State of the Hogs: Juice

Bobby Petrino should have the Hogs ready for Troy. Fresh legs at cornerback might be a big key.

When the Henry family met on my grandfather's farm in Saline County for Thanksgiving or Christmas, there was always a huge throng.

My father was one of eight children. Most of them had big families, too. There could be 30 or 40 piled into that place for special events.

Man was that fun. Grandmother would fix one big bird for sure, sometimes two. Early on, it was clear that I wanted those big turkey legs. My grandmother called it when I was about five. Clay's a leg man.

There are several directions that can go, but what I'll stick with is how it goes with football. I want to know which team has fresh legs, which one is worn out.

I see an Arkansas team that's gotten its legs back for the stretch run. I worried about that after the Ole Miss game. Arkansas was definitely not the team with juice, or legs that day.

Conversely, I thought Arkansas was the team with fresh legs the last two weeks. It may have been the difference in the second half against South Carolina.

It was like two teams sailing in different directions, passing on a beautiful November afternoon. I've seen it before late in the season.

There probably isn't a lot of difference between talent. South Carolina has as many players as Arkansas. I'd argue that Ryan Mallett is lots better than Stephen Garcia. He was last weekend.

But more than that, South Carolina looked depleted from playing seven straight weekends against SEC teams. It's the reason I've never thought Boise State could be successful in the SEC. It's a league that just beats you to a pulp. We can gripe about this Arkansas schedule, but Carolina's is worse.

Fresh legs is something Bobby Petrino worries about more than me. He charts his players every Thursday for vertical jump. If the jump isn't getting higher each week, then he wants to change practice to freshen their legs.

Coaches have been paranoid since the beginning of time, but Petrino may have taken it to a new level this week when he mentioned that he feared practicing on the old outdoor practice fields because they were slanted. He said half the team would be running uphill at any given time and he didn't want to practice there anymore.

In fact, the Hogs haven't been on that field for a practice much this season, moving inside the stadium or to Walker Pavilion. It's helped, the coach said. The vertical jumps have been increasing this season. They haven't been practicing uphill, he reasons.

So who will have the fresh legs this week when Troy comes to the Ozarks? I suspect the visitors will be fresh and hungry. The thought of harvesting an SEC scalp will drive them to a level that the Hogs didn't see against the Gamecocks.

But the good news is that the Hogs have utilized lots of legs over the past two months. They've rotated their linemen on defense. They've played a lot of safeties and cornerbacks. And, they have one of their top talents finally reaching his potential.

Jerell Norton made two big plays last week, one an interception that halted the most serious drive the Gamecocks put together in the second half. He also set up a UA scoring march with a 38-yard punt return.

No one in the Arkansas secondary has legs as fresh as Norton. He sat out the previous week against Eastern Michigan for "an in house deal," according to Bobby Petrino and Willy Robinson, his coaches.

With Ramon Broadway injured and Andru Stewart still working his way out of an academic doghouse, Norton moved from safety to cornerback. Norton stepped in at half-time when David Gordon suffered a thigh bruise.

Broadway, Stewart and Gordon all should be available this week.

So where will Gordon play? It's my guess he'll be a safety, but Norton said he could be at both depending on the packages called. I'm sure the Hogs will play plenty of defensive backs against Troy's spread offense which relies on four wideouts almost every down.

The trick is for the Hogs to have their legs for four quarters in the secondary. I think they have just the right number of fresh legs for this November drive, even against a hungry team. It'll be like fixing an extra turkey in the old days on the Saline County farm.

Hawgs Daily Top Stories