Since we weren't able to do a Radio Hour(ish) this week, the boys over Arkansas Expats obliged us with an old fashioned Q&A exchange, just like Grandpa used to do it. My As to their Qs are here, and their As to my Qs are below.
Arkansas has put up a lot of points and yards so far, but the ground game is still struggling. To what do you attribute these struggles and do you see them improving anytime soon?
These are questions that many Hog fans have been asking. We wish we had a ready answer. Hopefully, Bobby Petrino and his staff - whom we're willing to admit might know slightly more about offense than we do - have one, or will have one soon.
The Razorbacks have taken a platoon approach thus far, but to our untrained eyes it might make sense to just commit to one guy for a half or a game and see if he can establish some kind of a rhythm. It doesn't seem far-fetched that the near-constant substitutions would hinder their performances.
For whatever it's worth, in this article, tight end D.J. Williams seems to spread responsibility for the problem, saying, "We need to do our job on the offensive line, including the tight ends to be able to open up holes and the backs need to hit the hole hard and that should take care of the problem." In that same piece, offensive tackle Ray Dominguez claims the Hogs have consistently been "one guy away" from peeling off big runs. Then again, we're not sure what else you would expect them to say.
One unappealing possibility is the current group of running backs simply isn't as good as the team needs them to be. We certainly hope that's not the case but over the past year and three games, no one has grabbed a feature role. And, possibly the best of the bunch, junior Dennis Johnson - who averaged 6 yards per carry last season and ran for 107 yards in the Hogs' near-upset of Florida - is out for the season with a gruesome-sounding bowel injury. This weekend would certainly be a nice time for one of his counterparts to step up.
We've criticized the Alabama pass defense (both coverage and pass rush) at RBR all season long, yet the team has still only given up one touchdown in three weeks and is leading the league in both total and scoring defense. How do you see Petrino attacking the secondary, and do you think Mallett and his receivers will have the same kind of results they've been getting thus far?
Pretty much by doing just what you said: attacking. Petrino has never been shy about admitting that his offensive philosophy is to be aggressive, and we'd expect him to stick with that approach this weekend. He, Mallett and the receivers will go after the secondary all game, both with long bombs and shorter slant routes that let players like Joe Adams - who excels in yards after the catch - get the ball and do their thing. If he has any trickiness in his playbook, we'd look for him to pull that out too.
As for the results, we'd be very surprised if Mallett didn't much bigger stats than the QBs you've faced thus far (and likely the rest of the year as well). Granted, Alabama's defense is extremely talented and well-coached, so every yard will be a battle, but the Hogs will have more success against the Tide in this area than most teams will.
The Hog defense has been...charitable over the last few seasons. Where has that unit improved this year, and what are still the biggest areas of concern against the Tide?
Well, if you look at the stats, both the rushing and passing defense have improved. Granted, it's only three games and two of those were of the patsy variety (but we should note that even the patsies accumulated some pretty gaudy offensive stats against the Hogs in 2009).
Last year, the Hogs yielded 251.8 passing yards a game (placing them dead last in the SEC in that category) and 150.1 rushing yards a game (good for ninth in the conference). So far in 2010, the Razorbacks have the third-stingiest passing defense, giving up 144.3 yards per game through the air, and they are yielding 111.3 yards per game on the ground, which ranks them fifth in the conference in that stat.
Experience, some personnel moves (like switching Anthony Leon from safety to linebacker and Rudell Crim from cornerback to safety) and perhaps a good old-fashioned chip on their shoulder have yielded some noticeable dividends for the Hogs' defense so far.
As far as concerns, the defense appeared to really wear down in the fourth quarter against Georgia, and Aaron Murray was able to complete a number of long bombs against the Hogs en route to rallying Georgia from a 14-point fourth-quarter deficit to a 24-24 tie. The sweltering and sticky weather in Athens may have played a role in that (to say nothing of the Hogs' offensive ineptitude throughout much of the second half keeping the defense on the field). But you have to worry about the defense's stamina against the number one team in the nation.
And of course, we're not completely sanguine about the Hogs' ability to keep y'all's all-universe running back combo in check, either.
Give us one player that has maybe flown under the radar some this year but that you expect to have a breakout game, if not this week then soon.
Tight end D.J. Williams is someone to keep an eye on. There was a fair amount of talk during the off-season about Mallett's need to make better use of Williams. After starring for the Hogs during the often-trying 2008 season, D.J. was a relatively invisible presence for Arkansas last year. His receptions tumbled to 32 from 61 the year before, and his total receiving yards dropped from 723 to 411.
However, Mallett is making better use of D.J. Already, Williams has caught 14 passes for 173 yards. That's 44 percent and 42 percent, respectively, of his 2009 totals. Furthermore, he's averaging 57.6 receiving yards per game, up from 31.6 per game in 2009. His average yards per catch is roughly the same - 12.4 this year, 12.8 in 2009.
And, despite the ground game's struggles so far, sophomore running back Ronnie Wingo, Jr is someone to keep an eye on. He has peeled off a few long runs in his short Razorback career, and he has displayed some nice versatility, hauling in a 35-yard touchdown pass against Louisiana-Monroe and a 22-yard touchdown pass against Georgia.
If Alabama and Arkansas played in Fayetteville ten times under the current conditions, what would the Tide's record be? Since they're only playing one time, what's your prediction for this Saturday?
We're Hog fans but we'd like to think that we're at least somewhat grounded in reality. Because of that, we'll say Alabama would win 7 of 10. But we also think we're grounded in reality when we say the Hogs will win a wild, heart-attack-inducing, finger-nail-shredding victory on Saturday. A final score of 28 to 24 sounds about right to us.