Tom Murphy is a reporter for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. A graduate of Louisiana Tech University, he is a member of the Football Writers Association of America, and voter for the Heisman Trophy and AP Top 25 football poll. Murphy was the 2017 Arkansas Sportswriter of the Year.
Evolution part of the Enos experience
Maryland football offensive coordinator Dan Enos looks over an NCAA college football practice, Friday, Aug. 6, 2021 in College Park, Md.(AP Photo/Gail Burton)
FAYETTEVILLE — KJ Jefferson’s three-year bond with offensive coordinator Kendal Briles was the longest for a quarterback who would become the University of Arkansas starter since Austin Allen backed up his brother Brandon in 2015 then took the reins the next two seasons.
The coordinator and quarterbacks coach through those three seasons, Dan Enos, is back on campus to handle what is likely Jefferson’s final season as a collegian.
Jefferson is within reach of several Arkansas career records, including passing yards, touchdowns and completions, total yardage, completion percentage and touchdown responsibility.
A year of guidance from Enos could help Jefferson attain some of those records and possibly challenge Feleipe Franks’ single-season record of 68.5% completions in 2020, which Jefferson has challenged each of the past two seasons, with 67.3% in 2021 and 68% in 2022.
While Enos was implementing Coach Bret Bielema’s preferred Pro-style attack with the Razorbacks from 2015-17, he has since picked up and installed plenty of the Run-Pass Option and Spread concepts that have fueled high-production offenses for dual-threat college quarterbacks in recent years.
“The great thing about this game is it’s constantly evolving, and you can either adapt and evolve with it or you’ll find yourself on the outside looking in at times,” Enos said in his re-introductory news conference Wednesday. “So through my career I’ve always tried to at least stay on the cutting edge of what people are doing and learning new things.”
Enos worked with and for Mike Locksley at Alabama in 2018 and at Maryland in 2021-22 and kept adding elements.
“The RPO world has kind of brought on a whole new realm of the game that we didn’t do a lot of,” Enos said in reference to his three-year stint at Arkansas. “And then, obviously … I think you’re always going to try to do things that your personnel can do.”
Arkansas Coach Sam Pittman has noted Enos’ offensive adaptations in recent years.
“I really like that since Dan left Arkansas, he’s been in multiple formations, multiple sets, multiple offensive philosophies that I think he can adjust, and will, around any of the personnel that we have,” Pittman said.
The Crimson Tide in 2018, with Locksley as offensive coordinator and Enos as quarterbacks coach, led the nation in passing efficiency, was sixth in the FBS in total offense (522.0 yards per game) and passing (323.6 ypg), third in scoring (45.6 points per game) and 42nd in rushing (198.4 ypg). Locksley won the Broyles Award that year, given to the most outstanding assistant coach in college football.
Alabama quarterback Tua Tagovailoa set the all-time record for single-season passing efficiency in 2018 at 199.44 while completing 69% of his passes and throwing for 3,966 yards and 43 touchdowns.
Running a largely RPO attack at Maryland, Taulia Tagovailoa passed for 3,860 yards with 26 touchdowns, 11 interceptions and 69.2% completions in 2021. Last season, Tagovailoa passed for 3,008 yards with 18 touchdowns, 8 interceptions and 67% completions.
The Tagovailoa brothers didn’t run the ball nearly as much as Jefferson has.
“When you have a quarterback that can run, you’re going to maybe do more things where he’s able to use his feet,” Enos said. “If you have a quarterback that can’t run, and he’s a pure drop-back passer, you’re going to streamline things to help him and use his abilities.
“But the big thing is that we’re going to evolve, and we’re going to use the talent that we have, try to get them the ball and try to find creative ways to be efficient on offense. … When I left here and was working with Mike Locksley, Coach was a Spread guy really, an RPO guy.
“I was kind of the Pro-style guy in the room. It was just so neat the conversations that we had about football when we were kind of installing that system and doing what we were going to do that year. I learned a ton, and hopefully I was able to reciprocate that to some of the guys in the room. But we just did what we did and we just continued to evolve.”
Pittman, the fourth-year Arkansas coach, talked Wednesday about the offensive roster Enos will inherit and what he’s seen of his style over the years.
“Dan obviously knew coming here what we have at quarterback, and we’re going to use KJ’s abilities to the fullest along with Rocket [running back Raheim Sanders] and all the other guys,” Pittman said.
“I’m an offensive line coach for a reason. I like to run the ball and Dan fit in with that philosophy as well. The bottom line is we’ve just got to score more points than they do.”
Enos said comparisons between Jefferson and the right-handed Taulia Tagovaila are apt.
“There actually is,” he said. “KJ kind of reminds me of Jalen Hurts a little bit, too. I’m trying to like find comparisons, if you will.
“I’ve coached a lot of quarterbacks over the years. This’ll be my 32nd season coming up as a collegiate coach. They’re all different. There’s not two the same. And I tell this to the guys all the time: The great ones I’ve coached and I’ve been around, there’s a lot of similar characteristics if you will, things they have in common.
“KJ’s a guy, like Taulia and like Jalen, who is a very good passer and is very athletic. It’s actually kind of exactly what you’re looking for if you really, really want to put defenses in a bind is having a guy that can beat you with his arm and his brain but can also beat you with his legs.”
Enos has already taken in plenty of video of Jefferson.
“I’ve been very, very impressed watching the film of KJ,” he said. “I’ve obviously watched Arkansas on TV and things like that, just obviously being a fan of Coach Pittman and rooting for him the last few years when we’re able to watch. I got a chance to see him, but then now studying the tape and everything, it’s been very impressive to look at his skill set.”
Enos said returning to Fayetteville to work for Pittman was an easy decision.
“It’s been great to be back,” he said. “I have a lot of respect for Coach Pittman. … He’s just been one of those guys that you work with and you’re just on the same page right from the get-go.”
Pittman said he was talking to his wife Jamie on Tuesday about reuniting with Enos after a seven-year hiatus.
“It’s just different,” he said. “When I was here the first time, he was my boss and now I’m working with him in a different role. I think you hire good people that are confident in themselves, but yet confident in guys they’re working with, too.
“I was very comfortable working with him, and I hope he feels the same about me. Offensively … Dan has always — whether it was here or Alabama or Maryland — they’ve always run on offense around their personnel and their talents, and all that starts, in my opinion, at the quarterback position.”
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