HOOVER, Ala. – Installing a new offensive system is always a challenge especially when your philosophy is a 180-degree turn from the previous administration.
His pass-oriented offense is one of the things that made Bobby Petrino an attractive hire at Arkansas, but teaching an all-out air attack to the Razorbacks wasn’t easy, he said.
When former coach Houston Nutt left for Ole Miss he left behind a roster of players who had finished at or near the top of the SEC rushing statistics all of their careers.
“It took us a while to understand the techniques of the offense more in the passing game than in the running game,” Petrino said. “They did a nice job of run blocking. It was something they’d done a lot of.”
Running the football wasn’t something Petrino would a lot of last year. Though the Razorbacks had the SEC’s second-leading rusher in Michael Smith, they were 10th in the league and 97th in the country in rushing offense, while ranking second in the conference and 23rd in the country in passing offense.
This year Petrino believes he has the personnel that better fits his offense – starting at quarterback.
Six-foot-seven Michigan transfer Ryan Mallett will start, and the offense will be built around him. Redshirt freshman Tyler Wilson will also get some snaps. Both are Arkansas natives.
Mallett played in 11 games and passed for 892 yards and seven touchdowns as a true freshman at Michigan in 2007. But Mallett’s first season was the last for former coach Lloyd Carr, and Mallett’s big frame made him an uncomfortable fit for the offense installed by new coach Rich Rodriguez.
“When he decided to transfer from Michigan the first phone call he made was to us,” Petrino said.
Mallett practiced with the scout team while he sat out his transfer season in Fayetteville last year. He’s improved his mobility by shedding 25 pounds.
“In this league, with the speed and athleticism of defensive fronts, it’s important to change the launch points and set your quarterback at different spots,” Petrino said.
Mallett isn’t likely to take the ball around the end like former Arkansas quarterback Matt Jones, but he’s gained some quickness that should further his game.
Still, mobility isn’t his calling card.
“He’s got the strongest arm in college football,” junior tight end D.J. Williams said.
Sometimes strength on the deep balls and velocity on the mid-range routes are different, but Williams learned quickly in the spring that Mallett’s passes arrived with authority.
“I caught some balls where I had to take my gloves off, because he ripped all the sticky off them,” Williams said. “He was bringing it.”
Mallett grew up in Texarkana, Ark., but attended Texas High School in Texarkana, Texas where his father was an assistant coach.
A Parade All-American, he passed for 8,331 yards and 76 touchdowns in high school was rated the No. 1 player in Texas by Rivals.com as a senior.
“The first thing we did was try to get him to lose weight,” Petrino said. “We got him at 265, and now he’s just below 240. One thing Ryan can do is throw the deep ball. If we can run the ball a little more consistently it should really open up our passing game.”
Parrish Alford/NEMS Daily Journal