State of the Hogs: Ryan Mallett

Ryan Mallett didn't get to go to New York City, but a trip to New Orleans is going to be sweet for the Arkansas quarterback.

2009 - 225-403-7 (55.8 percent), 3,624 yards, 30 TDs, passing efficiency of 152.46
2010 - 242-364-11 (66.5 percent), for 3,592 yards, 30 TDs, passing efficiency 170.53.
Notes: Ryan Mallett set the UA school record with 30 TDs last year, then tied it again this year with the bowl game still to play. He has thrown for at least 300 yards nine times this season, tops in the NCAA. He's topped 200 yards in 24 career games.

By Clay Henry

Ryan Mallett entered the year as one of the favorites for the Heisman Trophy. Despite a 10-2 season with school records in almost every passing category, the Arkansas junior quarterback didn't do enough even to qualify for a trip to New York City as a Heisman finalist.

But don't think he's crushed. He helped put the Hogs in their first BCS game -- and a matchup against an old rival, Ohio State.

Mallett started his career at Michigan, even started four games as a true freshman. He didn't play much against Ohio State, but got a taste of the rivalry in a bit role.

The 6-7, 235-pounder with the rifle arm -- legend has it that he can sail a football close to 100 yards -- left Michigan after a coaching change there meant a need for a running quarterback. That meshed perfectly with the arrival of Bobby Petrino at Arkansas, Mallett's first love anyway.

Mallett was just 1 of 3 passing for 8 yards in his only Ohio State experience four years ago. The Buckeyes won, 14-3.

"The most memorable part for me is it was cold," Mallett said. "It was freezing, sleeting, snowing and raining. I got in there, ran about four plays and that was about it. It was a big game, obviously. Up there that's a good rivalry game and it had some big guys.

"I don't remember too much from the game. I didn't play very much."

But he remembers plenty about the Buckeyes. He's always longed for another shot at one of the nation's storied programs.

"I was hoping we would in a BCS game like now," he said. "I figured that'd be the only way we'd get to play them and that's how it went down.

"It's going to be a fun game. It's two great teams. Obviously I had the traditional rivalry hatred (at Michigan). I've still got a little Michigan in me from that. I've never really been a big fan. It's going to be fun."

How much hate is there for Ohio State among the Michigan faithful?

"I don't know if it's something you can say on-air or in the paper," Mallett said, laughing. Does it match the way Arkansas fans feel about Texas?

"Something like that," he said. "About like that." What about his personal feeling for Ohio State? Did he get into that hate?

"The day I committed to go to Michigan," Mallett said.

Mallett knows what to expect from the Buckeyes. "Ohio State always has a really good defense," he said. "They're fast and physical on defense. We expect the same thing. They're smash mouth and we are too, so it's going to be a good one."

Mallett said he's proud to be a part of Arkansas' first BCS team. He said the goal was to change some mindsets at Arkansas. He challenged fans in the summer to think a little bigger and to end the perception that the Hogs were underdogs.

"As far as the BCS, it's a big thing just to be able to do that," he said. "We talked about it and that's what we told you guys we were trying to do. Some of you might not have believed us, but I think we've quieted a couple critics."

Expectations were soaring in preseason. Arkansas coach Bobby Petrino didn't try to dampen spirits when the Hogs were put in every preseason top 20 poll, the first time that had happened in decades. Mallett said it was time fans thought like BCS contenders even during the summer.

"I feel like even growing up the state feels like we are always an underdog," Mallett said. "That's the thing we have to change. We want to let the fans know going in it doesn't matter who it is, we are going to go out there and play Arkansas football. We are not the underdog anymore. We've got the players. We've got the coaches. We've got everything we need."

Mainly, what the Hogs needed was more experience. Mallett got it last year when he wasn't always on an even keel. He had some ups and downs, especially on the road. He was off the mark early in games, especially against Florida and LSU. He and his team think they learned important lessons in those road losses that paid off when they traveled to Georgia, Auburn, South Carolina and Mississippi State. They lost only at Auburn, but led in the fourth quarter in that one.

"Personally, I didn't think that I played up to my full potential last year," Mallett said. "I had a few games where I did and there are a few games where I didn't play well. That's something I wanted to improve on, is playing well in every game, not losing focus and going into every game mentally ready.

"As far as the team, I think we really learned a lot from last season. On the road especially, I thought we were going to be better on the road just from learning. We're young but now we're a year older and we've played together for another year. It's really going to help us."

What is the strength of Bobby Petrino's scheme? "I think it's getting the playmakers the ball," Mallett said. "To have all those weapons, that's my key."

The Hogs carry a massive playbook, something the offensive staff takes a lot of pride in year in and year out. Mallett said it's not just a big playbook, but the options within those plays.

"It's both," he said. "We have tons of plays. It all kinda fits together. A lot of the routes might be the same, but out of different formations. So it's really easy for the guys to understand. When we get in different formations we call kinda the same play. It's out of a different look. We have a lot of checks we call.

"We've got a couple of new things going in this year. Some of it in, The Pistol. But some of it is stuff you didn't see, that's really going to help us. It's a couple of other things besides The Pistol and we'll wait and see what's going to happen with them.

The option routes in the playbook are multiple. "Yeah, we've got quick option routes, dropback option routes, for different guys," Mallett said. "Some are better at the option routes than others, but we've got four or five guys who know exactly what we are doing when their numbers are called and really gives us an advantage. They can break into a zone, or understand it's man and break on a spot. It's really a big part of our offensive game."

One of the improvements Mallett made this season over his sophomore year at Arkansas was learning how to check his emotions. High strung and excitable, Mallett had some times where he was so wired that his passes sailed high. That didn't happen this season when his percentage improved. Mallett said quarterback coach Garrick McGee taught him to keep a more even keel.

"Coach McGee is a great inspiration to be better as a person and a football player and in all aspects of life, he's someone that you want to model your life after," Mallett said. "He's always so even keel. He never loses his cool. I think it really helps because Coach Petrino is so intense and likes to get after you. It's kinda good to have the best of both worlds."

It is kinda like having a momma and a daddy.

"I think it's just like that," he said. "You can have one get after you and the other comes to you and is calm and you are right back ready to play the game for the next play. It really is the best of both worlds as far as the emotion of the game." It's still an ongoing process, though. McGee had to calm Mallett in the first half of the LSU game to end the season.

"He was just so wired in that first half that I told him to go get a drink of water and sit down for a little while," McGee said. "But he did. That's about all it takes now is for me to tell him that. He does get excited."

Mallett will be excited when he sees the Buckeyes. It's that little bit of Michigan still left in the back of his mind. He might need a drink of water in the first half of the Sugar Bowl.

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