Back by popular demand, here are Hawgs Illustrated's weekly Top 10 things to watch in Saturday night's Arkansas football game with Louisiana-Monroe.
1) Progress. There's that old coaching adage that football teams make their most progress between the first and second games of the season. Bobby Petrino sounds like he was holding his team to that saying all week. He wants progress in several areas. But we'll cover those in other items on our top 10 list.
2) The running game. It wasn't as advertised in week one, at least not in the first half. I'm sure that has been priority one this week in practice. Watch the offensive line. Does it come off the ball as one unit? Are all five men quick off the snap? That's the goal. Chris Klenakis, the new O-line coach, takes pride that his men swing their arms in unison, take a nasty approach to the game and in general play smashmouth. This might be more important than number one, but we'll keep the top spot for an overall team analysis.
3) Turnover ratio. That was a huge plus last year, but was a minus last week against Tennessee Tech. The Hogs put the ball on the ground too much. Tim Horton, the running backs coach, had several extra drills for the Hogs in practice this week, all designed to emphasize ball security. This had been one of the strengths of the UA runners the past couple of seasons. No one had fewer lost fumbles than the UA backs those seasons. They recovered most of their fumbles, but just seeing the ball loose was enough to make the UA coaches anxious. Watch to see if this improves, along with getting a few takeaways from an inexperienced Louisiana-Monroe offensive unit. Some think turnover ratio is just a lucky break. It's not. It's part of a coaching. You get what you demand. Bobby Petrino demands a plus in turnover ratio. Can the Hogs get that this week?
4) Special teams. It was good last week, but we didn't see all aspects. There were no punts by the Hogs. No field goals. No real punt returns. Can the Hogs add to what was a smooth operation in special teams with these facets in the kicking game this week? It's the number one question this writer had about this team in the summer -- will the special teams be special. Seth Armbrust was lost for the season with a torn knee ligament, a real blow to special teams. How will the kickoff return unit perform without Armbrust as one of the lead blockers? He's been a solid player there for two years.
5) Safety first. I had this in the top 10 last week, but it was hard to tell much because the Tennessee Tech offense didn't have much of a passing attack. I'm not sure ULM is a whole lot better as far as throwing the ball, but I'm still interested to see how the UA safeties hold up. They'll be tested a little more just because of the faster nature of this opponent. This is a much more athletic team than the Hogs saw in the opener. Can the safeties continue to stop the big plays? That may be the key to this season.
6) Real linebackers. Do the Hogs have them? Jerry Franklin was solid in the middle. Anthony Leon was stunningly spectacular while leading the defense in sacks, tackles for losses and total tackles. Some of it was with back-side pursuit. I'll be interested to watch for ULM's misdirection plays to see if Leon can stay at home. Will Leon continue to look like a real linebacker just two games into what had to be the biggest experiment of fall camp?
7) Ryan Mallett. It's hard not to watch Ryan Mallett's every move. He is a star, perhaps the best to ever play the position at Arkansas. I had him number one on my list last week because it was his first contact after missing spring and summer work because of a broken left foot. He got banged around a little and held up well. His short passing was as advertised, much improved. ULM offers an unorthodox 3-5-3 front with more safeties than linemen. Mallett will have to figure that out while sticking to the game plan, run the ball better. He'll have to resist the urge to check to pass plays. Can he continue to throw for a high percentage?
8) The Shot. Arkansas just dabbled with The Shot, or Pistol formation last week against T-Tech. Will the Hogs use it a little more this week, giving Georgia something to chew on in its preparation. Last week's time with the Shot as the base with Brandon Mitchell at QB came at the end of the game. Will he get some time earlier? Not sure. Garrick McGee said both Mitchell and backup Tyler Wilson disappointed in their time against T-Tech. Can they improve this week?
9) Speed. We know the Hogs have good speed. We also know that ULM is faster than last week's foe, T-Tech. Does it look like the Hogs are still the faster team. I think this is something that has improved the most over the past two seasons, overall team speed. Do the Hogs now have the kind of SEC speed that makes them a tough match even within the conference? To be in that category, they have to be faster than the athletes that dot the ULM roster and there are some speedy players on this team. I thought the Arkansas defense looked faster. Does it still look fast this week?
10) The War Memorial Stadium Press Box. The old lady got a face lift over the summer. I got a sneak peek Thursday and it's as nice as any press box I've seen around the country. It could be the best in the SEC this year. It's big, posh, fancy and provides a great working environment for the media. And the new premium levels are out of sight. It's not important in the grand scheme for most fans, but it is worth a line or two at the bottom of at top 10 list of things to watch for Saturday night.
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