Arkansas coach Mike Anderson recaps the Razorbacks' ...
Arkansas vs. Rutgers Preview
Arkansas quarterback Brandon Allen hands the ball off to running back Alex Collins in the first quarter of the game in Razorback Stadium in Fayetteville on Saturday, Sept. 14, 2013.
FAYETTEVILLE Rutgers’ offense is similar to Alabama’s from a formation standpoint. The Knights use a lot of “12 personnel” (one back, two tight ends) and some “21 personnel” (two backs, one tight end). The 12 personnel is their base, and it includes a couple of tall wide receivers arranged in a handful of formations.
The Knights struggled in 2012, finishing 107th in the NCAA in total offense. They weren’t particularly good at anything, and rode a soft schedule and good defense to nine wins. Ron Prince, who coached Kansas State form 2006-2008, makes his return to college football as the Knights’ new offensive coordinator in 2013. While the formations haven’t changed much, the playcalling has. Lacking depth at the running back position, Rutgers has turned QB Gary Nova loose to throw on early downs to keep the backs fresh. This Rutgers team is probably more balanced than the Hogs.
Rutgers running game
Rutgers is not a smashmouth like Arkansas. Regardless of how the game unfolds, Rutgers does not have the manpower to march the ball down the field on the ground and churn the clock. The main reason for this is depth in the backfield. A true clock-churning, smashmouth offense requires at least two running backs that can be rotated during a drive, hence Williams and Collins at Arkansas. Other tandems include Yeldon/Drake of Alabama, Gurley/Marshall of Georgia, and Hill/Magee of LSU.
Completion Percentage: Gary Nova 63.64%; Brandon Allen 59.09%
TD vs. INT: Nova 6 to 2; Allen 5 to 1
Yards per attempt: Nova 8.2; Allen 8.8
QB efficiency: Nova 156.6; Allen 166.1
QBR: Nova 58.3; Allen 81.0
Rutgers’ leading rusher is Paul James, who leads the NCAA in rushing and is second in yards per game. He has rushed 61 times for 493 yards (164.3 yards per game), for a dangerous 8.1 yards per carry average. Regardless of competition, that’s impressive. He hasn’t carried the ball more than 22 times in a game, however. It’s hard to see him getting more than 25 touches on Saturday, especially against an Arkansas defense that hits a lot harder than any team Rutgers has faced thus far.
The good news for Rutgers ends there, because in order to a truly effective rushing attack, a team needs a second back, and there is a significant drop off from James to Savon Huggins. For the year, Huggins has 31 carries for 117 yards, an average of 3.8 yards per carry and 39 yards per game. Even that is misleading, since Huggins had 21 carries for 96 yards in a 38-0 win over FCS weakling Norfolk State. In two games against Fresno State and Eastern Michigan, neither of whom should be confused for great run defenses, Huggins has rushed 10 times for 21 yards.
Because of this, Rutgers’ rushing attack is a one-man show. If James gets worn out or injured, Rutgers’ ability to pound the football is diminished greatly. In order to supplement their running game, Rutgers mixes in quite a few passes.
Rutgers passing game
It is safe to assume that quarterback Gary Nova will be playing on Saturday, as all evidence is indicating. Lacking an ability to ‘spell’ his star running back, Coach Prince has demonstrated a willingness—even a preference—to throw on first down. Rutgers likes to go play-action on first down and give Nova a deep option, a medium option, and a short option or two. Nova often takes the short option for a safe gain, and then the Knights come back with a handoff to James on second down, and make a decision on third down based on down and distance. Throwing on early downs keeps James fresh.
For the year, Nova has been solid but not dominant. He’s completed a higher percentage of his passes than Allen, but has a slightly worse TD:Int ratio, lower yards per attempt, and lower efficiency and QBR scores. Rutgers has attempted 76 passes (25.3 per game) compared to 51 for Arkansas (17 per game). Based on its passing attempts and lack of a proven second running back, Rutgers may actually need Gary Nova more than Arkansas needs Brandon Allen on Saturday.
Total Offense: Arkansas 58th; Rutgers 65th
Rushing Offense: Arkansas 11th; Rutgers 40th
Passing Offense: Arkansas 112th; Rutgers 88th
Total Defense: Arkansas 6th; Rutgers 47th
Rushing Defense: Arkansas 20th; Rutgers 5th
Passing Defense: Arkansas 12th; Rutgers 107th
Turnover Margin: Arkansas +1; Rutgers +3
Penalty Yards: Arkansas 55th; Rutgers 115th
If Nova cannot go, Rutgers will be left with Chas Dodd, who does have some experience. Dodd quarterbacked Rutgers as its starter for the majority of 2010 and 2011. Rutgers went 4-8 under Dodd in 2010, and Gary Nova started 2011 as the starter. Nova was replaced by Dodd midway through the season, as Rutgers finished 9-4. Nova won the job again over Dodd in 2012, and he has been the starter ever since. Nova’s 2012 season was better than any of Dodd’s seasons. One of the main things Rutgers loses if Nova doesn’t go is his mobility. Dodd attempted just nine passes against Eastern Michigan, but was sacked three times. Nova can scramble, but even if he does play he will likely be told to avoid scrambling due his concussion last week.
