State of the Hogs: Run Game

How will the Hogs find their running game during the bye week? For sure, Bobby Petrino isn't going to stop looking for it.

Bobby Petrino has said it since he arrived at Arkansas. The Hogs will run the ball and balance is the goal. He wants to be able to run when he wants to run it and run it when he needs to run it.

So far this season, the running game isn't what he desires. The Hogs netted only 64 yards on the ground in a 24-20 loss to Alabama. For the season, the average is just 103 per game. Obviously, most of that came in the first game when the Hogs got a 49-yard run from Dennis Johnson on the way to 196 rushing yards.

The longest gainer in the two conference games via the rush was a 14-yarder by Knile Davis against Alabama. Broderick Green had a 13-yard run against Georgia for the next best. There were only two more in double digits, an 11-yarder by Ronnie Wingo against Georgia and a 10-yarder by Knile Davis against Alabama.

All of this comes to a head after the Hogs built a 20-7 lead against Alabama, but couldn't hold it. The final deficit of 24-20 came after the Hogs netted only 13 rushing yards on seven carries in the second half.

It's been the focus of interviews with coaches and players this week during the bye leading up to an Oct. 9 trip to Arlington to play Texas A&M. How do the Hogs find their running game.

Before we tell you what the Hogs plan to do about it, here's some breakout numbers from this past weekend.

There were 17 run plays against Alabama, not counting two sacks and a sneak from Ryan Mallett. The Hogs, officially, ran the ball 20 times for 72 yards in total yards. They lost 8 yards, leaving them with a net of 64. There were 17 called running plays for 71 yards and another 7-yard gain wiped out by a holding penalty.

The breakdown:

Knile Davis 4, 0, 10, 14, 9, 5, (7 negated holding)
Broderick Green 5, 3, 6, 1, 0, 5, 0, 2, 2, 1
Joe Adams 4

There are two ways to go forward, Petrino said. You can either get better at it, or do it more. Petrino decided to do both this week. The coaches gave the running backs cutups (an individual tape of all their runs on the season) and asked them to follow their steps in detail. What it showed is that in most cases, the tracks, or steps, were a little off in almost all of the runs. The blocking was good enough. The tracks were not.

That produced finer detail in practice Tuesday, offensive coordinator Garrick McGee said. Collectively, Ronnie Wingo, Knile Davis and Broderick Green all improved in the way they hit the holes, the steps they took to get there and it should yield better running gains.

Of course, there's more to it than that. Running back coach Tim Horton saw effort from his trio of runners, but he saw several cases where one broken tackle would have produced a big gainer. Right now, the backs are getting what is blocked for them, but not a lot more.

"We have had some bull yards, yards after contact," Horton said. "But we haven't gotten the big gainer. One or two long gainers each game in the run game makes a big difference. That's what we have emphasized, that if they break a tackle, it makes all the difference in the world."

Petrino said one of the keys is to be a little more stubborn in his play calling. It might mean that Ryan Mallett, the quarterback with an itch to throw, has to stick to his calls a little more, not checking when a potential blitz shows with a pre-snap move by the defense.

"I'm going to have to force it more," Petrino said. "We have really worked hard on the running game this week. We've had physical practices. But it probably just comes down to me calling more runs, especially with the game on the line."

There was praise for Knile Davis. He only had six carries for 42 yards, but that comes out to an average of 7.0 yards. That's better than the 6.5-yard average from the Heisman Trophy winner, Alabama's Mark Ingram. The Tide bell cow made 157 yards on 24 runs, but a lot of that came on a 54-yard touchdown scamper.

Offensive line coach Chris Klenakis probably thinks all of this is somewhat ironic. For the last half dozen years he's been criticized for being offensive coordinator in a scheme that ran it too much and passed too little. That was the rap at Nevada, that they needed to throw a little more.

Klenakis was not unhappy with either effort or the run blocking against Alabama. He saw movement, crispness and consistency in the work up front. Alabama's potent defensive front did not have a single lost yardage stop on an Arkansas running play.

"We can do better and we will," Klenakis said. "But we did get a hat on them. We didn't turn people loose. They had a lot of movement up front and we did alright. It wasn't good enough. But we are getting better. Our guys are working. They worked hard this week in practice."

Offensive tackle DeMarcus Love isn't worried about the run game. He said it's coming and something the Hogs continue to work and study.

The biggest key is to protect the ball. Three turnovers in the passing game were the difference in the game. Penalties were the other problem area. There were four procedure penalties, two by a tight end, two more by a guard.

"What we can't let happen is to get penalties that put us behind in the sticks," Petrino said. "That cost us in this game."

Those penalties took away some plays in the run game, perhaps forced Petrino to go to the pass too much.

Texas A&M, the next foe for the Hogs, has been good against the run, but perhaps not against strong running teams. Only Florida International, last week, beat the 100-yard mark against the Aggies, netting 115 on 39 tries.

Don't expect anything magical from the UA running game this week. Expect more of the same, just that the Hogs do a few things a little better and more often.

Someone grabbed Petrino as he headed out the door of the interview room Wednesday to inquire about the running game. He smiled and said, "Yeah, we are going to the wishbone."

The Hogs did that one year just before playing Texas A&M. It wasn't a good idea then and I don't buy any of it now. More than once Petrino has said the Hogs will continue to do what they do. I believe that. He's just going to try to do it better.

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