Week 1 is finally upon us and the best way to erase all memory of the last few seasons would be with a good ole beatdown on some helpless FCS team looking for a payday. That is what we will see, but there will be some live full speed game action going on to better judge just where this team is right now.
Eastern Illinois also has seven players from the state of Arkansas on its roster with 5 of them being in the defensive secondary, but their return back to Arkansas will only be fun for a quarter or so before the huge physical advantage sets in. Regardless here are a few things to watch for that could be indicators of what to expect in 2018.
Offense: Lightning Smashmouth?
1st Key: How effective is power, counter, inside zone/dash, and Iso.
Chad Morris and OC Joe Craddock will want to get some real game reps out of these base plays and at times using a variety of motions/shifts to test just how well they have installed. Can Whaley pick up big chunks and set up a deep playaction passing game with a 5 man box?
How much will they use an inline TE or 2 TEs with one at the 5 spot or in the slot?
2nd Key: Vertical passing game: 4 verts, dig combos.
Can these talented WRs get open against a weaker opponent, can they run by guys? The timing in this “playaction, shot football team” is important, and how much has Cole Kelley improved. Will the big bodies on the outside be able to time a back shoulder fade? Pettway caught a couple in the spring game that I would expect to be a staple early vs E. Illinois, along with Chase Harrell.
This play has been a staple, play action off the power boot the QB and run a high low read from the FS to the W backer.
3rd Key: Rattle game, lookie game, or some other verbiage. These are yes no presnap reads where depending on coverage the QB can throw or check into a run. How much freedom do they give the QB to throw quick if the defense is exposed or out of position?
Situations: down and distance will dicatate play calling. Landmark Play calls: expect a big bomb early to open up the box. Little Rock is a favorite or some variation of 4 verts.
One core philosophy of previous Chad Morris offenses has been to take a minimum of 3 shots down the field per quarter (at least 12 a game) and also use 2 reverses per half (4 a game).
We will see something new: Morris is always innovating, and throwing something new out whether it is a fire alarm, no huddle, quick huddle, or a shovel pass.
Defense: Destructive Pressure?
On the other side of the ball it is all about getting reps with some young players that will need to contribute and getting a sense of how the veterans are going to fit into the new system. New DC John Chavis likes to bring more pressure than any of the past DC’s and I think he will turn it loose against an overmatched FCS team.
I look for mostly base stuff on 1st and 2nd Downs then some pressure looks on 3rd.
1st key: Can the front 4 get pressure without sending extra guys? Sure pressure is good at times, but without a reliable pass rush from Agim, Ramsey, Watts, and the rest of the rotation the secondary is left vulnerable to better passing teams.
2nd key: In Chavis’ system the DBs and more specifically the Safeties play a larger role than in other schemes. Veteran Santos Ramirez will be a big part of getting the right call based on the formation and must be more consistent.
3rd key: Mustang Package and a lockdown corner. Ryan Pulley had flashes of lock down corner ability last season but the defense as a whole was so incredibly bad that it was hard to determine whether he can be a true field corner against top level SEC competition. This Eastern Illinois team will not be much of a test but Chavis may leave them in 1 on 1 situations a lot this season.
This 3rd down package will be a key later in the season against the high powered passing teams. Chavis has a variety of pressures out of this scheme, and it will be interesting to see the personnel packages with a 3-2-6.
It is time for the real deal and start of a new era at Arkansas after a few tumultuous seasons. Check back for more game plan previews, and film breakdowns each week.