Every team has a line in the sand that they are not comfortable crossing. For some fast-paced teams that number is 75 plays ran. Fewer than that and they are going to have a tough time winning. In the case of Arkansas, that line is throwing more than 25 times. If they are forced to put the ball up more than that it means a variety of factors are present. The opposing defense has limited the run game and kept them in 3rd and long situations. Is it a pure take-what-the-defense-gives-you philosophy? If so then there will be some games where the defense dictates throwing more than 25 times. Can Arkansas win if forced to throw in that 25-30 range? That very question is one that I have wondered for the last couple of seasons.
Last November Brandon Allen proved he could do just that and went 16 for 27 while a solid LSU run defense held Jonathan Williams and Alex Collins in check. Those stats win games, and combined with an unrelenting defense make for a tough matchup every week for SEC opponents facing the Hogs.
The question is will they be game-planned by an opposing defense into throwing 25+ times more often in 2015? Georgia accomplished that, and Missouri got out with a win. Alabama stuck with stacking the box, and Mississippi State as well last season and came out with a win. Or will it be a case where Dan Enos and Bret Bielema's offense physically overwhelms every opponent and only need fewer than 25 attempts to win? The "we are going to run it right here and you can't stop it" philosophy? Probably not.
It is all about the formula.
Run the ball 40 times @ 5 yards per carry + throw 20 times @ 10 yards per ATT+ limit # of possessions for opponent + make stops on defense + do not turn the ball over = Win. Over 200 rushing, and over 200 passing.
But what happens when teams stack the box and you can not run?
The 25 or more attempts in the losses against A&M, Mississippi State and Missouri were the result of the opponent taking away the run in the second half and the offensive play caller becoming impatient and trying to break a big play.
LSU was an example of sticking with the steady run calls even against a stacked box and cashing in on some big plays in play action. Big plays to Jeremy Sprinkle and Keon Hatcher led to points in that game where LSU held Jonathan Williams to 56 yards on 18 carries and Alex Collins to 46 on 16 carries. The Arkansas offense will be asked to do the same against the tougher SEC opponents who can stuff the run.
Over 40 with Petrino.
Even under the high flying offense of Bobby Petrino, when Arkansas was forced over the 30 attempts mark they were likely to be in a tough fight. Casey Dick had some success throwing close to that mark in his final season, and of course I am completely ignoring the 2012 year altogether.
For previous Arkansas quarterbacks like Ryan Mallett, Casey Dick, and Tyler Wilson the scenarios were different.
A better comparison to the situation that the current Arkansas football team is in would be the 2008 team with Casey Dick.
Casey Dick Arkansas 2008 Season
Patience, patience, patience.
Will Dan Enos stick with running the ball in a 17-7 game trailing Alabama on the road? We will see, and as I have detailed previously, Brandon Allen is due to come through in some critical moments in 2015. There will be a game against one of the tough run defenses that he is asked to put the ball in the air 30 times. Will what we have been hearing in the off season prove to be accurate and his play elevates to a new level?
The quintessential "game manager" AJ McCarron was asked to put the ball in the air more than 30 times in some big games. None bigger than the 2011 National Championship against LSU where he went 23/44. Then, against Texas A&M in a 2012 loss, he went 21-34 with a TD and an interception in a game where the Alabama defense struggled.
Which will we see for Arkansas and Brandon Allen in 2015 when lined up opposite Alabama, A&M, Auburn, Miss St, or Missouri? Will we see an outstanding performance like McCarron against LSU or will it be more like the Mississippi State game last season in which Allen had the opportunity to take the game into his hands late but could not get it done?
I think the time will come where the Arkansas offense shows confidence in the passing game and wins a game throwing it 30 times. There will arise a situation where Brandon Allen will be asked to solve that equation by inputting 8-10 more passes than his normal production. Watching that unfold will be a trend buster and could spark this team to greater heights.