When a coach leaves a program, unless he’s leaving for a better job or more opportunity, usually that team’s fan base will almost universally say ‘good riddance.’
In Arkansas football’s case, the offensive line in 2023 was beyond horrific. It allowed 47 sacks of record-setting quarterback KJ Jefferson, ranking last in the Southeastern Conference.
Dan Enos was obviously fired because of his offense’s lack of production eight games in, but November’s 2-2 mark that was marred by blowout losses to Auburn and Missouri only heightened the clamor to get rid of offensive line coach Cody Kennedy to a crescendo.
Not that the offensive line was a strength in his previous seasons as the coach, but his unit had not been such a glaring weakness until 2023.
When Kennedy moved on to Mississippi State to work under newly hired Jeff Lebby last week, Pittman chose to go with a familiar name in Eric Mateos, his former grad assistant at Arkansas in the mid 2010s.
Mateos, Arkansas’ highest-paid non-coordinator assistant, is coming off a three-year tenure that mirrors that of Cody Kennedy in many ways. His tenure with the Bears started out well, as they finished 10th nationally in rushing yards per game and led the Big 12 while Arkansas was seventh nationally and led the SEC concurrently.
Getting to Know the RVO from Baylor Football
Since the last time he worked at Arkansas, Eric Mateos has familiarized himself with the RVO system, which stands for reliable, violent offense. Jeff Grimes, who is now the offensive coordinator at Kansas but was at Baylor, introduced it to Mateos and he has since incorporated it into his own philosophy.
Two years ago, when Grimes was hired by Baylor, they used the RVO to batter the Big 12 into submission, winning 12 games, the conference title and the Sugar Bowl over Ole Miss.
In 2021, reporter Jed Drennon went in-depth on Grimes’ offensive modus operandi:
One of those few plays they run a lot of ways is wide zone. Also called outside zone or stretch, this is a horizontal displacement concept that creates multiple possibilities for creases as the offensive line works laterally instead of vertically, allowing the running back to read the flow of his blockers and find a gap. Packaging it so many different ways allows Baylor to run wide zone more than any other play in its arsenal by a considerable margin.. In fact, Grimes’ system – which he’s now taking to Kansas – is predicated on it.
Mateos isn’t without detractors, however. Some, like ESPN Central Texas’ Drake Toll and Cameron Stuart, are pretty severe. The “Drake Toll Show” co-hosts recently did a bit focusing on Mateos leaving Baylor for Arkansas and being overjoyed at the prospect. It’s entitled “THANK YOU Arkansas Football for Hiring Eric Mateos Away from Baylor, It Was So Bad.”
At one point, Stuart faux laments Mateos’ departure: “No more offensive efficiency going down every year and sacks allowed going up every year and rushing yards per game going down over 100 yards per game in two seasons.”
Toll mentioned that he tweeted at Mateos that he should be fired on the tarmac during one of Baylor’s games this year where his offensive linemen false started seven times. Apparently Mateos blocked him because of it. It
“See what Arkansas fans tweet at you if the offensive line false starts seven times in a game,” Toll said.
Eric Mateos Not Inheriting Dumpster Fire at Arkansas
It appears very few Baylor football fans remain Mateos apologists after their offensive line’s disastrous 2023 season.
Kennedy was similarly raked over the coals by many on the Arkansas side, with a notable exception in Fayette Villains’ Adam Ford.
He has a good piece on Kennedy being the scapegoat for Sam Pittman making a poor choice for OC in Enos. Enos’ offense required a dramatic paradigm shift in blocking techniques that the players couldn’t perform adequately after being in the Kendal Briles era for three seasons.
Ford points out that they missed on recruits when Kennedy arrived coming off the disaster Chad Morris years as the program was at its lowest point, and the recruits they did bring in either never panned out or left the program before getting the chance to develop.
Because of this, players who were plenty serviceable under Briles became borderline unplayable under Enos and led to the total undoing of the offensive line.
Once those players were asked to do things above their pay grade, so to speak, things went from bad to worse. Jefferson had no time in the pocket, run plays got stopped behind the line of scrimmage more often than not, and it led to turnovers and plenty of three-and-outs.
Honestly, Mateos may just end up scrapping almost everything the returning guys know, and start from scratch in the spring.
It may end up being like the defense this past season, which became a league average unit in 2023 after being an utter catastrophe in 2022.
If that happens, Mateos will certainly deserve the $700,000 annual salary that makes him Arkansas’ highest-paid non-coordinator assistant. If Mississippi State struggles, Razorback fans will be doing the chef’s kiss routine on social media.
Watch the entire “thank you” letter from the Baylor football show co-hosts:
More on Mateos, Pittman and the Arkansas offensive line from Dan Skipper, Sebastian Tretola and Brey Cook starting at 3:27 here:
More coverage of Arkansas football from BoAS…