What will happen when Arkansas' linemen try to block John Henderson and the rest of Tennessee's superb talents Saturday night in the grand opening of Reynolds Razorback Stadium?
Certainly, that's a fair question after the way the Hogs struggled to find any kind of offense against a good, but not great Nevada-Las Vegas defense in a 14-10 victory in the season opener Thursday night.
This might surprise some, but there are reasons to expect an improved Arkansas offense against Tennessee. Are we talking about two or three more first downs, or six or seven additional first downs? I'm not sure.
But, I do know that a little bit of an improvement in a lot of areas will do wonders for this offense. Here are some things that must happen:
1, The Hogs can't lose turnovers. If the Hogs lose three fumbles and one pass interception against UT, they will be blown out. The score might be as bad as it was last year in Knoxville, or worse.
2, The Hogs must hit at least one home run play. They were close on a pass or two, but the open post patterns were overthrown. That can't happen.
3, The Hogs must block better. That isn't just at the point of attack, but we'll start there. The middle of the line must get some kind of push against Tennessee. That starts with the center and two guards. I have confidence those three players will play better than they did in the opener. And, I think the focus and intensity will improve in the offensive line. Also, the tackles must play much better. And, I would also hope that the lack of effective push at tackle in the opener will be the impetus to get Shawn Andrews ready for a few snaps this week. Let's see what big Shawn can do against the team he hates the most, Tennessee. We all remember that story from recruiting when Phil Fulmer was shown the door in Camden. Hence, I think this is the time to find a few plays for Andrews.
4, We need stability at quarterback. I don't think playing four (or five) quarterbacks will help this offense. It was strange to see that from Houston Nutt since he's been criticized for not playing two quarterbacks. Then, he plays four against UNLV when I've been telling everyont to expect Zak Clark to go all the way.
5, We need another strong kicking game. We were close to an outstanding kicking game against UNLV. Except for the early punt return to the 11-yard line the kicking game was acceptable. What we don't know about is the field goal team.We didn't see that. Here's hoping we are at least in field goal range this week and we get a chance to see how much that group has improved this fall.
In summary, I think the Hogs will improve this week. No team improves as much as it does between the first and second game. And, with two extra days, the Hogs should get a few things fixed.
It's not as bad as it looked. We aren't great on offense, but it can and will get better. I do wish there had been more scrimmages in preseason to get all the kinks worked out. And, that's what a lot of it was Thursday night, a series of little things that added up into one big nightmare, an offense with just five first downs.
It will take a perfect game to stay with Tennessee, much less beat the Vols. Can the Hogs do that? I doubt it, but I've seen some strange things.
I'll never forget the way the '95 team turned around between the SMU game and the South Carolina game. It happened again a couple of years later when the Hogs were awful against SMU and then beat Alabama.
The best news is that the Hogs appear to be good on defense. They will improve, too. That was the first game for Batman Carroll, Lawrence Richardson and Marvin Jackson. Those guys are as good as anyone in the SEC. Jermaine Petty has played before, but not at middle linebacker. He's going to get better, too. When he was on the field, the middle of the defense was like a fortress. He assaults backs, as does Caleb Miller.
And, another aspect of the opener has been overlooked by almost everyone. We are healthy. That's a great sign for the future of this season. If we keep everyone on the field, they will improve game after game. That was the sad part of last year. Players had to be retrained as new ones were plugged in to replace the injured players. With a healthy team, there will be improvement.
That's my take. You can rip me for being optimistic, but it's the way I feel. It's not something I'm spewing forth because I think it's the right approach or some plan handed down from the athletic department. I've seen the development of this squad in the winter, spring and summer. And, I think they will have a decent year.
--Clay Henry, Publisher, HI.com