New Arkansas Razorbacks head football coach, Bobby Petrino, faces a daunting, yet potentially delightful task over the next few months. That task is installing his trademark power spread offense at Arkansas.
For fans, that means waiting the grueling months leading up to the beginning of the new football season. For the players, it means living through the grueling months of training and development that it takes to fit into an offensive system that has never seen the turf of Arkansas.
Reports are, Petrino has them exercising like cavemen, lifting rocks and dinosaur bones and the like. I'm guessing they will all be ripped like a loin cloth in four months. Hey, you can go HGH or you can go pre-historic, right?
For the past four seasons, Arkansas' offense has been described as everything from a ground game juggernaut to kindergarten whiffle ball. Ask any Arkansas fan and they will tell you it has been feast or famine in the truest sense of the word.
Fans hope that is about to change, and the power spread is an offensive system that can turn that hope into an offensive reality.
Essentially, the power spread is a balanced attack that spends about two-thirds of a game in modern spread formations, and the other third running traditional power-I football. That basic system allows Bobby Petrino to utilize his "FTS" (feed the studs) philosophy.
Petrino was quoted back in 2005 in referring to the philosophy behind the power spread as saying:
"The first thing our offense is about is utilizing our weapons. We have a philosophy that we call 'FTS' -- feed the studs. We want to get the ball to our best players and make sure we utilize the guys who can go out and make plays."
At Louisville, Petrino recruited excellent talent at nearly all offensive positions. The one position that Petrino put the most emphasis on was quarterback, a position that the Hogs just haven't had much recent talent or success at. But Arkansas' outlook on the position took a huge turn upward when former Texarkana quarterback, now former Michigan Quarterback, Ryan Mallet transferred to Arkansas.
Still, his presence won't be felt until 2009. Arkansas still has options however, in Freshman Nathan Dick, and incoming recruits Youngblood and Wilson. They aren't any Brian Brohm (not yet anyways), but the one that buys into Petrino's system the quickest will leave a mark in the SEC.
Although Casey Dick is the upperclassmen in the group, don't expect him to see much playing time.
One common thread among all the starting QB's in Petrino's system is that they make excellent decisions, not just excellent throws. And aside from having the personality of a street cone, the elder Dick hasn't exactly proven himself a "thinking man," often making his favorite target the ground in crucial situations over the past two seasons.
While the fireworks of an eloquent passing attack will be a welcomed change, expect Petrino to run the ball A LOT in the SEC.
In his last tenure in the SEC at Auburn, his interest in the power running game was piqued by the strategy's ability to control the clock and wear down a defense's pass rush.
In the SEC, the athletes are stronger, faster, and smarter. So the grind of the game and the toll it takes on a player's mind and body are vital elements to success. In Petrino's stints in the NFL as both a coordinator and a head coach, he used elements of play action out of bunch formations and power I formations to keep the offense from becoming pedestrian.
The spread elements of the offense most resemble the Indianapolis Colts. At the college level, creating space for athletic receivers turns five and six yard passes into huge gains and points. Part of the reason Petrino has been so successful in the college ranks is that he thinks ahead of the curve.
Now you may wonder just who those "studs" are going to be next season.
At Louisville, Petrino managed to lead the nation in total offensive yards and points. In 2004, Louisville was the only team to rank in the top 10 in both pass offense (288.6 per game) and rush offense (250.4 yards per game).
Arkansas returns a number of players who got considerable playing time last season at skill positions, such as wide receiver London Crawford and running back Michael Smith. And still other players who sat out with injury, but showed promise early on such as tight end Ben Cleveland and slot receiver Crosby Tuck.
The question next season won't be who the most talented players on the team will be. We pretty much already know who those are. Instead the question will be, how quickly will the "studs" buy in to the power spread with Petrino as its architect?