State of the Hogs: Offense

What will the Hogs look like on offense this week? HI.com publisher Clay Henry thinks nasty blocking will be the goal. Here are his thoughts about what's going on at quarterback and other offensive issues.

I've heard all of the rumors for the last 72 hours on how Mitch Mustain came to be the starting quarterback at Arkansas.

It could be that Frank Broyles mandated the move. It could be that Jim Lindsey suggested it. Perhaps Butch Davis made a phone call. Maybe it was one of Houston Nutt's daughters who thought it was time for Mitch to start.

But, maybe, just maybe, the Arkansas head coach made this decision.

Just like it was Nutt who decided it was time to get back to running the ball and reclaiming the team's identity as a physical, tough-nosed ball club (without taking away Gus Malzahn's position as the offensive playcaller).

That's what I believe. I've heard all of the consipiracy theories about Broyles calling a meeting Sunday morning to lay out the plans for the rest of the season. Never mind that Broyles was first in church and later at a visitation for a fallen friend.

No, this was Nutt's decision, plain and simple. He figured it was time to play a difference maker at quarterback, perhaps the first difference maker he's had in the passing game since his first two years at Arkansas with Clint Stoerner.

Funny, but that seemed to be what everyone has wanted since Robert Johnson was named starter for the opener. Most seemed angry with Johnson and many booed the decision to play him against USC. Now that Johnson is on the bench, he's now the one some ache to see under center again. I don't get it.

(As for the boos, the players don't buy the theory that fans are just booing the coaching decisions. If you are booing the deciscion to play Johnson, you are telling him that you think he shouldn't play. That's booing the player in their eyes.)

Or, maybe I do get it. It's our nature to hurt for those that fail and have a good reputation. Johnson didn't really fail, but he didn't actually prosper, either.

I think it's absolutely the right time to make the change. Nothing against Johnson, but he was probably going to do just fine against Utah State. And, then he'd be the starter for another week against Vanderbilt. He might even beat Vanderbilt, something he couldn't do last year.

But that might be the point where a change becomes necessary. So would you like to have Mustain make his first start against Alabama, or have it be his third start? That's why you make a change now.

Back to the offensive strategy and what the Hogs plan to do the rest of the year. Is it going to be Malzahn calling the plays, or will Nutt and line coach Mike Markuson be making the calls and favoring the run? I don't have any doubts that Malzahn will be the trigger man and I also believe that the pass figures heavily in the future of this team.

Interestingly, I'm going to suggest that the man who insisted that Nutt hire Malzahn as offensive coordinator might actually like more of last year's offense than what he saw Saturday night from Arkansas.

I'm going to guess that Frank Broyles actually liked Southern Cal's I-formation plays better than what he saw from the guys wearing red. I don't know that for sure, but I know history.

Traditionally, when Broyles was head coach, he brought in the nation's hottest offensive gurus every winter -- or sent his coaches to find out about the latest trends -- then installed it in the spring.

The Hogs would run new stuff all spring, throughout fall camp and for one game. When it didn't look like a million dollars in the opener, much of it was scrapped and the Hogs would go back to just a few plays from the previous year's offense. That's probably over stating it just a bit, but not far from the truth.

They'd run those few plays over and over until they were good at it. That's what USC did to the Hogs on Saturday, simple stuff with great results. They were physical and nasty up front and that let their backs and wideouts shine in a simple, conservative plan. It looked remarkably like what Nutt has used the last few years, much to the disdain of fans and media.

So those that think Broyles mandated a move to Mustain might be surprised if the athletic director also prefers more smasthmouth and a simpler offensive approach. Again, I'm only guessing.

I don't think that's where the Hogs are headed altogether, but I do think you'll see things simplified this week for Utah State. But I think they will be more effective passing with Mustain in the game.

Surprisingly, they may be more effective running with Mustain in the game. Springdale was effective in the running game with Mustain at quarterback and I suspect the Hogs will be for some of the same reasons.

Balance is what the Hogs need, but they also need an offense that can make more than 62 yards rushing in 20 runs over the first three quarters, the stats from Saturday's game against USC. They weren't physical at the point of attack.

That's not a matter of running more times in a game. It's a matter of becoming more physical in practice and bringing that mentality to the game.

In the personal view, what the Hogs have in Mustain is a difference maker. Nothing against Johnson, but that's never what he was going to be in any offense, much less one predicated on more passing, not less.

I've never thought the Hogs needed more passing plays, just better execution. That comes from better players. They've got that now with Mustain. I do want better and more passing, but if the Hogs can't run it with authority, they are going to see teams playing eight defensive backs and sitting deep.

What we want is a balanced offense and that starts with an effective running game.

He's not quite ready to win the SEC West, but Mustain is ready to be the Hogs' quarterback.

I get tickled when I read about the division among the quarterbacks with Johnson and Casey Dick not really liking Mustain. I laughed about concerns that Johnson and Dick did not run to Mustain with high fives after his touchdown drive against Southern Cal.

Heck, I probably wouldn't feel too hot if I'd just seen someone take my job. That's what Mustain did with that drive and they knew it. Robert Johnson told me after practice Tuesday he knew the Hogs were about to make a change as he watched that drive and had a bad feeling in his stomach. I didn't ask Dick, but I bet he saw the same thing.

If the other men battling Mustain at quarterback saw it, why should it surprise that the head coach saw it, too?

You can have your conspiracy theories. I'm going to stick with mine. Houston Nutt did the obvious. For once, can't we just leave it at that?

Good for you Houston Nutt.

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