Arkansas offensive line may be finding its groove

DeMarcus Love still remembers his first reaction to Arkansas

coach Bobby Petrino’s playbook.

Love, then wrapping up his redshirt freshman season for the

Razorbacks, was accustomed to running only a handful of different

plays on the offensive line under previous coach Houston Nutt.

Within those plays, linemen were responsible for knowing only six

or seven different blocking schemes.

When Love walked into a spring playbook meeting in 2008, he got

his first glimpse at the different line calls under the newly hired

Petrino.

In addition to the sheer volume of man- and zone-blocking calls,

there were different formations, techniques and assignments to

learn.

”Is this guy serious?” Love thought.

When No. 17 Arkansas opens its season against Tennessee Tech on

Saturday night, it will do so with an offense that led the

Southeastern Conference in scoring last season. It’s an offense led

by a line much more confident in its ability and knowledge of the

Razorbacks’ offense than it was two years ago in Petrino’s first

year.

”It’s a lot more comfortable now because a lot of us have three

years under our belt,” senior offensive tackle Ray Dominguez said.

”We were bombarded at first, but once we stopped and studied,

everything was a lot smoother. It’s a real prostyle offense.”

In 2007, Nutt’s final year as coach, Arkansas was second in the

SEC in total offense (450 yards per game), and led the conference

in rushing (286.5) and was next-to-last in passing (163.5). The

Razorbacks also were third in points per game (37.3) that

season.

Arkansas finished fourth in the SEC in total offense in 2008,

Petrino’s first year, but the offense’s struggles were evident as

it averaged just 21.9 points, seventh in the conference. The

Razorbacks were second in passing offense (259.6), but the rushing

yardage – with a struggling offensive line and minus former

standout running backs Darren McFadden, Felix Jones and Peyton

Hillis – bottomed out at 113.5 yards, 10th in the SEC.

”(The offensive line was) all over the field, missing blitzes

and stuff like that,” Arkansas senior tight end D.J. Williams

said. ”It was all new to them.”

In addition to the change in offensive philosophy, Arkansas

dealt with information overload that season, particularly on the

offensive line. There were missed calls and missed blocks as the

Razorbacks struggled at times to grasp the enormity of the new

system.

”That season, we were still learning the ropes,” said Love,

now a senior. ”There were a lot of things that went wrong that

season because guys didn’t know the plays and weren’t all the way

ready and mentally focused.”

The offense showed improvement last season as Arkansas finished

8-5, leading the SEC in average points (36) and finishing third in

total offense. Offensive coordinator Garrick McGee credited some of

the improvement to the ”natural progression” of the veteran

Razorbacks, noting that Arkansas played 16 freshmen two years

ago.

”We were confident going into Week 1 two years ago,” McGee

said. ”We’ve got the same confidence now, but we understand more

about the game of football than we did then.”

Despite the improvement last season, the Razorbacks still

finished 10th in the SEC in rushing (131.8) and struggled with

consistency in conference losses to Alabama and Mississippi –

averaging just 54 yards rushing in the two losses. Those are

numbers the confident offensive line plans to improve this

season.

”Last season was a good season, but that’s not where we want to

be,” said Love, who was recently joined the Lombardi Award’s watch

list. ”Our goal is to go a little higher. We want to go all the

way.”