Rutgers’ defense in 2012 was truly fantastic, finishing 6th in run defense and 39th in pass defense in the nation. Much of the defense has been gutted by graduation and NFL departures, but the Knights will be by far the stiffest challenge the Hogs have faced this year.
Rutgers enters the game 5th in the NCAA in rushing defense, and they have not surrendered 100 yards in a game this year. That statistic, although impressive, is somewhat misleading as the Knights have played three pass-heavy opponents. Noting that Rutgers held Fresno State to 81 rushing yards and claiming that as proof of a great defense requires ignoring that the Knights surrendered 456 passing yards on 73 attempts, giving up a total of 52 points (45 in regulation). Eastern Michigan QB Tyler Benz threw for 335 yards against the Knights, but in his other two games against Howard and Penn State, he’s combined for just 325. Rutgers is 107th in the nation in pass defense and 47th in total defense.
Up front, Rutgers stops the run and pressures the QB well. The Knights have 10 sacks thus far (3.3 per game). Whoever is playing QB for the Hogs needs to get rid of the ball on time. If Derby does play, his 6’5, 240-pound mobile frame may help him escape pressure. The Hogs will also need to establish the run to allow Derby to throw out of play action rather than drop back as a sitting duck. Only one linebacker, Jamal Merrell, returns, but due to an injury sustained a week ago, Merrell will not play on Saturday, a major blow to the Knights’ run defense.
Rutgers lost its starting free safety and top cover-corner from a year ago, and has not found suitable replacements yet. Both Arkansas and Rutgers have picked off three passes, and Rutgers has forced three fumbles as well.
We’ll start with what Arkansas needs to do to help AJ Derby settle in.
This is a curl-flat concept. This play is inspired by the smash concept off play-action power that Chaney called for Derby in the third quarter. The play was diagrammed in the Southern Miss Review as an excellent example of Chaney’s passing philosophy (smash concept) and Bielema’s rushing philosophy (off-tackle power) combined.
This diagram shows the attack against a Cover 3, which Rutgers will probably use extensively in order to get the strong safety ($) into the box to help against the run. Derby fakes the power and rolls to his right. He’s watching the flat defender. The second tight end (Hunter Henry) is going to the flat, while the X (Javontee Herndon) runs a curl. The deep third defender must deal with the first tight end (Mitchell Loewen) who is running a decoy route (called an “advantage” route in more complex terminology). Therefore, the flat defender is stretched between the curl and the flat route. As Derby rolls to his right, his mobility threat creates another lane the defense has to stop.
Here’s an updated look at the defense if the strong-side linebacker (S) tries to help against the pass concept. A pocket quarterback might have to throw it away, but Derby can scramble through the vacated hook zone.
Here’s the play against a Cover 2. The tight end on the corner route is going to want to “flatten” his route, so he has to recognize the coverage on the fly. He’s less about running the perfect route and more about running away from the deep half safety. The tight end going to the flat is the decoy (advantage) here, and he only draws the cornerback down to him. Because the Sam linebacker probably isn’t going to make it all the way over to the curl, the strong safety is who is being read. If he comes down on the curl, Derby throws the corner. If he stays back with the corner, Derby throws the curl.
The counter trey has been covered before, but here it is again. The Hogs have used little if any misdirection through their first three games, but Rutgers provides some more challenges up front. Being able to effectively fake a power play and run the opposite direction is a great way to keep Rutgers from over-committing to the power running game. The counter trey is the perfect complement to the off-tackle power.
There’s not much reason to expect Arkansas to use any kind of option, but if they are not confident in Derby’s passing abilities, then finding ways to use his athleticism may be in the gameplan. This is a “load option.” Arkansas didn’t actually run the load option on this play, but this is the ideal formation. It’s an option because Derby and the back run to the right, and Derby makes a pitch-or-keep decision based on the choice of the first unblocked defender in the area. It’s called a load option because of the “load block” made by Kiero Small. A load block is a block made by a fullback or H-back on the EMLOS (end man on the line of scrimmage), usually the 7-tech (or 9-tech if there’s a tight end). A load block is made on the EMLOS’s outside shoulder and designed to “turn” him back inside. The block seals him off and gives Derby the vision to look for the unblocked read defender at the second level.
Let’s take a quick look at what Derby will be observing. Arkansas likes to get a look at the defense before snapping the ball, so often the Hogs will leave the huddle and race to the line, acting like they are about to snap it. This forces the defense to show what they are running and how they are aligned. Derby then has a number of reads, and Coach Chaney up the booth is making the same looks and calling a play based on them.
