State of the Hogs: Zac Tubbs

ORLANDO, Fla. - At a risk of over simplification, Arkansas won this season thanks to the return to form by offensive right tackle Zac Tubbs. Don't take my word, listen to offensive line coach Mike Markuson.

"We didn't have Zac for most of the last two seasons and we had losing seasons," Markuson said. "This year, we've got him back and we won."

Of course, there are many other variables as to why Arkansas is 10-3 ahead of Monday's bowl game versus Wisconsin and not sitting at home ineligible for a bowl like the last two seasons. Improved defense, more efficient passing, more experience and three new coaches all are factors in the Hogs' solid 2006 campaign.

"All of that is correct, but what I've said if you look close, when Zac has played on this team, we've won games," Markuson said. "He started the Independence Bowl against Missouri when we lost Shawn Andrews and we had a great offensive night. He played awesome that night.

"There was another game his freshman year that Shawn couldn't play. It was against South Carolina and Zac stepped in and played great. Like I said, when he plays, we do well."

Indeed, Tubbs was the right tackle as the Hogs hammered Missouri with 300 yards on the ground in a 27-14 victory in the 2003 Independence Bowl. Tubbs smiled at all of that, but didn't offer any thoughts. A fifth-year senior, he's learned to step clear of controversy and to say the right thing -- like when he was asked about the Wisconsin O-line and Outland Trophy winner Joe Thomas.

"I like those guys," Tubbs said. "I've been around them a little bit this week and they are all nice guys. Offensive linemen tend to be guys that are all about the same, good guys and easy to be around. That's the way it is with them and us, too."

Tubbs was too busy thinking about the Badgers to think back about what he'd gone through during injury plagued seasons in 2004 and 2005. He spent most of those two years in the training room with Dean Weber or working in the weight room with Don Decker doing rehab -- unless he was in the hospital.

"That's what I remember from those seasons about Zac," said senior guard Stephen Parker. "I remember going to the hospital to see him when he had to have his leg put back together and when he was back in there with blood clots.

"I'll tell you this about Zac Tubbs; he's one tough man. That's what I know about him and the way he's come back. Rehab sucks. It's tough work and he had two years of that. Anyone who comes back after two years of rehab is special in my book."

Markuson said the same thing.

"Hey, there's not a better story than Zac suffering through two years of injuries and rehab and coming back to play like he has this year," Markuson said. "To come back and play the way he has is just amazing. He's shown me alot. He's resillient and he's got a big heart. It's a great story and I will never forget what he went through.

"If you go back and look at how he was playing in the spring, you'd have to say he struggled. He had to overcome a lot. He had to relearn how to bend and get in the position to do the things an offensive linemen does to play well. I'm proud of him for the effort he gave in the spring, the summer and in August to get back to playing this way."

Tubbs arrived five years ago at around 350 and actually played at close to 370 during part of his UA career. But he lost weight after his rehab from the ankle surgery.

"We'd been telling him to lose and I think trying to come back with those screws in his ankle convinced him that he couldn't put all of that weight on the ankle," Markuson said. "I think that injury convinced him that he had to be lighter and he's been 30 to 40 pounds lighter ever since. I know he learned that taking care of his weight issue alleviated the pressure on his ankle.

"I hate to say it, but maybe that injury helped him. I'll say this; he's been quicker and faster since he's come back this season."

Markuson would not minimize the impact Tubbs has had on the offense this season. First, his return allowed Robert Felton to return to right guard, his natural position. Felton had to play right tackle while Tubbs was out last season.

"What you get with Zac at right tackle is just a big, big body," Markuson said of the 6-6, 330-pounder. "He's just hard to get around because he's that big. Having an anchor at right tackle is real important. It's important when you need to run those powers and counters and it's important in pass protection. He's got long arms and has just the kind of body you like. I'm telling you, it's hard to get around that sucker. I wish we had him back for another season."

Markuson could say that about two other fifth-year seniors on his line. Tony Ugoh and Stephen Parker will also be playing their final game for the Hogs on Monday.

"I've been telling those three guys that they are going to miss it and they are going to find out how much they love being a Razorback in a few days," Markuson said. "I tell them that they don't know how important it was being a Hog until they can't play anymore. That Hog gets huge in your heart real fast when you are done and it keeps getting bigger. But with these three, I think it's already pretty big.

"These guys have battled against good players for a number of years. They've seen great talent in our conference, some real athletes. They've competed and gotten better and learned."

Tubbs knows that all too well.

"What you realize in the offensive line is that you are going to take your beatings at time, but you just have to learn and get better," Tubbs said. "We see good players in the SEC. And, you learn that you have to stay together as an O-line unit. You are only as good as the guy next to you and it's definitely a group effort up front. You have to play together to have an effective offensive line."

Tubbs always has a smile on his face and appears to be a big, easy-going country boy at heart. Looks can deceive.

"He's got a nasty streak like all of these guys," Markuson said. "He does like to mash on you and he really likes to run the ball. And, I know he really loves to run the ball. I'd hate to see a lineman who doesn't want to run the ball. I probably wouldn't want to coach him if he did." Tubbs wants to help the Hogs run the ball on the Badgers, but he knows it is going to be a difficult challenge.

"No one has run it on them this year," he said. "I know it's going to be a hard-nosed game. They want to run it and we want to run the ball, too. They are like us in they want to pound the ball. It will come down to who makes the fewest mistakes and who can run the ball.

"I'm just grateful to be playing in this game. I want to finish this season with a victory. We want this one real badly."

The Hogs are grateful to have Zac Tubbs. They remember what it was like without him the last two seasons.

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