Arkansas offensive line coach Chris Klenakis said it in the spring: Play nasty, or don't play.
The line played well against Ole Miss, blocking the way for 197 rushing yards and a 38-24 victory. But did it play nasty?
"We are not there yet," Klenakis said, through a little chuckle that hints he'd heard that question a few times since spring.
"But we are getting there. We still have work to do. I can't say we are there, but I see it coming."
That's still the goal, he said, to play nasty up front.
During the process, his group is challenging themselves with smaller goals, hoping to get to nastiness.
"We set our goal before this game to rush for 200 yards," said Alvin Bailey, starting strongside guard. "We got real close. We were excited about that."
Was that the bar Klenakis set for the Ole Miss game?
"No, I let them set their goals in the meeting room each week," Klenakis said. "They set one each week and I always leave it up to them. I've always done that. They have to come up with the number. I did think it was one they could attain and they almost got it so that was very good. They were probably one more play at the end of the game from getting it, too."
Klenakis saw improvement in several areas of the unit's blocking, but he also praised the overall play of running back Knile Davis. He said the "chunk" yards that Davis got came from solid individual effort.
"It helps when the back makes cuts like he did," Klenakis said. "When a back hits the hole like that, then makes that move on the safety, it makes the line look better. Knile did that in this game.
"We've still got things we can clean up, but we are getting better every week. We are closer to what we can be than we were at the start of the season.
"The key is we are still getting better. Our guys are still working and trying to get it all right."
What was different this week?
"We finished blocks, we got to their legs and we had some guys who were much more physical," Klenakis said. "It comes down to technique. They were in better position. But that last part, they were physical."
The guards -- all three of them -- were physical. Wade Grayson had his best game at weakside guard. Bailey and Grant Cook split time at strongside, the same rotation they've had for the last two weeks.
"We did a good job with our pulls at guard," Klenakis said. "We were getting out and then to the second level of the defense, to the linebackers. I think Grant rotating with Alvin has helped them both. They are playing at a higher level. They are getting some rest and it paid off in the fourth quarter.
"I thought Wade had his best game. He was better in pass protection, his slides. I thought Alvin had his best game. Alvin was more physical and he had some knockdowns and some flat backs. I think he played with more effort. He did some things to help our running game."
Some individuals took some nice steps, but Klenakis said the major improvement came in the little things that fell by the wayside, like penalties and assignment errors. He suggested that before they can become nasty, they have to be clean.
"You need the cohesiveness of a unit," he said. "You need to play together without errors. It's the errors that were holding us back. You make an assignment error or commit a penalty, you get behind the (first down) stick. You play behind the stick all day, it changes the play calling."
The Hogs found themselves in doable situations against the stick more against Ole Miss.
"I think the most improvement came with what I call football intelligence," he said. "I think when you see how it turned out (with 197 yards rushing), you understand there is a reward out there for playing clean as far as mistakes. We did that this game and that should give us confidence.
"But it doesn't get easy. It's still about just doing the hard work day in and day out. You have to keep getting better and continue to make progress. When we play as a unit, we can play pretty well. If we play as individuals, not so well.
"Vanderbilt has a good defense. They play salty up front. That's the best word I can put on them, salty. They don't make mistakes. They are never out of their gaps and they play sound. It will be a tough job."
It will be a tough matchup, but the Hogs may be closer to matching that kind of description in the offensive front.
"When you combine effort with clean play as far as assignments and mental errors, it starts to work pretty well," Klenakis said. "I think we can see some of that now."
Maybe nastiness is not far away.
State of the Hogs: Nasty?
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