State of the Hogs: Top 10 (UTEP)

Here's the weekly Top 10 Things to Watch as the Razorbacks count down to their last game in their on-campus stadium. It's the 10th game and the 10th list.

It's week 10, perfect time for another Top 10 list. I might even use the Dewey Decimal system for easy classification.

Melvil Dewey developed the numbering system in 1876, about when I started watching football. Well, maybe I'm not that old, but I do remember learning the Dewey system in my junior high library after getting in trouble for sticking gum -- 10 chewed sticks -- under the table.

Okay, that's over doing it. I won't need the 1.1, 1.2 or 1.3, although I've been told, repeatedly, that the list needs more sub headers.

But if I didn't do that for South Carolina, probably shouldn't go there for Texas-El Paso -- unless it's to list the trick plays the Miners have in their playbook. Are there more than 10 trick plays? Probably.

Wow, UTEP coach Mike Price does have some dandies. How about the fake quarterback sneak? It works better when he still had Drew Bledsoe like he did at Washington State. Anything works better with Bledsoe. Price has a variety of trickery in special teams, but he's missing the main ingredient to pull a big upset, quality lineman.

Here's a look at the Top 10 Things to Watch in the Arkansas-UTEP matchup, set for 6 p.m. Saturday in Reynolds Razorback Stadium:

1) Emotion
Arkansas had its best victory of the Bobby Petriino era last week, a 41-20 thumping of South Carolina. I picked it, but I didn't think it would be that kind of a runaway. The Hogs outscored the Gamecocks, 34-3, in one stretch. That was the same team, on the same field that whipped then-No. 1 Alabama. So have the Hogs come down yet? Do they have anything in the tank? It's hard to reach into the emotional well when it's UTEP, even with Mike Price and an experienced team. Do the Hogs bring it against the Miners?

2) Ryan Mallett
He'll be the best player on the field in a terrific offense. I always love to watch him play and this week, even against UTEP, he'll be worth the price of admission. I wouldn't pay $200,000 to watch him play (like the agent said he needed for another SEC quarterback). But I'd pay $45, the price of a regular nonconference ticket at Arkansas. UTEP has a zone blitz concept with man-to-man coverage over the top, something unusual. Petrino made a living cutting up zone blitz schemes in Conference USA. This is a Conference USA team, but not with typical schemes. So it's worth a watch to see if Mallett is as precise as he was against Carolina's man schemes over the top.

3) Seniors
It's the final game for a fine group of Arkansas seniors in Reynolds Razorback Stadium. How do they play as a group? The three seniors in the offensive line have gotten better each week. DeMarcus Love, Ray Dominguez and Wade Grayson should be pumped. They are part of the reason for the Hogs nice surge in the final half of the season. They should be better than what UTEP has on the defensive front. Do they handle the Miners?

4) Into the Grinder
Bobby Petrino said the Miners will be ready to play, with a good scheme. He said the way to confront that is to grind and wear them down. That's what an SEC team should do to a Conference USA squad on the road. The Hogs have more beef and more speed. I expect the second quarter to be better than the first and things to be comfortably out of reach for the fourth quarter. If the Hog grind up the Miners, it may be Tyler Wilson time, just like it was at the end in Columbia.

5) Turnovers
The best way to handle an underdog is to avoid turnovers. If the Hogs play well in special teams and win the turnover battle, it will be tough for the Miners to stay close. The Hogs have been building to a peak as far as turnovers. Maybe this is the week to play a clean game. Ryan Mallett has been clicking, one of the reasons the turnover margin is improving. The backs are protecting the ball better. Perhaps one of the reasons is that Knile Davis is getting the bulk of the carries. Broderick Green and Ronnie Wingo need to show they can protect the ball so Davis gets some rest. This is a good week for those two to blossom as dependable runners. Dependable means no fumbles.

6) Penalties
Bobby Petrino didn't like the call on the no fumble by Stephen Garcia last week at South Carolina. The ESPN cameras caught him (with sound that was plenty good) telling the SEC lead official, "Look my players in the eyes." Asked about that, he said this week, "I have amnesia. I don't remember any of that." Told that he said it with clinched teeth, indicating a large degree of anger, he said, "My mother said I was smiling." It would be nice if the SEC referees make this a little easier, but I probably jinx things by even suggesting it. How about letting the Hogs play for one week without their flag toss routine?

7) Pass Rush
Sacks have been almost nonexistent in UTEP games. The Miners have given up only 11. They've recorded only 11. The Hogs want to get some pressure with their ends and linebackers, but they may not want to blitz a lot. Like Petrino, Price loves to go after blitz packages with his passing game, counters and draws. The Miners force you into playing straight. But they haven't seen SEC speed. The Hogs are built for speed with Jerico Nelson, Jake Bequette, Tenarius Wright and Damario Ambrose. Can the Hogs put some pressure on the quarterback and force some bad throws? They don't actually have to get a lot of sacks, but they do need some hits against the quarterback.

8) Get to Eight
That's the number this week. No matter where you list it, the Hogs have to get to their eight triumph. That's the bottom line. Most want something in the neighborhood of 50-7, but if the Hogs get to eight with a closer margin, there's no harm. No, that's not what fans want. They want a blowout. If there was ever a week for Bobby Petrino to be kind, this would be it. Mike Price gave him his first fulltime job. Petrino credits him for teaching an old wishbone quarterback how to coach the passing game. I would think when Petrino gets the eighth victory tucked away, he'll call off the Hogs. Petrino doesn't think of Price as family, but he's definitely in his coaching network. That's the reason the game is on the schedule.

9) The Running Game
Both teams will run the ball more than their reputation as pass happy would suggest. It always starts with shutting down the run and establishing the run. Can the Hogs follow up a dominating performance in the run game from last week with another one against the Miners? Can the Hogs spring Knile Davis on the perimeter again this week? You might watch senior fullback Van Stumon's blocking. It's been spectacular. He's a big load and has whipped middle linebackers the last few weeks. Can he blast some Miners? Sometimes I get caught up in following Knile Davis when it would be more fun to watch No. 44 do his thing. Another scheme point, watch the Arkansas tight ends. They have been used in twos and threes more as the season has progressed. Stumon is in the same group that has gotten some nice advantages on the perimeter, thanks to effective use of the motion with tight ends, H-backs and fullbacks. Count them as they flow into a hole. You might see three blockers against two defenders and Davis coasting against air. It's a sweet matchup.

10) Count ‘Em
Figure out how many players the Hogs use without looking at a participation chart. This is one of the nice things the Hogs have done as the season has progressed, find depth. Okay, maybe you can't count everyone, but watch to see how many play in the defensive front. Most notice changes at quarterback and running back, but not too many can tell you how many defensive linemen play in a game. Watch the interior tackles. See if Chris Smith gets some action at defensive end. Watch for Colton Miles-Nash at defensive end. Depth has been a strong point for this Arkansas team. The Hogs will lose some seniors, but it's my contention that Bobby Petrino is developing depth for the future and there's not a better place to load up than the defensive front. Do they get to 40, 50 or 60 in overall numbers? Well, maybe we can use Dewey's system if we get that many into the game. If so, it's a good sign in week 10.

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