Paralysis by analysis. Hopefully, after a late night on the road, this writer doesn't get any sort of problems with his analysis!
As promised, here's HI.com's Top 10 list of things to watch for from Arkansas' 31-7 victory over Louisiana-Monroe -- and how they turned out.
1) Progress. There's that old coaching adage that football teams make their most progress between the first and second games of the season. Did the Hogs do that against the War Hawks. In some ways, yes. The special teams had one of its best games in recent seasons. There were no operation problems. Zack Hocker made his only field goal attempt and punter Dylan Breeding was superb, despite dropping one fine snap. Coverage units were good. Joe Adams looked dangerous -- a step away several times in Bobby Petrino's view -- as the punt returner. But the running game didn't make a lot of progress. More on that in the next paragraph.
2) The running game. It still wasn't as advertised, but this week there may have been a reason. ULM played eight and even nine in the box. Arkansas tried to run against those numbers anyway, but didn't have a lot of success. Afterwards, Petrino said he was too stubborn and should have passed on every down, but thought they still might get a crease or two and hit a home run in the running game because of the over populated line of scrimmage. Garrick McGee noted that stacked defense, too, and said, "Good teams still run the ball." Hence, the Hogs tried and wanted to run better. They think -- and we'll have to see -- that they will be able to run against a more balanced and orthodox defense this week against Georgia. But this area wasn't so much fun to watch against ULM.
3) Turnover ratio. That was a huge plus last year, but was a minus last week against Tennessee Tech. It was another minus this week. Ball security was an issue with Greg Childs. He held the ball away from his body twice. Ryan Mallett got knocked around in the pocket perhaps setting up two more turnovers. The Hogs got a couple of takeaways for a minus one in the ratio battle. Petrino said he was definitely not happy with losing the turnover battle and said it would continue to be a point of emphasis in practice.
4) Special teams. It was another plus day in this area. The operation continues to improve. Punting, punt returns and field goals were all solid. We'll see how these areas do when more speed is added to the equation the next two weeks against Georgia and Alabama. But it looks like special teams have taken a step up over the last two years if the first two weeks are any indication.
5) Safety first. This continues to look good. Big plays have been cut back. The verdict is still out a little bit until we see them against SEC wideouts and speed. Tramain Thomas has steadied the back end of the defense at free safety. He's been solid there since the bowl game. He appears to be a sure tackler. This could be the biggest development for the defense, the back end play.
6) Real linebackers. Do the Hogs have them? It appears they do. There were a couple of missed tackles from the linebacker slot on ULM's one touchdown drive. Otherwise, this was another clean performance at linebacker. The speed here is obvious. Jerry Franklin and Anthony Leon can both run. They've gotten the bulk of the snaps, so you still wonder about depth. But so far so good here.
7) Ryan Mallett. He's been good through two games, but not great. Garrick McGee thought his timing was off against ULM. Some of his throws were late coming out and some were behind receivers. He throws it so hard that the accuracy has to be almost perfect. There isn't time for a receiver to adjust a route or reach behind. It's a bang-bang arrival on those seam throws. But he's still Ryan Mallett. He's still the man who makes it all happen for this Arkansas team. I've seen enough to know he's going to win a lot of games for the Hogs this week. He'll have to play better against Georgia. He'll probably see more blitzes, but perhaps not as many as he did against ULM.
8) The Shot. It didn't show up much against ULM, mostly just like last year as play-action alternatives in the passing game. It wasn't much of a running game formation. Are the Hogs holding something back for the SEC? It's hard to say. We'll have to watch for it, but it might fall off the top 10 list for next week. It'll just have to surprise us.
9) Speed. ULM was much faster than Tennessee Tech, as expected. But the Hogs were still the fastest team on the field. Speed jumps out at you this year. Will it next week against an SEC foe like Georgia? I don't know, but it's been a big positive on defense through two games. The Hogs can bring the heat and they do have some scorpion like hitters, quick and aggressive.
10) The War Memorial Stadium Press Box. As advertised. It was everything we'd been told and everything worked. There's another elevator to make things smoother coming and going. All the parts worked under pressure. It was a good working environment and made for an enjoyable experience. It looks good from the outside, too. I heard multiple comments from visitors (Fox, out of towners) who had never seen it and they all thought it was big-time. Sight lines are good. The wireless Internet worked. Now if the Hogs can just get that running game to work as smooth.
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