The 1977 Arkansas Razorbacks were coming off a disappointing 5-5-1 season under Frank Broyles, who afterward stepped down as head coach and assumed the role of athletic director. Lou Holtz was hired after a failed stint in the NFL and went on to lead the Razorbacks to an 11-1 record and a ranking of 3rd in that season's final AP poll. As an end to one of the most memorable seasons in Arkansas football history, Holtz team beat Oklahoma 31-6 in the Orange Bowl.
This offseason Bret Bielema's team has been getting a tremendous amount of attention from media after a great finish in 2014.
Can 2015 play out like 1977?
Holtz details in his Twin Veer Option Playbook how he was able to have such immediate success, and with several rants on motivation and overall system organization that sound like his ESPN commentary. Its drags on a bit, but after sifting through some of that there is interesting stuff on what his offense was able to do in that season.
The situations are not exactly the same. Bielema is going into year three after pulling the sunken ship that was Arkansas football off the ocean floor and setting it back afloat. Holtz took over a team that had a solid foundation and a tremendous amount of talent.
The largest parallels can be found in defense and a dominant running game. At their core both Holtz and Bielema had backgrounds as defensive coaches and retained that mindset.
As Bret Bielema recently stated, "It's kind of nice to be a dinosaur where teams have difficulty preparing for a physical offense."
Holtz had a grasp of this as well and was as detailed on fundamentals as any. In contrast to the current scene of college football, his teams were in the middle of the veer heyday. A large portion of the SWC teams ran a version of this offense and branched out over time.
Featured multiple running backs:
The comparison of 2015 and 1977 are not exact, but the foundation of that Holtz 1977 team, and the almost matter of fact idea that his defense will be solid can very much be applied to the current Razorbacks program.
Featuring multiple backs including QB Ron Calcagni, that '77 offense led to some impressive numbers. Ben Cowins racked up 1192 yards and 14 TDs in addition to Calcagni's 546 yards and Roland Sales with another 399 yards on the ground. Arkansas averaged over 250 yards rushing per game in the 1977 season while scoring 32 ppg.
Bielema is not likely to use Brandon Allen as a run threat but with the combination of Alex Collins, Jonathan Williams and Kody Walker, the carries will be distributed. In the Holtz system he had 5 backs record at least 40 carries in 1977.
Over time teams moved away from the Veer and its option components to an I-formation, then single back, and eventually to the west coast offense and subsequent branches of spread offenses from shotgun. Many of the modern uses of split back veer plays use zone blocking schemes. Outside zone and inside zone runs are really similar in scheme to what Holtz was doing back in 1977.
CEO Head Coaches:
Lou Holtz and Bret Bielema have some very comparable philosophies on program building (likely from the coaching trees of their mentors Woody Hayes and Hayden Fry).
Giving their assistants room to coach and taking the big picture perspective can not be overlooked as an important part of both coaches process.
His five points on how to win still ring true for this season.
These team goals are very much in line with what Bielema has established in the Arkansas Football program with his 5 edges to win. Everything from off season lifting,conditioning, to travel, classroom expectations and on the field is based on these points.
Bielema talked about setting those types of goals this season and talked openly about high expectations at SEC Media Days.
Arkansas then and Now:
Returning Jonathan WIlliams and Alex Collins gives Dan Enos a ton of options on play calling and everyone expects more of the run/play action pass combination. The basic idea of that 1977 team was the same just with elements of the veer option scheme with Ron Calcagni running the show. Many of the same concepts are still evident in what Enos and Bielema will put on the field but with a more complex passing game than the 1977 Razorbacks.
The Lead Draw?
We saw a lot of this last season and Enos likes to run the same thing out of an I back look.
From the Lou Holtz Twin Veer Playbook:
Screens and misdirection were a big part of that 1977 offense also and we are all hoping to see more of that from the Razorbacks this coming season.
1977 Defense was dominant, same in 2015?:
Monte Kiffin fielded a group in the '77 season that ended up only allowing 8.4 points per game which put them #1 in the nation. Pete Carroll was also a young GA on that staff and molded many of Kiffin's 4-3 defensive principles into his own playbook. Dan Hampton was a star of that defense up front and Vaughn Lusby and the other DBs were difficult to complete any passes on only giving up 83 yards a game.
For the current team, it is the same old process as it was 38 years ago. Stop the run, bring some pressure in passing situations and play disciplined in the secondary. This team does not need to be the best in the nation like the Holtz/Kiffin team but a performance on par with 2014 and top 15 would suffice. We can't play the 1977 schedule again but the styles on offense and defense are built on the same philosophies and if things fall in place it could be a fun ride!