MEMPHIS, Tenn. – Sebastian Tretola heard the magic number for rushing yards as put forth by offensive coordinator Dan Enos and shrugged his massive shoulders with a simple explanation.
“He's a quarterback,” Tretola said. “Offensive linemen are never satisfied with that.”
The number is 150 yards, as in rushing yards in a game. Enos, the first-year playcaller at Arkansas, has been laying out a stat that's been good to him through the years. Enos said it was pounded into his head by Mark Dantonio when they coached together beginning at Cincinnati in 2004.
“I know Mark has charted it for a long time,” Enos said. “I've been charting it since 2004. You get to 150 rushing yards, you are going to win a lot of games.
“Good things happen with the passing game when you get to 150 rushing. You probably are going to feel comfortable running the ball in the red zone. You are going to have good success in short yardage. It's an important number.”
So how have the 7-5 Hogs done in games when they have topped the 150 mark this season?
“We are 7-2,” Enos said. “We share that with the team. We certainly want to get the running game going.”
All of that came after a question in regards to the difficulty in maintaining rhythm in the passing game when there are four weeks off ahead of a bowl game. The Hogs will have had 36 days since they beat Missouri in the regular season finale on the Friday after Thanksgiving when they meet Kansas State in the Liberty Bowl at 2:20 p.m. Saturday.
Arkansas averages 192 yards on the ground, allowing 120. Conversely, Kansas State averages 164. But here's the kicker. The 6-6 Wildcats allow 159 in the pass-heavy Big 12.
Enos laughed a little at the question because he recalls throwing the ball around in Central Michigan's 49-48 loss to Western Kentucky in the Bahamas Bowl last season. The Chippewas threw for 485 yards and seven touchdowns.
“We were behind 42-14,” Enos said. “So we had to throw. But I've been in other (bowl) games when we couldn't throw.”
Creating a game plan for a bowl game is a little different than in the regular season. There is time to do a self scout and perhaps dream up some wrinkles that incorporate things that the defense might be looking at as keys, turning them into false keys.
“I think there are certainly things that we’re going to run within the run game and the pass game each and every week that we feel are really good and really sound against just about anything a defense is going to do to us,” Enos said. “Then, there’s going to be certain wrinkles each and every week depending on what they do and what they like to do. A little bit of both of those aspects are involved in the game plan.
“Certainly by this time, 12 games, going into a bowl game, both teams have shown their personality. One neat thing about bowl games is you have a little bit longer time to prepare so some wrinkles and some different things that you haven’t shown. We’ve also had a really good chance to sit back and do a self-scout and an analysis of our own offense to kind of try to see what they will be looking at. Trying to do some things to break some tendencies as well.”
One of the challenges was to find tape of Kansas State against an offense that utilizes some of the same formations used by Enos and the Razorbacks. There were few in the Big 12 that did anything close to a pro style or with two tight ends.
“It was difficult,” Enos said. “South Dakota had some formations looks we like,” Enos said. “Texas-San Antonio does some things similar to us. But really, there was nothing from Big 12 games. We did go back to some tape of Kansas State in 2014 to gather some tape where we saw what they would do against our formations. There is not a lot in the Big 12 with two tights, even much with one, or with two backs.”
Still, there were similar themes as far as the way Kansas State plays football on both sides of the ball as to what the Hogs do under Bret Bielema. The Arkansas coach played and coached for Hayden Fry and K-State coach Bill Snyder is a product of the Fry system. Barry Alvarez also coached under Fry.
“There are common threads,” Enos said. “It's discipline, toughness, effort and you see that in both teams. They don't want to beat themselves. There is a toughness and an edge to what they do and they avoid turnovers. I've heard Coach Bielema refer to Coach Fry, Coach Snyder and Coach Alvarez.”
All of those work hard to be physical with the running game. The Hogs revamped their passing game in the offseason under Enos, but got back to the run more and more as this season progressed. The players in the interview room Thursday all know that the key Saturday is the running game.
“That 150 number is important,” said Mitch Smothers, senior center. “That keeps defenses on their heels and if you do that, the passing game opens up.”
Tretola doesn't want to stop at 150.
“Like I said, Coach Enos is an old quarterback,” Tretola said. “I don't think 150 is where we want to be. We want to keep going and get to 300 or 400. As on O-line, we take pride in that run game total. Yes, 150 might get you going as far as helping the balance, but that's not where we want to stop.”
Quarterback Brandon Allen said it didn't take long after Enos arrived last January for the 150 number to come up in his overall philosophy.
“He wants that 150,” Allen said. “He's got the stats to back it up. He talks about it all the time, getting to a buck fifty. I'm pretty sure that gets you a winning record.”
Enos remembers those early days of his arrival at Arkansas. He said there's always a worry about whether players will buy in, especially the older players. That was not a problem.
“It's been awesome,” Enos said. “The moment I walked in last January as the new guy, there was never any resistance. There were no force fields from the guys. I changed a lot of the terminology, made drastic changes in the pass routes. And it all started with Brandon Allen and Sebastian Tretola, those senior leaders. They've been great leaders.
“It's been great to see the way the team has grown. To be honest, there were some sleepless nights when we lost Jonathan Williams and Keon Hatcher. Those were two of our best three skill players. But then we had the emergence of Drew Morgan and we have a lot of playmakers now. We feel confident in calling about anyone's name.”
Allen said there is little doubt that the way Dominique Reed developed at wide receiver was another big key. The junior college player was a touchdown maker in the last eight games.
“He got in the playbook and we got comfortable with each other,” Allen said. “I have to admit that there was a time early in the year when I wasn't comfortable looking his way. I wasn't sure where he was going to be. But he's really good now and that was the case for the last part of the season. His ability has really helped us as we have gotten into these last six games.”