State of the Hogs: Hoops and Football

There's a little basketball and some football in this edition of State of the Hogs.

South Carolina coach Darrin Horn contradicted himself after his team lost a 92-79 decision at Arkansas on Wednesday. He was answering a question about the matchup problems the Hogs present.

"They've got some pieces," he said. He meant the Hogs have pieces to the overall puzzle to becoming a complete team. They have a little bit of this, a little bit of that. He mentioned Courtney Fortson, Marshawn Powell, Rotnei Clarke and Michael Washington. All present problems at times.

More importantly, the Hogs "have got some wins on the road." Then, he dropped the clincher. Horn said, "The key to this league is you have to win your home games."

It's nothing new. The formula for contending for a league title -- or even the SEC West -- has been explained by all the top coaches. Nolan Richardson always said, "Win your home games, then steal a couple on the road. You'll be right there."

The Hogs have stolen a couple on the road already. They've won at Ole Miss and Georgia in back-to-back games. Their only home stumble came against Florida. So while they are three games over .500 at 7-4, they are really only plus one in the grand scheme. There are just two home games left among the UA's final five and both are tough tests, Vanderbilt and Ole Miss.

That's what makes their next two games, on the road at Auburn and LSU, setup as critical. To do something special, the Hogs might need both of them. Obviously, LSU is the easier of the two.

So, if they can get a road victory at Auburn on Saturday, things might turn out better than anyone believed in preseason and for sure at Christmas.

There is a temptation to say that Washington is the key. He was the last man mentioned by Horn when he talked about "the pieces" on the Arkansas roster. He's been up and down all year. He's not having nearly the senior season that most predicted. Foul trouble is the theme.

UA coach John Pelphrey tried to praise him after the USC victory, noting his love for the school and state. But it's not coming easy for "Big Mike," as his teammates call him.

It appears he is trying hard. In fact, Washington often appears to be trying too hard. Many of his fouls are the result of his desire to take a charge in the lane. He took one -- and it could have been a huge play -- in the closing minutes at Alabama despite carrying four fouls. He gets fouls on the offensive end going hard after offensive rebounds.

Perhaps the UA center just needs to realize his team does not need so much out of him anymore. Yes, he is not playing like a preseason All-SEC selection. In reality, all he needs to be is just what the South Carolina coach referenced, one of the pieces. Yes, they need him, but they need him to let the game come to him.

Washington went over the 1,000-point mark in career scoring. He's also got a pile of rebounds and blocks in his five years in the Ozarks. But if he can keep from piling up so many fouls over the next few games, this might be a fun finish.

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It's easy to spin the time Ryan Mallett will miss after breaking a bone in his foot on Wednesday during offseason conditioning drills. He had surgery to place a pin and could miss three to four months.

Spin it? Well, there can't be anything good for Mallett sitting out spring football. Your No. 1 quarterback should be on the field. He's the dynamic leader of the team and he'll be missed, plain and simple.

The spin is that others will get valuable work. Tyler Wilson will get to see if he can be the leader and grow in the offense. It can be of great benefit.

So will Brandon Mitchell, the redshirt freshman with amazing run-pass talents. Mitchell improved during bowl practices when he got some time with the first and second team. His ability to move fascinates coaches. He's a big, fast quarterback.

And there's also Jacoby Walker to get some repetitions in practice. Walker is a true freshman and also possesses talent to run and throw. He enrolled at midterm after picking the Hogs in a tug-of-war recruiting battle with Utah and Kansas.

What all three will get is some new variations of The Pistol offense as brought to the staff by new offensive line coach Kris Klenakis. The Pistol puts the QB about four yards behind the center, with the tailback positioned another three or four yards behind the QB.

The Hogs ran The Pistol some last year with Mallett, but primarily as a passing formation. Klenakis used The Pistol as more of a running formation as implemented at Nevada. Klenakis and Nevada head coach Chris Ault were highly successful with that formation.

Mallett can do some things out of The Pistol with the running game, but probably handing off to the tailback more often than not. Wilson isn't a big running threat, either, but he seems to do better out of the shotgun than under center. So that formation might be a good one for Wilson.

The fascination with The Pistol and some variations of it might be more suited for Mitchell and Walker. They are true runners. Both have superb speed and can really put pressure on a defensive coordinator by adding one more threat.

This spring -- with Mallett out -- might give head coach Bobby Petrino more time to toy with some of these variations. So it's not all bad for Mallett to be sitting out.

In the end, maybe it will force the heads of defensive coordinators in the SEC to spin a little. That's the best kind of spin.

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