not mentally ready for the NFL? Who’s to say. But I will say that QBs are the only ones that win games in the NFL for their teams. Defenses are 50% of that equation for sure. And when our defense, for the second week in a row, stayed on the field for too long of a time and couldn’t get stops when needed, it makes the offense have to over compensate.

    All in all, we HAD the game in hand. A few stops here, a few catches there and we’d be singing a different tune. With what I saw in the Georgia and Alabama games, this Razorback team is different than what I’ve seen in years past. I have great confidence that BP and his crew will start to get things ironed out and ready for A&M next Saturday.

  • hoglar69

    Just a casual observation from the past 2 games (I’ve not gone back and re-watched or analyzed):

    It appears to me, that our gameplan has been to come out aggressive – sling the ball down the field and jump out on top (which we’ve done pretty well), but then things get a little hazy. As we saw in both the Georgia and Alabama game, our playcalling to start games, as well as our 2-minute offense appears to be our most effective. It allows Ryan and his receivers to get in-sync – while Mallett makes his reads and picks the secondary apart.

    What I don’t understand is our immediate move to be a ‘balanced’ team (which we know we are not)? Some of our best runs have been when they expected the pass, but we slip in the draw or some running play. As HogBlogger mentioned – our offensive diversity is not there. As much as Petrino craves it, we are not yet the team that can pass when we want to and the team that can run when we want to (but it appears we are trying to force that balance come hell or high-water). Would it not behoove us to stick with our strength longer in hopes of moving the defenses’ LB back from the line of scrimmage more?

    Watching the GA game – the start of the 4th quarter, you could see it a mile away, ‘oh, we’re going to run the ball to kill the clock’ – guess what, GA saw it coming too and they stopped it. Why not a screen or swing pass to the RB coming out of the backfield? Would’ve been more effective than our attempts to run it down the defense’s throats (when the running lanes aren’t there).

    Watching the AL game – when McElroy got shaken up and they went to the wildcat – I’m sitting there thinking – ‘there’s no way Saban will take the chance of a botched hand-off – Ingram will keep it’ and every time he did. And they kept running it because we couldn’t stop it.

    Which goes back to my first point – why don’t we continue to sling the ball? Stay in the 2-minute offense? Until the defense steps up and says, we’re not going to let you beat us that way.(& that’s when the running game can open up) Instead we do it ourselves – all for the sake of ‘balance’ and you guys have seen it – that’s when Ryan and the WRs get out of sync and our offense becomes ineffective.

    I don’t want to sound entirely negative because I am fired up about the season and believe it will still be a great. The Hogs are a great team and will continue to get better as the season progresses.

    Just a few thoughts!

    Go Hogs Go!

    hoglar69

  • http://Razorbloggers NewYorkHogFan

    Just got the news about Madden choosing the basketball hogs. Afterward, I fell alseep and had a dream. I think it’s prophetic. Yes, . . . I’m sure it is. I dreamt of next year’s basketball season. Though Pelfrey doesn’t start Madden and his Arkansas Wings teammates-at least at the beginning of the year, he likes subbing all three at the same time, since they play so well together. When he does they take over the game. No one can stop them. The media calls them “the triplets.” (Why does that sound familiar?) Arkansas wins the SEC. Before the tournament starts, the NCAA investigates Calipari and Kentucky. Realizing that his days are numbered, Calipari resigns. Kentucky offers Pelfrey the job. . . . Then I woke up in a pool of sweat. Go Hogs!

  • dhogg1

    Keep on knocking hogs, the door will fall eventually!

    I’m a hog fan near Atlanta. Finally, the Atlanta media was silenced by Chris Mortensen this morning on 680 The Fan. Chris said, “Mike Vick said, ‘I think we [Atlanta Falcons] would’ve won a Super Bowl with Bobby Petrino, because he was the only coach I ever had who kicked my butt everyday, 7 days a week.'”

    There was a long pause, and the Atlanta jerks changed the subject. Chris always liked getting under their skin. Hahaha. Finally, Petrino and the hogs are getting the respect they deserve!

  • Okie Hog

    Very good post on the Hogs so far this season. I agree with the assessment as far as this team has played so far this year. However I have to take exception to the comments about “now the Hogs are a part of the national college football conversation.” This statement insinuates that we have never been a part of the National college football conversation. The Hogs have been there many times before and former players could take offense to this. D-Mac, Felix Jones, Clint Stoerner, Matt Jones, Anthony Lucas, etc.. These guys made the Hogs National talk in thier given seasons. We may not have been there the last couple of years and its great to be back in the conversation but lets not forget its not our first rodeo and we can dont have to act like we have been here before because we have been here before.

    Keep up the good reports and I am loving this season!!!

    GO HOGS!!!!!

    • http://www.razorbloggers.net/ HogBlogger

      Okie – good points.

      However I do see this as being different. In 1998 we didn’t have any great pre-season expectations such that national tv already had us down in ink as CBS had us this year for the Alabama game. Remember the Tennessee game was game 9, not game 4.

