State of the Hogs: Cutting Back

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Technique, technique, technique. Fundamentals, fundamentals, fundamentals.

That's what Arkansas football coach Bobby Petrino preaches. It's what he demands of his coaches. That will not change.

Every step of the way is coached. It's all checked on video for the proper steps, every step.

That doesn't mean the Hogs are doing it right. It doesn't mean they will do it right against Florida. It does mean Petrino will hold them accountable when they don't.

If you watch Petrino build this program, he's doing it the right way, from the ground up. He's doing it in his system and with the players who give him the best chance to win. And, he's not only coaching technique and fundamentals, he's coaching a system that requires complex decisions after the snap as much as ahead of the snap.

In some ways, that reminds of the way Nolan Richardson did it when he took over for Eddie Sutton. Yes, Richardson needed to get players suited for his style and better overall talent before he could be successful. But that's not at the root of what he needed. He needed players who could make decisions at a higher speed, perhaps the same thing Petrino needs now.

That sometimes equates to just faster players. It could also mean faster thinkers AND faster players.

I asked Petrino about that after Thursday's practice. He has a wry smile that pops up now and then when you hit on a key point. He had a big one before he answered.

"It's decisions, but it's more technique," he explained about his coaching style. "What happens sometimes when you get overpowered by speed in a game, players stop using their technique because they just can't handle it. That's happening some right now.

"It's not like that in all areas. In some spots, our technique has held. It's just not showing up on the scoreboard."

No doubt, speed is the number one asset anywhere you look in athletics. That was the problem for the Arkansas offense against Texas. It caused sacks. It caused the pocket to break down. It caused the quarterback to leave the pocket, perhaps in the wrong direction. It was also the problem for the Arkansas defense. Colt McCoy made fast decisions, then made them winners with the speed of his feet.

I've got bad news. Florida might be faster than Texas. UF coach Urban Meyer likes to brag about the speed of the Gators. McCoy is fast, but Tim Tebow might be faster. At 6-3, 240, he's bigger.

So what do you do? Petrino gave us a clue Thursday when he said the Hogs had cut their offensive playbook and their defensive calls. It's what coaches do when their team is young, outgunned and over matched.

It's no secret. Petrino's father is here this week, the first visit since the season opener from his mentor. There was no magical advice, just support. Believe in yourself, stick with what you know.

For now, Petrino knows cutting back is better than giving his players anything new. There are no magic plays or calls right now.

I saw Nolan do it more than once. When his players could not execute his complex, helter skelter, trapping defense, he'd go back to the nutshell, as he called it. It was a simple halfcourt system he learned from Don Haskins, as taught him by Henry Iba. He wanted to give up jump shots and not layups.

Mostly, Nolan did that when things were going badly. Rarely did I see him do that when he thought he had the better talent. One of the few times I remember that happening was against Cincinnati in a Hawaii tournament. It was the soundest, best halfcourt defense — with superb fundamental rebounding position — I'd ever seen from an Arkansas team.

It wasn't fancy and it wasn't vintage Nolan Richardson basketball, or the kind he liked best. But it was in the middle of that holiday tournament schedule when no one had any rest and games are back-to-back. Nolan did what it took to win.

That's what Bobby Petrino is trying to do now. He'll get to his system in due time. He'll turn them loose with the entire package soon enough, perhaps when he has a little more speed.

Right now, he's doing what good coaches do. He's cutting back, making it simpler and trying to get to a point where his players rely on their technique. He has to get to a point where they can play without thinking, so they can use all of their true speed.

It might not be enough to beat Florida. Afterall, speed kills.

Right now, these Razorbacks are slowing down so they can speed up.



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