Senior QBs Feasting On Hogs

FAYETTEVILLE -- Arkansas defensive coordinator Reggie Herring has a small request for Alabama senior quarterback Brodie Croyle on Saturday.

For the past two weeks, seniors Jay Cutler (Vanderbilt) and Matt Leinart (Southern California) have dissected Herring's defense. So his battered unit, which faces the 20th-ranked Crimson Tide in Tuscaloosa, Ala., could use a little help from Croyle.

"Can we get a bad ball every now and then?" Herring asked. "Every now and then will help. Just one bad ball."

There haven't been many to go around in the past two weeks, when Arkansas has failed to force veteran quarterbacks into costly mistakes. In fact, there haven't been too many bad balls to go around in the past two seasons.

One common theme in most of Arkansas' losses the past two seasons have been opponents led by senior quarterbacks. Cutler and Leinart are just two of the seven starters that guided teams to wins against the Hogs since 2004. Others include Auburn's Jason Campbell, Georgia's David Greene and LSU's Marcus Randall.

Arkansas is just 1-6 in those games, earning a 63-13 win against Buck Pierce and New Mexico State in the 2004 season opener. They're 5-2 in other games.

"It just seems like most of the teams that have those (senior) quarterbacks, they're really good," said defensive end Marcus Harrison. "When it's a senior on the field, it's like having another coach on the field. Their offense just executes better.

"We face good quarterbacks every week. But every week it seems like they get better and better."

Leinart, the 2004 Heisman Trophy winner, might've been at the top of the heap, leading the nation's top offense by throwing for 381 yards and 4 touchdowns in only three quarters of work. Cutler didn't have as easy a time, but the senior finished with 278 yards and threw two touchdown passes in the fourth quarter.

Herring said the Razorbacks understand that the difference between senior quarterbacks is "night and day. It's not even close."

"If we were in a fire zone and we were going to run a fire zone, (Leinart) was able to audible to a certain route that is beneficial versus that blitz," Herring said. "Whereas, a younger guy just runs the play dead into your fire zone.

"With a senior, it's experience on the field. It's the ability to get out of bad plays."

For instance, coach Houston Nutt said Leinart recognized Arkansas linebacker Clarke Moore matched up with all-purpose tailback Reggie Bush in one-on-one coverage last Saturday. Leinart immediately changed the play at the line of scrimmage, locked his eyes on Bush and tossed an easy 29-yard touchdown pass.

"(Seniors) beat you," Nutt said. "They know. Even in a blitz or something, they know how to pick it up and get the ball to the right person. There's not even a scary thought in their mind. They're wishing you would (blitz). It's a bad experience."

Croyle, who was off to a quick start in 2004 before tearing his anterior cruciate ligament in the third game, has the ability to do the same.

He threw for 285 yards and 2 touchdowns against the Hogs as a freshman in 2002, but battled injuries the past two years. So far this season, a healthy Croyle is 49 of 82 for 655 yards with 4 touchdowns and 2 interceptions.

"When you're facing a good quarterback like the last two we just faced, you kind of expect that they're not going to make too many bad decisions," said Arkansas linebacker Sam Olajubutu. "And you've got to be all the way on your guy covering him. Not a step or two behind him.

"If you're a step or two behind him, he's going to try to complete that pass."

It has shown in the seven games. The seven quarterbacks have averaged 247.6 passing yards against the Razorbacks, completed 69.1 percent of their passes and have accounted for 15 touchdowns and 2 interceptions.

But Herring said the damage isn't just through the air.

"It makes you have to prepare for balance," Herring said. "The ability to run and throw. And when they're not one-dimensional, it creates a guessing game.

"When we show two-deep and he recognizes two-deep. He knows, 'Hey, they're short a guy in the box. Let's run the ball.' That kind of thing. Just an older experienced guy with the ability to put them in a good play.

"He also handles the pressure, stands in the pocket and doesn't panic."

That's exactly what the Razorbacks saw in Cutler and Leinart in losing efforts the past two weeks. Cutler didn't flinch despite heavy pressure on nearly every single down in the fourth quarter. Leinart was rarely touched and had an easier time.

But Arkansas is hoping the losing trend against senior quarterbacks will end against the Crimson Tide even though Croyle has a talented running back (Kenneth Darby), several receivers and a young, but improving offensive line in front of him.

Despite his request, Herring knows that Alabama's senior quarterback isn't planning to give the Hogs any gifts on Saturday. So cornerback Michael Coe said the Arkansas defense must figure out a way to handle another test.

"This isn't his first rodeo at all," Coe said. "He's not going to force things. Brodie's been playing since his freshman year so I'm sure he's more than confident in his ability and the things he has accomplished. He's going to be ready, no doubt.

"But we have to be prepared, too."

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