When Bret Bielema hired former offensive coordinator Jim Chaney, I had the feeling the melding of offensive minds would be something like attempting to stuff a Corvette engine into a rugged beat up Jeep 4X4. (As with everything these days, someone has done it and put it on YouTube already).
Unfortunately the Arkansas offense never quite ran the way it was designed and sputtered at times. There was an obvious disconnect between what Bielema wanted in a gameplan and what Chaney was comfortable with calling. It looked good at times, and the idea of it sounded even better: mix the former Wisconsin head coach's power running game with some Chaney's West Coast spread hybrid that he evolved over the years. There were times when it ran like it was designed to, but there were always underlying mechanical contradictions. They just could not seem to fit the two together. No system or machine can work with such a drastic pull in opposite directions.
So on we go to new offensive coordinator Dan Enos, former Central Michigan head coach. What he brings to the Arkansas scheme will be more like adding some new headers, opening up the exhaust and upgrading the old Jeep with a few modern parts while maintaining the overall identity. It will be even easier to implement his style with a physical rushing attack in place and experienced players at the quarterback, tight end and wide receiver spots. To get a better idea of what Enos will do with the 2015 Razorbacks here is a look at what his most common formations on the field at Central Michigan were by down and distance.
Takeaways from film study:
+Problems in the passing game could continue under Enos. The struggle to get to that 200-yard passing mark against SEC opponents could remain. Having a 5th-year senior quarterback will help, along with more talented guys at the wide receiver position, but he will not be a magic cure. Enos has not called plays at this level, but does have some solid concepts that fit into what the Razorbacks want to do offensively.
+The rushing attack will look the same, with very little changes. In 2014 Arkansas averaged 153 yards per game against SEC opponents. Finding a way to get to 180 yards in SEC play would give them a much better chance in several games. There is not really much that needs to be revamped. A steady dose of Alex Collins and Jonathan Williams in power sets with a few surprises will be just as tough for opponents to stop. Enos is probably more comfortable using a fullback out of an I or offset, and the player out of 3 or so guys on the roster that fills that role could be a big part of the success.
+Enos is very adept at being unpredictable in play calling. At times last year Arkansas did not care if the other team knew what was coming. Enos likes to use tendency breakers early in games. Whether that is play action or something unexpected like a 5-wide empty set on first down. This could be the biggest improvement for the Arkansas offense. Being less predictable can lead to a much more dynamic offense.
Dan Enos playcalling tendencies
Long, methodical drives are what his CMU teams were known for and an obvious reason why Bielema brought him to Arkansas. The way he accomplished that was with a mixture of inside zone, power and iso plays in the run game, adding in play action on first down with screens to slow the run blitz and to keep the safeties honest.
He is a gambler and was known for going for it on 4th down situations and short yardage goal line scenarios. This two-point conversion attempt is a good example. After putting together a 35-point rally and hail mary hook and lateral TD, his team was down by 1 with no time remaining. What is his play call in this situation? A fade to the back corner of the end zone, something that Arkansas attempted in critical goal line situations last season.
How much of that translates to the play calling in 2015 at Arkansas? Of course, we'll have to wait and see. Does Bielema give him the green light to go play action on 4th and 2 at the 40-yard line against an SEC opponent?
It's hard to tell if Enos is that much better at making in-game adjustments to what the opposing defense is giving them than what we have had in the past two seasons. In several games Arkansas came out rolling on the first 10 plays and stumbled the rest of the way as the opponent adjusted to the wham play, took away the quick toss, or adjusted to the unbalanced formations.
Some of Enos' best adjustments were to teams that were playing soft in the secondary and throwing a quick out, or slant vs. man, which he did multiple times last season. He used some packaged plays with a run tagged to a screen when the pass rush or blitz was being over aggressive. It may not be until that first drive against Texas A&M and John Chavis that we truly see whether Enos can make those same adjustments in the higher-level chess match.
Enos does not have the same complexity to his system as a whole that the previous OC implemented. I'm sure there are a multitude of checks and adjustments, but the overall scheme has fewer layers, which I think will help this offense in 2015.
Coaching Search.com put together this chart of playcalling during his tenure at Central Michigan.
Play action on first down
Enos is all about using play action on first down. If it's successful his teams are able to get ahead in down and distance, giving a variety of options on 2nd and short or 3rd and short. There were some improvements in this area for the 2014 Arkansas offense, but against several top-level SEC opponents the pattern re-emerged. In almost every game Enos put the defense on its toes by calling a deep-shot play action pass on first down on his first drive of the game.
In the bowl game against Western Kentucky, Enos called this opener on the first play pulling the guard to look like a run.
It also helps to have a WR like Titus Davis who can break tackles, but the main points are that his QB can step in to the deep comeback to the outside.This was only a two-man route with the FB floating late in to the flat. Not only does it put pressure on the linebackers to recognize run or pass, but the secondary is now slower to react in run support. Brandon Allen will have a lot of success with this concept, as he actually throws better on the move.
Another way Enos likes to use early play action is off the 5-step drop with a token fake draw/delay to the back. Allen has not shown he was comfortable in these straight dropbacks in the past.
More of the same on the ground?
