State of the Hogs: Confidence

Arkansas did it by land and air against North Texas behind quarterback Casey Dick. The Hogs rolled to a 66-7 victory and had some big plays in the passing game.

Some 30 minutes before kickoff, I passed Keith Jackson in the doorway of the Arkansas radio booth. Jackson proceded to show why he is the radio color analyst and I'm just a two-minute buffer between the pre-game and the actual game call, something called Reporter's Roundtable.

"Tell them Arkansas is going to pass for 250 yards, maybe in the first half," Jackson urged. "You'll be a prophet."

The next time I saw Jackson, it was halftime. The Hogs had completed 10 of 17 passes for 191 yards. They would eventually get to 267, much like Jackson, the Hall of Famer, called it.

"Man, I tried to set you up," he said. "You had it right there and didn't do it. You had -- real prophet stuff."

I'm sorry Keith. I'm just not a believer in this passing game. I've seen it for the last few years and didn't know they had it in them.

I didn't have the guts to believe what was scripted to be a big day in the passing game for the Hogs. Yes, I believed Arkansas might beat up on a weak North Texas defense to the tune of 66-7 in nonconference football.

It's just been too painful of late. I'm like everyone else. I've seen it. In previous games when quarterback Casey Dick has been on target, passes were dropped. And, there have been other times when Dick was high, late or behind with his deliveries.

It was a week to wonder about the forward pass after two straight losses, pinned to almost zero passing game. Offensive coordinator David Lee, the quarterback coach, didn't try to sugar coat it when he met with the media after practice Tuesday.

"Hey, let's talk about this wonderful passing game," Lee said Tuesday with sarcasm and self blame dripping off of every word in his sentence.

After the game, Lee said, "This was a hard week. It wasn't fun to live in Arkansas. I appreciate these players and all of these offensive coaches for sticking with me, every one of them."

I'm not sure what I saw against North Texas gave me confidence to predict another passing outburst next week against Chattanooga. That doesn't matter. And, it doesn't matter if the Arkansas fans down on the run-happy Hogs believe it or not, either.

What does matter is if these Razorbacks gained in confidence in their passing game. Do the players believe? That may be more important than Lee just dialing up more passes in the press box.

That's what appeared to be missing as much as anything, confidence within the heart of this offense. Yes, there were still drops against North Texas, including one that could have been a touchdown pass.

There was at least one communication snafu when the quarterback thought his wideout was going deep and the route was halted short. Another pass or two was high, off the mark.

"Confidence, that's the most important intangible in sports," Lee said. "If you ‘ve got it, you've got everything. You have to somehow get confidence. If you've got it, then you've got it." Do the Hogs have it now?

"I think we do," said Robert Johnson, the senior wideout who caught a team-best four passes for 71 yards against North Texas.

"Coach Lee challenged us very hard on Tuesday in a meeting before practice," Johnson said. "I told him to have faith in us. Throw it and we'll catch it. He did. I'm glad he believed in us."

Lee said he was "extremely" hard on the offense in that meeting.

"I got after them and they responded," Lee said. "Robert told me they would on Tuesday. He did what he said he would do."

Johnson said it started with Dick's work in practice.

"If the quarterback practices well, everyone feeds off of that," he said. "If you throw it well in practice, the coaches are more ready to call passes in games. We had to make plays and he had to throw it well to us all week and he did."

Lee said, "I gave him some basic fundamentals that I told him I was going to watch him on and he was really good with those tonight. If he'll keep doing those few things, we'll be fine."

And, there were some scheme changes, too. "We moved Felix out in the slot and checked to plays when they played some basic coverages," he said. "We saw that they were going to stay in their press man with Darren McFadden in the backfield and had Felix out there one-on-one.

"We were going to do some similar things with Darren, but when we put him wide, about four or five guys went with him so we just checked to a run. It worked pretty good. We wanted Casey to have shorter, easier throws and to build confidence with that. It worked."

Can it work against SEC foes?

"We have another week and another game, Chattanooga, to keep getting better," he said. "Then we get to see if we can carry that into the Auburn game. The goal is to be balanced and be able to run or throw against Auburn. If we can, then it makes a big difference."

Perhaps then, when Keith Jackson urges me to make a prediction, I'll have the confidence to follow through.

Jerell Norton is congratualted by his teammates after his school-record 100-yard interception return.

Nathan Emert goes airborne to try and score, but the play results in a fumble despite his valient effort.

Arkansas sophomore cornerback Ramon Broadway makes a tackle on tackle on North Texas' Micah Mosley.

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