Where Has The Creativity Gone?

FAYETTEVILLE — Where has the WildHog gone? And to a greater extent, what happened to the creativity in Arkansas' offense?

That seems to be the question fans and reporters have been asking as they've watched the Razorbacks settle into a rather predictable offense based on play-action passes and straight-ahead runs.

Arkansas coach Houston Nutt vowed earlier this week that the offense would get more creative, particularly in the passing game.

But over the first half of the season, the Razorbacks (3-3, 0-3 Southeastern Conference) have gotten away from some of the trickery that contributed to last season's 10-4 record.

Running back Darren McFadden hasn't been lining up at quarterback as much in the WildHog formation. And to the dismay of fans, the offense has taken a more conservative approach in David Lee's first year as offensive coordinator.

"You can't just come out and start shooting home runs," said Lee, who replaced former Springdale High coach Gus Malzahn as offensive coordinator. "You've got to try to establish something."

The absence of the WildHog formation has been one of the more noticeable differences between this year's offense and the one from a year ago.

The formation, which was known as the Wildcat last season, is still used sparingly. Arkansas ran four plays out of the WildHog formation in last Saturday's 9-7 loss to No. 18 Auburn.

But that's a far drop-off compared to the end of the 2006 regular season when the Razorbacks used it 14 times against Tennessee, 10 times against Mississippi State and a season-high 16 times against LSU.

"We just haven't put it in the game plan," McFadden said. "I can't say why we haven't run the thing. It's just something we haven't run that much this year."

A year ago, the formation caused a stir nationally and helped McFadden finish second in the Heisman Trophy race.

Fans and Heisman voters were excited by the idea of McFadden lining up at quarterback, taking the direct snap and having the option to either run the football, hand it off to fellow tailback Felix Jones or pass it.

Lee and Arkansas coach Houston Nutt said that opposing defenses have caught up to the Razorbacks, which is why the WildHog formation hasn't been used nearly as much this season.

"The element of surprise is so big in football, and that (formation) was the surprise thing last year. Nobody had any research on it. Nobody knew where it came from," Lee said. "Everybody researched it this past offseason, so it's not as effective as we'd like."

Arkansas' offense, however, has struggled over the past two weeks to gain yards and score points. And with defenses determined to contain McFadden and Jones, the popular assumption is that the Razorbacks would try to get more creative with their playcalling.

That hasn't necessarily been the case, though.

Nutt and Lee have relied heavily on draw plays, play-action passes and off-tackle runs.

"When you call a play, you don't expect the play to get one yard or minus-one yard," Nutt said. "You don't call a play to McFadden and think, ‘OK, this is going to go for just one (yard)."

The Razorbacks didn't need to use much trickery over the first month of the season. They averaged 44.7 points and 541.2 yards of total offense through the first four games.

But with Arkansas trailing 6-0 and needing to score a touchdown in the final minutes against Auburn, Lee turned to a pair of trick plays that had been mostly hidden in his playbook.

McFadden's pass to wide receiver London Crawford out of the WildHog formation drew a pass interference penalty. On the next play, quarterback Casey Dick tossed the football to wide receiver Robert Johnson, who lobbed it downfield to fullback Peyton Hillis for a 15-yard gain.

The Razorbacks scored their only touchdown of the night six plays later, though they ended up losing in the final seconds. Still, some of the creativity in the offense has been missing.

So has McFadden gone to Arkansas' coaches and asked for them to give him a chance to make a play out of the WildHog formation? No, that's not his style.

"I just try to go with the coaches' call because they've been doing this for a lot longer than me," McFadden said.

Less WildHog

Arkansas coach Houston Nutt has vowed that there will be more creativity in the offense when the Razorbacks face Ole Miss at 1 p.m. Saturday.

Coincidentally, Arkansas debuted the WildHog formation — in which running back Darren McFadden takes the direct snap at quarterback — in last year's 38-3 win over Ole Miss.

But the WildHog hasn't been used as much so far this season compared to the 2006 regular season:

2006 Regular Season

Opponent Plays Yards Touchdowns Yards Per Play

Ole Miss 5 29 1 5.8

ULM 3 23 2 7.6

South Carolina 4 66 0 16.5

Tennessee 14 121 3 8.6

Miss. State 10 77 1 7.7

LSU 16 136 1 8.5

Total 52 452 8 8.6

2007 Regular Season

Opponent Plays Yards Touchdowns Yards Per Play

Troy 5 48 1 9.6

Alabama 7 21 1 3.0

Kentucky 8 81 1 10.13

North Texas 1 12 12.0

Chattanooga 1 -15 yards -15.0 (fumble on snap)

Auburn 4 20 0 5.0

Total 26 167 3 6.4

Hawgs Daily Top Stories