If you studied the stats from last week's New Mexico loss to Colorado State, the one that jumps out is the quarterback sacks. The Lobos narrowly missed giving up a double digit sack total.
It was 10 in the first stats that came out of the copier. Later, the Lobos decided that one of them was a called run that went for no gain. The official stats called it nine sacks by CSU's Rams in their 14-10 victory over the Lobos.
In some years, that might not be too bad if that was still a Sonny Lubick team in Ft. Collins. Lubick retired after the 2007 season. The Rams aren't what they were then.
So is this the week the sacks stack up for the Arkansas defensive line? It might be the case. Someone said the key question ahead of Saturday's game would be "paper or plastic." Obviously, that didn't come from a member of the Arkansas coaching staff or a defensive linemen.
They've tried to praise the Lobos and expect to see an improved effort in protection when they come to War Memorial Stadium. The Lobos will get better in week two, but the Arkansas defensive front is still where we will start with our Top 10 things to watch for this week's game.
1. Arkansas defensive front
You'd expect sacks to come from the defensive end. The top three on this Arkansas team -- Jake Bequette, Tenarius Wright and Chris Smith -- can be terrors. But this might be the week that Jerry Franklin reaps some benefits from the work those men do up front. Franklin is the middle linebacker. With the way offensive fronts are blocking the UA interior tackles (mostly double teams), Franklin might get some clean "run throughs" on blitzes this week. But it's still a safe bet to look for some sacks from those ends, too. There weren't many dropback passes called last week by Missouri State. The Lobos run some option, but the Lobos do have a dropback scheme.
2. Team speed
Arkansas was so much faster than Missouri State. Will the Hogs look as fast this week against the Lobos. Arkansas coaches think New Mexico does have some speed, but this will be another week when the opposition can't run with the Razorbacks. This is a fast Arkansas team, starting with the wide receivers. I think the speed will also be obvious when you watch this Arkansas defensive line. As they say, speed kills and it will wipe out the Lobos this week.
3. Running game
It can be a mistake to think that Arkansas coach Bobby Petrino is ever going to "force" the issue to work on the running game. If the Lobos sell out to stop the run, this Arkansas team has the weapons to make them pay. And Petrino -- as he emphasized this week -- isn't about beating his head against a wall. But one thing he does like is to be balanced on first down. You might watch to see how the numbers play out as far as run-pass ratio on first down and how the Hogs do in the running game. How do the Hogs block it with their fullback and tackles, the most inexperienced area of the team? Can they sustain their blocks a little longer and give the backs more room?
4. Running back
Perhaps you could throw them in at No. 3, but it's really a whole category to itself. Ronnie Wingo, De'Anthony Curtis and Kody Walker are all going to get their shots. All have things that need to be cleaned up from the first week. Wingo and Curtis were challenged to attack the last defender by offensive coordinator Garrick McGee. He said they need to win the one-on-one battle after the line blocks them to the second level. Walker didn't carry his pads low enough on the goal line to suit Petrino. Is this the week Petrino finds out if fullback Kiero Small can be a short yardage back?
There is never a game that quarterback play can be minimized. But there are probably some aspects of the play of the signal caller that escape us during most games. How does Tyler Wilson do with his running game checks? Sometimes it's hard to tell when a quarterback makes a check in the run game. But you'll know more often than not if he's pleasing Petrino if you see the Hogs out-number the Lobos on the perimeter in the run game -- or when they don't. It should be expected that Brandon Mitchell will get plenty of snaps in relief of Wilson again this week. Mitchell got five possessions last week, Wilson four. That was more lopsided than you might have expected because Joe Adams returned two punts for touchdowns during the section of the game when Wilson was still playing quarterback. So perhaps Wilson gets more possessions this week, assuming Adams doesn't take a few more to the house.
6. Line domination
Arkansas controlled the line of scrimmage last week against Missouri State. The Hogs should be dominant up front again this week. Which way does the pile move? If you want a treat, spend some time watching Travis Swanson, the sophomore center for the Hogs. He's sneaky, tricky and nasty. If you want to know where the ball is going, follow the center and the guards. And that works when the Lobos have the ball, too. You'll get an idea of what Byran Jones and Robert Thomas can do to an offensive line. And you'll see how Dede Jones moves around between tackle and end. That will become more important when the Hogs get into SEC play where the running game is a big deal.
Missouri State didn't offer anything special to cause the Hogs trouble in the open field. The Lobos have a little more talent, especially at quarterback. Can the Hogs keep things clean as far as tackling? There were very few missed tackles last week. How will they do in that department this week? Tramain Thomas, Eric Bennett and Elton Ford will log the most time at the safety spots. How do they do in support of the run and do they turn the quarterback loose for any long runs?
8. Mitch Smothers and Jason Peacock
This is the battle for the weak offensive tackle spot. Smothers started last week. Peacock played in relief, earning some time with the first unit. Do they still split time up front? Peacock is the bigger load and looks like an SEC tackle. But he sometimes jumped the snap count in fall camp. He had a personal foul in the opener. Can he avoid penalties and make this a battle? Or does Smothers solidify this position as the Hogs get closer to SEC play?
9. Special teams
The Hogs have made special teams a big part of fall camp. They were fairly clean in the opener. One of the few mistakes was a missed extra point, perhaps the result of a shaky snap. Of course, the Hogs got great plays in the punt return game from Joe Adams and Marquel Wade. Do the Lobos outkick their coverage the way the Bears did? Or do they just hammer punts out of bounds? Can the Hogs get the return game going on kickoffs? They only got two chances in the first week and that made it difficult to get a read there. Dylan Breeding didn't get much work in the punt game. Overall, do the Hogs dominate special teams with their team speed the way they did in week one?
10. Brandon Allen
Just for kicks, watch freshman quarterback Brandon Allen in warmups. Unless something happens to Wilson or Mitchell, Allen should redshirt. So to get an idea of Allen's accuracy, find No. 13 in warmups. He's got a quick release and is accurate on all his throws. Wilson and Mitchell have improved their releases in the offseason. Both are quick to get the ball out of their hands. Compare all three quarterbacks. You'll like what you see and understand why Petrino will always have good passers at quarterback. He understands how to coach release mechanics.
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