Southern Miss will throw a defensive scheme at Arkansas that the Hogs have not seen in the first two games, and the game plan to combat it was thrown at the players for Tuesday's grind practice.
On Monday, new Southern Miss head coach Todd Monken, the former offensive coordinator at Oklahoma State, called Razorback offensive coordinator Jim Chaney a chameleon because he is able to easily change offenses. Chaney has operated option, spread and pro-style attacks in his coaching career.
"Todd called me a chameleon?" Chaney said Tuesday after practice. "If Todd thinks we're doing a good job, I think Todd's got a wonderful offensive mind, so I'll take that as a compliment."
Southern Miss will challenge Chaney's diversity with a 4-3 alignment with a two-trap at the corner spots in an effort to take away the outside run.
"They run a lot of different coverages that we're not used to," UA senior receiver Javontee Herndon said. "We call it two-trap, where the cornerbacks try to trap you in to stop the run pretty much, stop the outside run. We're doing a lot of things where we've got to practice blocking that corner. We've got to practice routes that will make them get out of those coverages."
"They're a two-deep team, play a lot of trap corner," receivers coach Michael Smith said. "Really have a good scheme. They can do a lot of things to confuse the quarterback and the receivers. We're going to spend a little extra time in the film room and really get to studying and trying to find some tendencies from them to put ourselves in the best position possible."
Freshman running back Alex Collins has already racked up 303 yards on 45 carries (6.7 yards per carry) with a touchdown, and much of that has come on plays he has bounced to the outside.
"My thoughts are just get whatever they give me. If they don't want me to go outside and they give me the inside, I'll get as many yards as possible," Collins said.
Southern Miss has some younger inexperienced players in the secondary.
"We know they're young," senior receiver Julian Horton said. "We're going to try to take advantage of that and do what we can to go after them, go after their inexperience and try to make big plays against them."
Smith wants to see the receivers improve as blockers, though they have experienced some success in the first two games.
"That's something that I think we can be better at. You don't get the long runs with the two backs we've had without guys being down there and pestering and getting in the way," Smith said.
The Golden Eagles' front
Up front, Southern Miss' base defense is a 4-3.
"They blitz a lot. They do a bunch of zone pressures, they cross face," guard Brey Cook said. "It'll be fun to go out there and split the defense. I think we have a good game plan, and I'm ready to go out tomorrow and install it."
"I see a defense that likes to bring a little bit of pressure," Chaney said. "They have two dominant defensive tackles we have to be aware of at all times. They're playing harder. Their improvement from Game One to Game Two was substantial."
Those tackles are No. 98, 6-3, 308-pound senior Khyri Thornton and No. 97, 6-3, 290-pound Rakeem Nunez-Roches. Both those players were around two years ago when Southern Miss went 12-2. The Golden Eagles have lost 14 games in-a-row since former head coach Larry Fedora left to take the North Carolina Job. Former South Carolina defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson took the job and led them to an 0-12 season in 2012. He was fired after just one year.
"They run to the ball. I've been watching film, and number 97, I saw him running down the field, trying to get on tackles late and things like that, so they hustle," running back Jonathan Williams said.
Tuesday practice is always full of a lot of new concepts, and the result is a lot of mistakes during practice. The coaches are fine with that. What they are not fine with is if there are a lot of mistakes on Wednesday. They expect that Tuesday's teachings are digested by Wednesday afternoon before practice.
"We put in some new stuff today, struggled with some of it as you always do on Tuesdays," Chaney said. "But I thought their attitude was good and their effort level was fine. We've got a lot of cleaning up to do."
"Today's always the rough practice, the grind practice. It's all about focusing and getting ready for the next team," Collins said.
Herndon in the spotlight
Something Southern Miss could throw at Arkansas is trying to take away senior receiver Javontee Herndon.
"I know some teams are going to start doing some things to take him away from us," Smith said. "But I think we've got some guys at the other receiver positions that can kind of take some heat off of him if that heat is put on him."
"I hope they don't try that," Herndon said. "I want to keep having fun out there. We have other targets too, so if they do that we've just got to change up the offense and keep working at it. I feel like whatever happens we'll find a way to make it."
After two games, Herndon leads all Razorback receivers with eight catches for 143 yards (17.9 ypc) and three touchdowns. He has also made a couple of impressive one-handed catches.
"I don't practice it at all," Herndon said. "I'm not one of those guys who goes out and tries to catch one-handed. I think if I would have actually tried to do it, I would probably have dropped it. I think it just kind of happened. I just tried to make a play on the ball, and it happened."
