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