      The D-Mac excitement wasn’t necessarily about overall team prospects but more about him and Felix.

      The tv ratings for the Georgia game and the CBS game definitely indicate we are a much bigger deal nationally than we’ve been in a while.

      Considering how we fit into the conversation once upon a time – 60’s and early Holtz – we’ve been pretty down.

      I think this is a different, better “here” than any we’ve had since we entered the SEC.

      • Okie Hog

        HogBlogger I can see your point as a whole that we are in a better place overall than in any recent years. Back in 04 I think it was when we had Cedric Cobbs and we went to Austin and beat down Texas we were ranked nationally and talked about even though it didnt last long. And the one year of the Sprindale 4 along with Dmac and Jones after we beat Auburn we were talked about but again it didnt last. We have to see now if it lasts tthis time. Again though I am loving this season and I dont think we lose another one!!! Good Job!!!

  • Tomahog

    A bit disappointed with Mallet’s response to the loss. He was quoted as saying he may never get over the loss. My best advice to Mallet is grieve for a few days and move on. You can never get ahead if you focus on the past. Mallet, focus on the wins, the games ahead and leave the past to the distant memories. Tebow up and do everything we can to win every game that we left on the schedule. The Alabama loss we gut gut wrenching for all Arkansas Fans but there is little left we can do about and much left we did to do in preparation for the remainder of the season.

  • http://razorbloggers NewYorkHogFan

    I understand where you are coming from, Tomahog. But I thought Mallet handled the press conference like a man. It had to be very dissapointing to him because he knew that he could have won the game. A quarterback always dreams of being in that position. Behind the number one ranked team with just a couple minutes left. He knew he could win it! And if he had just thrown the ball a couple of feet higher, it would not have been intercepted in bounds! But he patiently answered the press’s questions, even though I’m sure he just wanted to just punch a wall. I was impressed because it is obvious that the kid wants to win. He is a winner. You want a guy like that on your team, a guy who hates, hates, hates to lose. I am sure he is going to focus on the next game and be an even better quarterback.

    • GolfHog

      And, he is voluntarily giving up a year of college eligibility and another bite at the apple. This was his last chance to beat the number one team in the nation.

  • Jim Dogg

    My two cents in retrospect: Watched the ‘Bama-‘Gators game. The announcers questioned whether Alabama had learned from the Arkansa game as to what can happen if you take your foot off of the accelerator, referring to Petrino’s going conservative. What helped Florida later in the game was a number of pass interference calls on ‘Bama’s young secondary. Brantley was airiing it out giving his receivers a chance to fight for the ball and get some calls. Whatever was in Meyer’s mind it worked. That by not stretching the field in the latter part of the game, which Mallet can do, the Hogs may have missed some opportunistic calls like that. On the other hand Petrino may not have trusted the refs to make those calls. Wonder why? Petrino has talked of “new” wrinkles. Wonder if this means turning Mallet loose. As it happened the Gators couldn’t run the ball on Alabama either. Maybe the run will show up in the A&M game. The defense has improved remarkably, especially in the area of more players getting to the ball. Kicking game is so much better, although coverage could be better but even that’s improved from last year. Instead of losing the game the kickers kept the Hogs in it. I keep harping on Mallet sprinting out of the pocket to get away from the rush to give his receivers time to get separation and, more importantly, for the safety valve to get open. The O line did not do badly, but pressure was forcing Mallet to make quick tosses that weren’t always acccurate. Another carp; I think the difference in the game was the absence of Dennis Johnson. I don’t care if Humphrey’s dad is an Alabama legend, it’s not the same without Dennis. Also, quit running Greene on the edge. Against speed he’s not going very far. Davis looked good on those plays, should do more of them. My simplistic conclusion: Hogs did well but Petrino was outcoached by Sabin in the second half. Sabin adjusted, but Petrino did not adjust to Sabin. well I’m off to Dallas, hope I won’t be disappointed in those “new” wrinkles.

    Quick comment about LSU. Les Miles is becoming a laughing stock in
    collegiate football. The master of clock mismanagement. They are hanging on by the thread of John Chavis’ defense, which is formidable. They have a running QB who has not, except for one play, been able to run well. A passing QB who has not passed well, except at the end of the Vols game. Is it coaching, the offensive coordinator, the play calling, the ability of the players (the receivers were dropping sure catches), all of the above? As one commentator said, the worst 5-0 team in the country. Any opinions?

  • GolfHog

    This is a tough year, a big year. Auburn and South Carolina on the road, Miss St. on the road and LSU at home, and you can’t take a day off against Ole Miss or even Vandy. Just because Auburn doesn’t have Saban and a number one ranking won’t keep that from being a big game. It’s going to be tooth and nail for 8 big weeks.

    We played a good first half against Bama. We should have put them away when they were on their heals. If this is going to be a great team, they have to have that killer instinct. And, we must improve every week so that come Thanksgiving we actually look like a top ten team. If we are going to step up in class, there is only one way to do it.