What are the biggest takeaways from the first week of the season? The offense appears to be in good hands with Dan Enos at offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach.
Be sure of this, Enos is both a coordinator and a quarterbacks coach. And, he's got an aggressive twitch, as identified by head coach Bret Bielema after the game.
I had not thought of this until I did radio with Bo Mattingly on Tuesday, that perhaps Bielema was talking about Jim Chaney a little after the game on Saturday night. In describing what Enos was, perhaps he was also telling us what Chaney was not.
I do recall Bielema's comparisons between Robb Smith and Chris Ash a year ago when there was a change at defensive coordinator. Bielema said Smith were more on the same page than his “previous” defensive coordinator.
Sometimes I have to be hit with a hammer. Perhaps I don't always read between the lines. That can be dangerous. But maybe Bo was right, that Bielema was talking about Chaney.
Either way, I can recognize what Enos is and that's a technique oriented quarterbacks coach. He played the position and has coached the position. He also spent time as Michigan State's running backs coach, but has mostly coached quarterbacks.
Brandon Allen is better in almost every way. His footwork is improved. Enos said there were only two plays where footwork wasn't great in the opener. And, that's a big reason I think Allen has a chance to be more accurate in his fifth year.
It's been pointed out over and over that Allen has rarely had a quarterbacks coach of proven ability during his time at Arkansas. He had Paul Petrino for two years, Chaney for two and neither have shown an ability to teach high level footwork or technique.
Sometimes you don't know what was wrong until you see it fixed. Allen appears to have gotten some great coaching in the last eight months. Give Enos credit for providing his quarterbacks with the tools to get better and that's proper footwork and passing drills. Even Austin Allen has gotten better. His arm is stronger and is deep ball may have 10 more additional yards.
I've always thought Allen plenty talented. I had a friend tell me last season that he was only being held back by Chaney. I wasn't sure about that. Now maybe I can say the friend was correct.
One of the things that hasn't really materialized with Enos that I thought would show up in a big way is the screen game. Now, there were two touchdowns on wide receiver screens, but I thought we'd see a little more on screen passes to the backs. There was one, for minus 1 yard.
But I saw enough even in that one play to think the Hogs are going to give opponents fits on the screen pass. It was close to a home run. There was only one defender in position to make a play, with three blocker loose. Frank Ragnow took the defender and took an angle that was less than perfect. The one defender made the play.
Ragnow has been the most consistent linemen in preseason. I bet that play haunted him Saturday night. I bet Ragnow gets that man the next time he's one-on-one in the open field on a screen pass.
Dominique Reed was targeted several times, twice on bombs. He didn't get a catch. Enos promised to work more on the timing on the vertical game with Allen and Reed this week. I saw enough to be excited about the prospects. I've seen Reed make plays against Jared Collins, the best of the cover guys in the secondary. Reed will make plays in the SEC.
I spent a lot of time watching the middle linebacker play on defense. I think it's one of the final pieces to the puzzle for this season. I saw Josh Williams make good decisions. I did think some mis-direction plays took him out of position.
But I am fascinated with the prospects of Dre Greenlaw and Brooks Ellis on the field at the same time. Can Greenlaw play weakside and Ellis move back to the middle? There are hints from Bielema that the two Fayetteville linebackers could eventually by a good mesh. And, I do expect Williams to improve. He is quicker, as Bielema indicated two weeks ago when he flipped back to the middle. He can get to the lanes better than he did last year against Georgia when Ellis was out.
One of the obvious high points was the play of Henre' Toliver. He will be a playmaker. He has better hands than Tevin Mitchel, last year's nickel back. I think Robb Smith is going to have fun moving him off the slot and onto the edge. You could see that one of the halftime adjustments Smith made against UTEP was to bring one more defender off the edge.
That brings me back to Greenlaw. I wonder what kind of chaos Greenlaw can create coming from off the edge. Seeing No. 23 flash may be a favorite moment coming forward. He'll make plays. It's just raw instinct right now, but eventually he'll have the knowledge of the position to be really dangerous.
I recall Wilson Matthews telling me that “if you have to talk to a linebacker much, they probably are not a linebacker.” The translation, the good ones are all about instinct. Greenlaw has that. The good coaches make sure not to muddy the water too much and let the ones with instinct play. But Smith does a great job of teaching the keys that make an offense tick each week.
The best thing I saw was the overall operation and detail of the kicking game. While UTEP's special teams were falling apart play after play, Bielema's kicking game was rock solid. There were a couple of silly penalties that will turn out to be great coaching points, but it all looked pretty good, especially Cole Hedlund and Lane Saling, the two kickers. Toby Baker had only one chance as the punter, so there can't be any definitive statement there.
The second best thing, there were no injuries. There can't be a better feeling than an empty training room.
Yes, it was just UTEP. But, forgive me if I recall some openers that were not so much fun to watch. Just remember, the first game of the Hawgs Illustrated era was against the Citadel in 1992. That was a game when the only touchdown by either team was a scoop and score by a defensive linemen on an E.D. Jackson fumble.
Oh, yeah, I didn't see any footballs on the ground. That's a beautiful thing and don't ever forget it.