"He's a senior, he knows what he's doing, he's smart, he can line up in all our different packages and play every position on the field," Chaney said. "I wouldn't want him to play fullback. I think Kiero [Small]does a good job of that."
"I know the kid, I know he's capable of that, so it's no surprise to me. May be a surprise to everybody else, but it is no surprise to me," Horton said. "Catching the ball in traffic. Those two one-handed catches he's had, those are impressive. He's always impressed me."
Expected or not, this is the first time in Horton's four-year career that he has had this level of productivity….
"Before this year, I had three career touchdowns, and I already have three in the first two games," Herndon said. "I think I know what I'm capable of, it's just a think where I have to go out and show the rest of the world."
The Chameleon said he feels confident that if Arkansas needs to go to more three-wide sets and throw the ball to receivers other than Herndon, they would still have success. Collins has not been used much in the passing game other than to protect, but if his number is called he feels confident in his abilities as a receiver.
"If they put me out to go out for some routes or they want me to stay back for pass protection, I'll just do it. Basically I've been needed for pass-protection so far," Collins said. "That's something that a lot of freshmen have a hard time with because recognizing the blitz and then having to pick it up after recognizing it. It's just something you have to get better at."
The seven-step drop is back
Starting quarterback Brandon Allen took a seven-step drop several times last Saturday in the 31-21 win over Samford. It resulted in a sack one time, another time Allen scrambled for a big gain and another resulted in a big passing play.
The Razorbacks have not used that deep of a drop that much since 1997 when Kay Stephenson was the offensive coordinator for a year. Stephenson has a vast NFL background, but today fewer teams use that deep of a drop. However, former longtime St. Louis head coach and NFL offensive coordinator Mike Martz used it as a staple in his offenses, and he was generally regarded as a genius play-caller most of his career.
"We've always used some form of seven-step drop and some five-step drop and some three-step drop based on the structure of the route," Chaney said.
That year with Stephenson, Arkansas gave up an SEC-leading 42 sacks for minus-373 yards. But quarterback Clint Stoener passed for a school-record 2,347 yards on 173 of 357 passing (48.5 percent) with 12 touchdowns and 13 interceptions. The next year, new head coach Houston Nutt arrived and did away with the seven-step drop and Arkansas gave up only 19 sacks for minus-105 yards. Stoerner completed 167 of 312 passes (53.5 percent) for 2,629 yards, 26 touchdowns and eight interceptions that year.
During Bobby Petrino's tenure, it was in the offensive playbook but not used very often at all. It has really been 16 years since it was a key part of the offense.
"I think we had some of it, not very much," Allen said. "Anytime you have a deeper drop, protection has to hold up longer. It's a deeper route. Obviously big chunk plays if you're able to hold up and get the ball down the field."
Editor's note on Zach Hocker
Several of the players being interviewed Tuesday came into the media room barefoot. As interviews concluded and I was leaving, I noticed Zach Hocker right behind me. I paused for a moment to hold the door for him. He said 'thanks,' and I said "no problem, I don't think anyone would ever forgive me if I caused you to stub your toe."
On Saturday after the game, head coach Bret Bielema pointed out that Hocker has a chance to have a long NFL career.
"It's every player's dream to make a career out of it," the level-headed kicker said. "If I'm fortunate enough to have that happen to me, that'd be an awesome opportunity. If not, I understand the reality of things."
Hocker, who nailed a 53-yard field goal last weekend, said it has often been discussed whether or not they should attempt a sky kick towards the corner of the end zone. The logic behind it is with his booming kicks, the coverage team would have enough time to get down there to tackle the return man inside the 25-yard line, which is where it is spotted if the ball is a touchback on the kickoff.
"My last four years here, there's been talk of that every single year. Is it worth the risk?" Hocker said. "One of these times I could have a mishit and the guys could run it back on us instead of just consistently putting it out the back.
"We've all decided that it is better just put it out the back and make them work for it every single time."
Senior tight end Austin Tate (shoulder) and linebacker Otha Peters (arm) were scheduled to have X-rays done on Monday. There is still no word on their availability, but it is however known Tate is at least out there.
"All I know is he's not out there right now doing a lot. He's involved a little bit, but I don't know what his status would be going into the game," Chaney said.
Arkansas' Wednesday practice will conclude at approximately 6:30 p.m. The Razorbacks take on Southern Miss Saturday at 11:21 a.m. in Donald W. Reynolds Razorback Stadium in Fayetteville.