- Number of high safeties. A “high safety” is a safety that appears to be in the deep coverage; that is, he’s not blitzing and is too far from the line of scrimmage to affect the play at the LOS. A Cover 2 defense like what the Hogs have run almost exclusively to this point is two-high. Other defenses, such as a Cover 3 diagrammed here, usually have only one high safety.
A two-high safety look may be better for combatting short passes, but it means that four defenders can’t help immediately against the run (2 cornerbacks, 2 safeties). A one-high safety look can move that extra safety closer to the line of scrimmage to help against the run. Both Arkansas and Rutgers should use this. It puts Alan Turner or Rohan Gaines in better position to stop the run, but it leaves Eric Bennett with the deep middle of the field. If Derby sees Rutgers in a one-high safety look instead of two-high, then he needs to understand how to throw passes like the curl-flat diagrammed above.
Identifying potential blitzers before the snap is important for an inexperienced quarterback so he doesn’t get sacked immediately. Arkansas’ line should be good enough to protect Derby, but if the Knights get the sense that Derby is unaware of blitzers, then they will start sending more men than the line can block. Look at the diagram and see if you can decide whether or not there may be blitzer if the alignment is such.
Is someone blitzing in the diagram? The answer is probably yes. There is one-high safety (suggesting Cover 3), but the front is aligned in a Cover 2 look. Also, the cornerbacks are in press coverage and standing outside of the receivers. One of the Cover 2’s biggest coaching points is for the cornerbacks to force an “inside release” which drives all receivers inside. There are a couple of options on who is blitzing. It could be the strong safety who doesn’t appear to have any gap responsibility for the run. It could also be one of the two linebackers aligned next to each other (M and S). Either way, it looks like a blitz from the right. If a run to the right is called, Derby needs to audible to a different play. If a pass is called, Derby needs to understand what his “hot” for a right blitz is. Let’s say this route is called against the right blitz.
This play has two concepts, one on each side. On the left we have a curl-flat being run by the X and the fullback. On the right we have a “levels” concept, used by Petrino and most famously by Peyton Manning. Due to the need for a quick throw, the concept may not be able to develop in time. The dashed lines are the potential hots. First is the Z receiver cutting his route into a short slant. If it’s Man coverage or Cover 3 where the blitzing safety is vacating his zone, Derby may fire quickly to the Z. If it’s Cover 2, however, he must watch out for the Sam linebacker who could be hustling to that area and pick off the pass if it’s late.
Another possible hot is the tight end. Against Cover 2, he could extend his route deep, and combined with the post by the Z, there would be two deep targets and only one deep safety. Against Man, the tight end (hopefully Henry) would have to beat the linebacker in coverage to draw the safety over to him, and then the Z (Horton or Hatcher) would have to beat the corner on the post, which shouldn’t be too difficult given his outside alignment.
KEYS TO THE GAME
ARKANSAS MUST avoid third-and-long. This encompasses two different goals: avoiding offensive penalties and running the football well. Running the football, regardless of who is at QB, is a given, and avoiding penalties in a road environment is also critical. If Rutgers can force third-and-long, its quality pass-rush can cause some problems and force Derby to do what he’s not as good at: throwing deeper passes.
RUTGERS MUST stop the run, plain and simple. If Arkansas can run the ball, they’ll be able to churn the clock, take momentum away from the home team, and make life easier for the quarterback. Rutgers cannot have that.
ARKANSAS MUST win first down, both offensively and defensively. Rutgers will mix up the playcalling on first down regardless of the quarterback. If the Hogs fail to stop the first-down pass, then talented running back Paul James will be fresh throughout the game for second and third down carries, making Rutgers’ offense that much more deadly. When the Hogs are on offense, picking up at least four yards on first down opens up the play-action pass on second down, and helps the offense avoid third-and-long.
RUTGERS MUST threaten with the deep ball. Arkansas may use some one-high safety looks in order to stop the run, but if Rutgers can hit some medium and long routes, Arkansas will have pull that extra defender out of the box.
MATCHUP OF THE GAME is Rutgers wide receivers Brandon Coleman and Leonte Carroo vs. Arkansas’ pass defense. Coleman is 6’6, and Carroo is 6’2. Both are extremely athletic and dangerous. Coleman had six catches for 89 yards and two touchdowns against Arkansas last year. Tevin Mitchel, Will Hines, and Carroll Washington passed Southern Miss’s test, but Coleman and Carroo are former four-star recruits who provide a whole new challenge.
Prediction: Arkansas 20, Rutgers 17
I almost didn’t pick this game at all. There is so much uncertainty. AJ Derby has to make enough throws to keep Rutgers’ defense stretched out. Those types of throws are something he has never mastered, but it’s hard not to buy into the hype of Jim Chaney confidently saying that Derby’s throwing mechanics have improved tremendously since the spring.
This is not the kind of game Arkansas normally wins. But with a new staff, a new attitude, and a ton of confidence, how can you pick against the Hogs until they give good reason to?