Rolling Razorbacks

Like the Tennessee Vols, the Arkansas Razorbacks had to assimilate a new offensive system in 2008. Whereas the Razorbacks adjusted by midseason, the Vols never did.

That's why Arkansas was the SEC's most improved team last November and why Tennessee was saying goodbye to its coaching staff last November.

Five games into the '08 season the Razorbacks appeared to be one of the four or five worst teams in major college football. After nipping Western Illinois of the Football Championship Subdivision 28-24 and perennial pushover Louisiana-Monroe 28-27 in Games 1 and 2, the Hogs were hammered by Alabama (49-14 at home), Texas (52-10 at Austin) and Florida (38-7 at home).

Like Tennessee's players, Arkansas's players were befuddled by their new offensive scheme.

Speaking at SEC Media Days in Hoover, Ala., Razorback tight end D.J. Williams put it this way: "Last year, if you were to ask me about what we were doing, I would've said it almost looks like Chinese to me."

That was understandable. After being a smash-mouth running team under Houston Nutt, the Razorbacks were becoming a wide-open passing team under first-year head man Bobby Petrino. Gradually, though, the 2008 Hogs started getting comfortable with the new scheme and started turning around their season.

The rally began with a 25-22 upset at No. 20 Auburn in Game 6. After gut-wrenching losses at Kentucky (21-20) and vs. Ole Miss (23-21), Arkansas stunned No. 19 Tulsa (30-23). Following road losses at South Carolina (34-21) and Mississippi State (31-28), Petrino's Porkers closed with a shocking 31-30 defeat of LSU.

Although Arkansas went just 3-4 over its last seven games, the Hogs were a mere 10 points from being 6-1 during that stretch. And the key to their late-season rally was pretty simple, really.

"Just being more familiar with the offense," Williams said. "The chemistry was better. We had a faster tempo. We were reacting and not thinking as much. That's been improving ever since last year, and it's going to help us go further with some W's this year."

Petrino says he never got discouraged in 2008, even when his team suffered the back-to-back beat-downs at the hands of Alabama, Texas and Florida.

"You could see us growing as a football team," he said. "When you're not doing very well, you try to find little things that show success, little things you can celebrate to get you better and get more confidence. That's really what we did in those games. We kind of broke 'em down and showed the parts where we played well....

"I think that's what allowed us to get better as the year went on, get better in practice. I never felt at one time last season that we lost the team because they came to practice with a good attitude. We were playing so many young guys that they knew they had to come to practice and work to get better. We improved, I thought, every week last season."


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