State of the Hogs: Let it Eat

The Arkansas running game is getting full on the combination blocks from the offensive tackles and tight ends. The Hogs know how to let it eat!

Garrick McGee said it's a part of most offenses around the country. It's a simple part of the blocking scheme. There's nothing unique about it.

But let's just say the second half of the football season the Arkansas running game has gotten big on the eat block.

It's really nothing about dietary habits. It's nothing heavy. It's sure not southern fried food. It's more about chemistry than food.

What it's about is the way the Arkansas tackles and tight ends mesh in the perimeter blocking that has cut loose running back Knile Davis for big chunks of yardage. Let's just say Davis' numbers have gotten fat as the Hogs have pinned linebackers and defensive ends inside as he's raced to the outside.

It's a case of senior tackles DeMarcus Love and Ray Dominguez along with senior tight ends D. J. Williams and Ben Cleveland locking up in wonderful blocks with perfect technique, timing and execution.

"We work really hard at gaining an advantage in our running game with our blocking," said McGee, the offensive coordinator. "We work our motion game with our tight ends, reset our formations and do what we can to build an advantage. Like I've said, we spend a lot of time in that building trying to find ways to give ourselves an advantage.

"We spend a lot of time on the half line drills in practice to work on that particular block. That's the foundation for what we do and I think our players realize the importance and the focus."

McGee was standing on the field turf after a practice this week, pointing to the Broyles Center where the football coaches hunker down in video rooms.

But it's not just about the video Xs and Os. Offensive line coach Chris Klenakis, giving credit to tight end coach Richard Owens, for the daily work the tackles and tight ends do on the eat block drill in half line segments.

"We call that an EDD," Klenakis said. "That stands for every day drill. We send the tackles over to work with the tight ends and that's something we don't ever miss as far as fundamental work early in practice. It's good to have older players to work with who know each other and have that great chemistry because that's a block that requires a great feel for what the other guy does."

The eat block came up after practice earlier this week when Love was talking about his move from strongside tackle, where he often worked in tandem with the tight end on blocks, to the weakside of the formation this season where he earned first team All-SEC as one of the best on-an-island pass protectors in the country.

In a tongue-in-cheek exchange, Love said he was glad to be "away from" Williams in the blocking schemes. Williams fired back, "You know you miss me on those eat blocks!" So what is an eat block?

"Oh, that's one of the things we do best, those eat blocks," Williams said. "The eat block is where the tackle and the tight end double team the end, then the tight end makes a decision when the tackle has the end under control and the tight end releases to get the linebacker. It's a feel thing. Sometimes you might have to stay a little longer with the tackle. Sometimes you know right away, he's got the end and you go find the linebacker.

"I think we do it pretty good, all of the tight ends and all of the tackles. In our scheme, the tackles flip and the tight ends flip. At the start of the play, you might be with the strong tackle, but with motion, you might end up on the other side with the weak. And we are playing with two tights a lot and we move them around.

"DeMarcus might say he's the weak tackle now, but there are times that we change the formation and me or Ben end up beside him. It still happens a lot."

McGee said, "That's where we try to move the tight ends to gain the advantage. It's one of the things we work hard on in our planning. But it comes down to execution and fundamentals and timing. That's our players."

Williams said it comes down to gamesmanship on those eat blocks.

"I think we've got some pretty good tandems going as far as tight ends and tackles," Williams said. "There are a lot of seniors out there and we know each other well enough we can play some games with the defensive ends. We know from watching video what we can do. Then when we get into the game, we get a pretty good feel of how to work it, those games we play.

"It's to the point now that it's not thinking, it's just natural chemistry. It's been pretty good this season. It's a big part of what we do in the outside zone. I think you can see that we do get an advantage and Knile does a great job of reading what we are doing in the perimeter game with that eat block."

Klenakis said there was a heavy dose of eat blocks in the final drive that put away LSU in the regular season finale.

"That drive we rode the eat block pretty good," Klenakis said. "I think that's when you see the chemistry and the bond these players have with each other. That's a big part of offensive line play.

"I think our players have taken some pride in that aspect. They've been together and understand the concept and then have that chemistry. That block is a perfect example.

"It's a big part of what we do every day and it shows in the way we executed it the last half of the season.

"That last drive against LSU, it makes you want to stick your chest out as an offensive line coach. Anytime you can finish a game off like that, it's pretty special. That's the goal for the offensive line. We did it right in that game."

It didn't happen earlier in the season. Love said the inability to finish off the Texas A&M game in style with the running game was the beginning of the turnaround as far as the offensive line play.

"We had a meeting after that game," Love said. "We didn't like the way we played as an offensive line in the fourth quarter of that game. Thank goodness the defense held the rope for us. But we learned."

Klenakis said he called a meeting on Sunday after the A&M game to get that straight.

"I think we had the ball three times in the fourth quarter with a chance to put the game away and we didn't get anything," Klenakis said. "I thought we needed to discuss that. It was a one-side discussion. I just told them they were lucky that the defense held up in that fourth quarter because we didn't do what we are supposed to do.

"I was really disappointed after that game. We had the game in our hands and didn't produce. The defense had to carry us."

True, but the running game kicked into high gear soon afterwards. There was another emphasis placed on offensive line play the next week after the Auburn game. The Hogs have not lost since.

"I think you saw the line get better and better," Williams said. "Coach Klenakis came in talking about being nasty. They got to that point by the end of the year. You watch the highlights, you see an offensive lineman coming down field and picking guys off. If you are a linebacker or a defensive lineman you better have your head on a swivel because those guys are coming down field and they will get you. It's gotten pretty nasty.

"I think you saw that nasty play in that last drive against LSU. That was a lot of fun. And it was a lot of eat blocks in all of that. I think you saw an LSU defense that was just trying to survive and not get wiped out. That's the kind of play Coach Klenakis has instilled in this offensive line.

"The tight ends are glad to be a part of it. That's why we like the eat blocks so much. Even DeMarcus is glad he still gets a tight end beside him every now and then even if he doesn't want to admit it."

They all like to admit that the last half of the season, the Hogs were letting it eat!

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