Saturday, January 27, 2007

Razorback quandry

Every since the departure of offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn and blue chip recruit Mitch Mustain the Arksansas Razorback has been subject to criticism about the type of program it's running. Apparently fans are beside themselves with grief that the hogs didn't sacrifice last season on the altar of developing a "balanced offense". Razorback fans feel that they're right in being angry because Houston Nutt has been promising a balanced offense for years, and each year claims to be working on the passing game, while in the meantime Arkansas has become gradually more and more run reliant.

Now I have a gripe of my own...

Why is it that the Razorbacks, and especially Houston Nutt, have to answer to this fan-only need to develop some kind of Affirmative Action passing game? Why must we suck all of the fun out of college football by running the same damn offense that everyone else runs?

My diagnosis is somewhat different. Houston... do what you do best amigo.

Arkansas hasn't been a pass-first team in quite some time, at least not for any length of time. In my opinion we're losing both time and recruits trying to force our coach and player to conform to some kind of offensive vogue which insists that you have to have a dropback passing QB in order to win football games.

But vogues come and go. This year the hogs ran a variation of the old Veer offense. Not everyone bemoaned it, only hog fans. In fact announcers were always complimentary of how well the offense worked and how unique it was. There were frequently statements about how you "don't see that anymore" and "coaches are going to be flocking to Arkansas this summer to learn the Motion offense and Wildcat formation."

Our team was praised for getting so much out of so little. We took a couple of good backs and a solid offense line and racked up some nice yardage. Oh, and before anyone says that our lack of passing cost us the last three games, allow me to demure. In fact I would argue, at least in the Wisconsin game, that the opposite is true. Our attempt to satiate the egos of demanding parents and expectat freshmen cost us the Wisconsin game. Sure, Wisconsin was better than average at stopping the run. And yes, there were times when passing seemed like a good plan. On the other hand keep in mind that McFadden wasn't quite himself, and the Razorbacks gained plenty of total yards on the ground. In fact, it was on those offensive series when we came out throwing that we were sent packing or sacked out of field goal range. Keep in mind that Arkansas lost by 3, not 30. Another solid running series... and I think we'd have had one out of the three or four series we wasted on trying the AA passing game... means that Arkansas wins by four.

As for Florida and LSU, those games were winnable. Nobody really did just a whole lot better on offense against either Florida or LSU than did the Hogs. Quite honestly, we might just have to wake up and smell the coffee that those teams were better than us. Look... LSU shut down Brady Quinn and Florida gave Troy Smith worse numbers than Casey Dick had in the SEC championship game. Those defenses were juggernaughts - and, oh yeah!, the hogs scored points on them! We had Florida beat! Take away a special team breakdown from either game and the hogs win both in all likelihood. We scored points on those teams. Running was slower going not because we couldnt pass - we couldnt pass well the whole season - but because we faced fundamentally stronger defenses. But although it was slower going, it went. We did as well against those defenses as teams with supposedly vaunted passing attacks, including what most people considered the two best passers in the nation.

So what am I really saying? What is the entirely amateur opinion of Ray on this matter? Allow me:

A. If we're a run first team, then let's be a run first team: Stop trying to recruit a pro-I offensive unit against Florida and LSU, who have proven year in and year out that they can out-recruit the Arkansas' and Old Miss' of the world when both seek the same player outside of their areas, and damn, sometimes they can even out recruit us in our own traditional areas. Well screw it. Let's give players a real alternative. Let's make Arkansas something besides a smaller-and-not-quite-as-good Florida. Let's be the smashmouth team.

B. Recruit the running game: It's so much easier to recruit when you're running offense A and Florida is running offense B than when you're both running A and all you can offer is a lesser version of the same stuff. Think about it - If I'm a big, mean offensive lineman from Memphis then I've got no desire to block for a crappier version of the offense I can find at home or at Florida. On the other hand, if a coach comes to me and says "well, we're not that. We're different. We're the team who pounds right at ya'. We line up and run the ball and see if they're manly enough to stop us. It's our biggun's vs their biggun's and we stake our reputation that ours are the biggest and meanest. We've chosen to live and die on the skill of hosses like you. Want to be part of that?" Now you might get some recruits. Now you've developed a certain swagger.

Also, it's a great sale for backs and tight ends. I mean fullbacks in our scheme actually get to do something. Tight ends are viable receivers, and Arkansas once had a tradition of utilizing strong tight ends year in and year out. Again, you're able to recruit different kids on the notion that their skills will shine in a way that they wouldn't elsewhere.

C. Don't panic over potential: So you have a five-star dropback QB in the state one year. Don't flake! Just because they're good or even great doesn't mean they fit your scheme. Generically "good" players aren't necessarily the best fit. As Vince Lombardi said "I player my best eleven, not my eleven best." Besides, we're losing these guys most of the time anyway. Just replace lost potential with potential gained elsewhere that fits your program better.

D. Develop the passing game on our own terms: There are programs which are fundamentally more viable for a dropback passer who has an eye towards the NFL. On the other hand, the dual-threat QB becomes more attracted to a different style. Sure, dual-threats aren't usually as sexy. They don't eat up the highlight reels like the guy who takes three steps and flutters one into some cocky receiver's hands who catches it over the shoulder while blazing down the left sideline, but that doesn't mean they're not as good. In fact, even dropback passers now are expected to have some mobility, and the ability to throw on the run is not to be underestimated. In fact, Arkansas has this tradition too. Mobile QB's operating largely out of the option, throwing on the run, often to underutilized receivers like fullbacks and tight ends, or packing up and running the ball.

Now i'm not advocating a "boring" offense" Not at all. There are all kinds of unique formations and plays that can be taken captive to a run first offense. It can even reward strong dropback passing from the shotgun on occasion. Hey, I had fun watching our hogs pound the ball at people this year. No shame here if the ball didn't kiss the sky very often. Besides, the pro-I passing necessity is just the zeitgeist of the current times. Thirty years ago the best teams were constantly trying to develop wishbones, and they won championships with it. Now passing teams are the apple of everyone's eye. But we don't have to be slaves to those notions. Run hogs run!


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