Hogs to throw more?

Every year at SEC Media Days Houston Nutt promises that the Arkansas Razorbacks will throw the football more often and more effectively. And every year the assembled reporters roll their eyes.

Sure enough, Nutt made his annual vow last week in Hoover, Ala., and the press made its annual wisecracks.

Arkansas ranked 108th among 119 NCAA Div. 1-A schools in passing offense (149.5 yards per game) last fall but still won the SEC West title and finished 10-4. That's because the Razorbacks ranked No. 4 nationally in rushing offense (228.5).

Since Arkansas enjoyed a great season in 2006 without much of a passing game, you'd figure Nutt would adopt the old "If it ain't broke, don't fix it" philosophy. Instead, he says he wants very badly to upgrade the Hogs' air attack.

"I'm a former quarterback that loves to throw," he said, sheepishly acknowledging that "The stats don't show it."

The stats won't show it this year, either. Arkansas features the SEC's top two running backs – Heisman favorite Darren McFadden and world-class backup Felix Jones. McFadden, who wears No. 5, led the SEC last fall with 1,647 rushing yards. Jones, who wears No. 25, finished second with 1,168 and actually posted a better yards-per-carry average (7.6 to 5.8) than his more heralded teammate.

"If you came to practice you'd say, 'Hmmm, you'd better give No. 5 the ball,'" Nutt said. "You'd say, 'You better give No. 25 the ball' and 'You'd better give (fullback) Peyton Hillis the ball.'"

Certainly, that's what Nutt says when he watches practice.

"You do what gives your players the best chance to win," the coach said, subsequently adding that the Hogs' paltry passing average "doesn't bother me that much when we're winning 10."

Like most 2006 Arkansas opponents, Tennessee crowded the line of scrimmage in hopes of slowing down the Razorback ground game. The strategy failed miserably. Marcus Monk, a 6-6 receiver, caught eight passes for 137 yards and two touchdowns. That opened things up for McFadden, who rushed for 181 yards and two more touchdowns in a 31-14 Razorback romp.

Nutt calls Monk "the best cover catcher I've ever seen," adding: "When I say that I mean when he's covered, at 6-6, he's not covered. He can go up (over the defender) and still get it."

Tennessee wasn't the only opponent Monk burned last fall. He finished with 50 catches for 962 yards (19.2 per catch) and 11 touchdowns. Even with him primed for a big senior season, however, opposing defenses will continue crowding the line in an effort to neutralize McFadden.

"I know they're going to overpopulate the line of scrimmage," Nutt said. "I know every time we walk into a stadium they'll say, 'There's No. 5. Put a bulls-eye on his chest.'"

Bulls-eye or no bulls-eye, opponents couldn't stop McFadden last fall. Perhaps they'll have more success this season, since Arkansas has three holes in its offensive line that need to be filled. The Hogs must replace All-America tackle Tony Ugoh and two other starters from their 2006 blocking front.

If the offensive line doesn't block as well as it did in 2006, Arkansas won't be able to run as effectively as it did in 2006. And that just might force the head man to honor his annual promise to throw more passes.

"I do know we've got to improve that," Nutt said of the air attack. "I do know we've got to be better. And I think we will be better."


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