Petrino Brings Explosive, Balanced Offense

FAYETTEVILLE — Dozens of Arkansas fans crowded into a large ballroom last Tuesday to catch their first glimpse of Bobby Petrino and hear what the new football coach had to say.

The fans cheered when Petrino introduced his family. He drew laughter with a few one-liners. But one of the night's biggest responses came when Petrino mentioned his offensive philosophy.

"First of all, offensively, I want to be very aggressive," Petrino said, pausing for the loud round of applause that followed to die down.

After 10 seasons with Houston Nutt at the helm, it appeared that the fans who attended Petrino's introductory news conference were ready for a change. Not just in coaches, but in offenses.

So what can Arkansas fans expect to see from a Bobby Petrino offense?

"You'll see everything and it will all be executed well," said Bill Curry, the former Alabama coach who has covered several of Petrino's games as an ESPN college football analyst.

Petrino earned the distinction during his time as Louisville's coach from 2003-06 for being one of college football's top offensive minds.

His offenses are known for being explosive, balanced and run by quarterbacks who have developed into efficient passers. But his offenses are also very deceptive.

"He will formation defenses to death. (It) really knocks them off-balance," college football writer Pat Forde told The Morning News. "... (He) reminds me a lot of (Denver Broncos coach) Mike Shanahan in his ability to be really aggressive and keep defenses off-balance without being real gimmicky."

Forde, who covered Petrino at Louisville, was highly critical of the coach after he left the Atlanta Falcons last week and agreed to replace Nutt at Arkansas.

But while Forde has questioned Petrino's loyalty and ethics, he had only praise for the coach when it came to drawing up plays and running an offense that's fast-paced and hard to defend.

"Petrino is a brilliant strategist, a great playcaller," Forde said.

Curry said a Petrino offense looks traditional in that it has a formation that includes two wide receivers, two running backs, one tight end and a quarterback. But things quickly change, forcing defenses to cover the entire field.

"He has the all the tools in the tool kit that Spread offenses have, the things that look like they're spread all over the field all the time," Curry said.

"... The effect is that what looks normal in formations becomes quickly different than anything that the defense can anticipate."

As a result, Petrino's offenses tend to score often.

Louisville averaged 41.4 points per game in Petrino's four seasons as coach, and the Cardinals averaged an eye-popping 49.8 ppg. in 2004.

In 2006, Louisville ranked second in the nation in total offense (465.3 yards per game) and third in scoring (37.8 points per game).

And it doesn't appear that Petrino has any plans of changing his offensive philosophy at Arkansas, evident by his decision to hire his brother, Paul Petrino, to be his offensive coordinator.

Paul Petrino was Louisville's offensive coordinator during his brother's time as the school's coach.

"I do believe in a balanced attack. I do believe you have to be able to run the football when you want to, run the football when you have to," Bobby Petrino said during last Tuesday's news conference. "I believe you have to be able to throw the football when you want to-"

Petrino was forced to stop mid-sentence by the loud cheers from fans. Apparently, they were excited by the idea of a balanced offense.

Nutt was known during his time with the Razorbacks for having a run-first offense, though it was particularly effective over the past two seasons with Heisman Trophy runner-up Darren McFadden.

Petrino, meanwhile, tries to confuse defenses by making it hard to tell when he'll call a pass play or go with the run. His offense typically can do both.

"When people talk about balance, they have different definitions. It's not just 50-50 run-pass," Curry said. "To me, the best definition of balance — and this is what I saw from Petrino — is that you never knew if they were going to run or pass no matter whether it was (on) their one-yard line or your one-yard line."

Arkansas quarterback Casey Dick admits he hasn't had the time lately to study Petrino's offense. The two met for around 10 minutes late last week, but Dick said he's looking forward to see the change in schemes.

"(His offense) is a little different, but ... I don't really know what his playbook is," Dick said. "But it'll be fun. It'll be interesting for us."

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