There just really is not much different that can be found from the film while Enos was at Central Michigan. Not a lot of misdirection or anything other than some use of zone blocking, with big-on-big in most situations. He will use his pulling lineman to trap and counter off of the normal power plays and lead iso that we have been seeing. Enos does like to use shifts and motions to confuse the picture in the box moving the strength from the field to the boundary or vice versa. Fits perfectly with what Bielema has developed.
One major difference is the use of deep handoffs on plays like the lead draw before. Looks just like the play action series with the tackles drop stepping and the FB leading. Makes it very difficult for a DE or LB to maintain gap integrity and contain when their keys are pulling them upfield. The only drawback is that the offensive line must hold blocks a little longer.
Alex Collins is the perfect back for this play. His vision and shake in the hole and ability to make that second and third move will be a valuable tool in the playbook. It can be used on standard run downs or in passing situations.
Screen, screen, screen! Enos loves the RB screen and throwing to backs out of the backfield.
Enos is a gambler. Will Bielema let him roll the dice or always play it safe?
In his history at CMU Enos has used the running back screen as a base play in their offense. For the guard on this play, he just pulls to the strongside like the normal power, taking the linebacker with him reading flow. The fullback also goes to the playside, simulating lead, which gives the LBs and defensive line further clues they should fill run to the top of the screen.
The center and the tackle lead in space with a lot of open field for the back. Nothing mind blowing but something we were told the Arkansas offensive line was not capable of doing, so I'm interested to see if this makes into the playbook come spring practice. Having Williams, Collins or possibly Juan Day out in the open field is something absolutely beautiful.
Some of his other variations use a TE or FB to lead on the screen along with a guard. From what I see he will be able to do this with Sebastian Tretola, Frank Ragnow or some of the other athletic interior lineman that are on the roster.
He has a few different ways to do this and the one below uses a one back set with the center and guard leading outside on the corner. The blocks do not necessarily need to be anything highlight worthy, just the presence of a lineman out in space on a DB or safety opens up room for the back.
Here is another.
Quick game, slants, using multiple tight ends
As shown in the clipboard pick of his most-used formations, Enos also relies on the bunch formation. His version utilizes the same concepts: put your physical TE at the line to block or on a smaller corner who can not jam him, and give your wide receivers space off the line to get into their routes. It also creates the ability to throw a quick toss and get outside with capable blockers setting the edge.
One trademark of the CMU offense in previous seasons was its use of one-receiver routes, with a single read then an outlet. Some of the routes would be considered choice or option routes with a one-on-one matchup against man or a pattern zone. Cody Hollister and Hunter Henry are the obvious targets that could be used in these situations, but a guy like Kendrick Edwards could also benefit from this concept.
Enos used some roll out but it was not known to move pocket much consistently. He likes for his QB to be comfortable stepping up with extra protection. He will line up and throw bubble screens and quick outs if given by the defense.
Biggest questions going into spring and fall
Enos is a former quarterback, who has experience developing them and being a QB coach in this kind of system. The biggest improvements in my opinion will come in the decision-making and poise of the quarterback. I think there will be a noticeable and measurable rise in the quality of decision making when plays break down and in critical situations. Not taking sacks and completing throws against tight coverage will be something on which Enos will have an immediate effect. The play caller and QB coach can only do so much and a large part will be left up to Allen.
How much 2-back I? At the fullback position Kody Walker is an experienced senior who has filled that role in spots. Tyler Colquitt will likely be asked to fill that role at times next season.
Enos showed some pistol formations and "30" personnel using a little zone read. This could be something used exclusively in red zone situations.
Will the short yardage run game be better? Probably not, but Enos will be more creative and was more of a gambler as a HC and play caller, which might lead to a better red zone scoring percentage. Arkansas only converted 78% of their red zone attempts in 2014, which was 93rd in the FBS. A marginal improvement in this area will gain a lot of ground.
On the road vs. a traditional rival late in the season, what does Enos put together? Does his offense come out with a steady game plan prepared for what the other team might throw at them? The end of the Bahamas Bowl after coming back from 35 points down shows that his teams will not quit and that they have a plan in place for every scenario. Against Northern Illinois and Eastern Michigan his offenses came out firing and performed as drawn up. Losing a star RB during the season and a star WR were not season-ending scenarios. His game plan was modified and other players stepped into bigger roles.
The Northern Illinois game this past season ended the Huskies' long home winning streak and was possibly the best-called game for his offense. Does his offense execute methodically in whatever conditions and circumstances are thrown at them? Yes.
Racking up over 500 yards of total offense and 280 yards rushing is the exact blueprint that this Arkansas offense has developed. Collins and Williams will be hard to stop in a game plan executed to that level.
Will Enos be the spark that puts the offensive side of the ball in balance with the play of the defense in 2015? There is not a blaring need for such a drastic change as we witnessed with Robb Smith, and I think something like that would be in the unreasonable expectations category. There will be speed bumps in the learning curve for a coordinator that was calling plays in the MAC a season ago. The overall fit is more solid and the pieces are there to plug into his system. A big chunk passing game and consistent attack on the ground are his foundations and match the personnel the Razorbacks have brought in.
Year three of the Bielema era, here we go!