If you want a clue as to how it's going for Arkansas against Troy on Saturday night, count the plays. On both sides. Troy tries for a fast, no-huddle pace that can keep the defense off balance. The Hogs want three-and-outs on defense to stay fresh. One of the keys will be how quickly the Hogs can recognize formation and get lined up, getting the right matchups on the perimeter as far as speed.
By the same token, Arkansas wants to move the chains. Move them enough and the Hogs will get the right number of plays in the Bobby Petrino formula for a victory. Here's what the UA head coach said this week as far as watching the play total:
"It's tough to say exactly," Petrino said, "but when we evaluate that, we like to think that when we get 72 to 86 we've got a chance to win. To us, the main thing, are you getting first downs. If you are getting first downs and stay on the field, because of our speed, we are going to have a chance to make some big plays.
"If you start to get into the 60s, you are going to have a hard time winning the game."
So we'll start with that in our weekly top 10 things to watch:
1. Number of plays
The winning formula isn't an exact science. But the Hogs do want to get into the high 70s if possible, perhaps the 80s. There are things besides three-and-outs that make that difficult at times. Turnovers can cause problems, obviously. Obviously, a punt return for a TD eliminates a series altogether and the Hogs did that twice in the first week. Big plays can hold down the number of plays, but they might give you another possession or two in a game if your defense is performing at a high level.
2. Tyler Wilson
How is Tyler Wilson after getting his bell rung last week against New Mexico? Does he protect himself a little better after taking shots while trying to score the past two weeks? I bet he does. It's part of the learning process. How does he react in the pocket against a better pass rush. Troy's Jonathan Massaquoi is a terrific left defensive end that Wilson will have to eye on each down and make sure there is adequate protection. This is part of the quarterback's job and he'll have to account for the Troy phenom.
3. Corey Robinson
That's the Troy quarterback. He's good at spreading the ball around. The Hogs have to put more pressure on him than they showed last week against New Mexico. Do the Hogs make it tough on Robinson? Do they force some interceptions? The Hogs dropped three or four over the first two weeks. Those need to start happening for this team to meet expectations at least for the defensive side of the ball. A little more pressure might provide a jump in turnovers.
4. Chris Smith
This is the sophomore defensive end's first starting assignment. Jake Bequette will sit because of a hamstring injury. Smith is more than adequate as a replacement. But he's going to get a few more snaps. How is his conditioning? Is he up to playing 60 snaps instead of perhaps 40? That will be something to watch as the game progresses.
5. Dede Jones
The big junior defensive lineman is going to get more snaps this week with Bequette out, too. He's a backup end as well as tackle. He's more equipped to play both spots after improving his technique. Are the Hogs able to get more inside pressure with their tackles? That was absent in the pass rush last week. Jones is one of the Razorbacks who has that kind of ability to wreak havoc in the run and also rush the passer. Can he do it from an outside spot. Coaches have said he's worked on his outside rush technique over the past few weeks. Does that start to materialize on game day?
6. Dennis Johnson
Yes, No. 33 is back. He's going to get some carries. How is his conditioning after missing most of the last month of practice? He wants to return kickoffs, but coaches seem reluctant to put too much stress on that sore hamstring right out of the box. Johnson wants to return kickoffs. That shows his mental toughness. But the Hogs may just use him in the running backs rotation this week with a promise of kick returning duties later this season.
7. Special teams
That's been a plus for the Hogs the past two weeks. Does that continue to be a strength when you add Troy's speed to the equation this week. There were not many SEC quality athletes on the field against the Hogs the first two weeks. With Troy, that changes. And do the Hogs continue to sparkle with the return game and step up their coverages. Can Zack Hocker nail a few field goals? He's had two misses and also an extra point that hit an upright, falling no good.
8. Physical domination
That's been the key the first two weeks. Can the Hogs maintain that edge up front on both sides of the ball against better competition. Can Alvin Bailey, Travis Swanson and Grant Cook kick butt in the middle of the offensive line? That's been an obvious strength the first two weeks. Look for it to continue again this week. As Petrino said, the team that's the hammer (and not the nail) has the best chance of winning. The Hogs want to outhit the Trojans.
The Hogs made general improvement in week two, but they face a much better team this week. Will they continue to improve, as Bobby Petrino teams have done the past three years? Do they eliminate false starts and other penalties? Do they stay clean with turnovers?
10. Running game
With Dennis Johnson back, the running game might start to move forward. There was improvement last week. The threat of a running quarterback might help eliminate some of those run blitzes that have been a thorn the first two weeks. It doesn't appear that the opposition has figured in the quarterback run into the scheme. That might change as Wilson and Brandon Mitchell continue to take off down the middle of the field.
State of the Hogs: Top 10 List (Troy)
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