Don’t expect a vastly different Arkansas football offense under interim offensive coordinator Kenny Guiton. Sam Pittman has said that the Hogs have cut 30 percent of their playbook but, beyond that, it would appear the tea leaves remain mostly unread as practices have been closed since Guiton took over.
With some deep digging, though, I feel I have a better idea of the direction in which Guiton will go for the final four games of 2023, beginning with Arkansas vs Florida on Saturday.
A Briles Offense
For those who believe – or hope – that the Razorbacks will now just resort to the Kendal Briles playbook, that seems unlikely, at least for a wholesale change. Even though Kenny Guiton studied under Briles at Houston and Arkansas, the reality is it took the team all spring and fall camp to install their current plays and it would be impossible for them to learn a new playbook even with the bye week.
What does seem likely, though, is Arkansas operating at a faster tempo, especially given Guiton’s work under Briles and the Razorbacks’ success in that system the last two years.
Last season, the Hogs ran about 77 plays per game. This year under Enos, that number is closer to 70, according to TeamRankings.com. This is something that former Arkansas quarterback Matt Jones supports and would like to see more of on Saturday.
“I could see them doing a little more tempo,” Jones said on ESPN Arkansas. “I’d like to see some tempo. We didn’t see any tempo in this (last) game.”
Of the Hogs’ 109 successful offensive plays so far this season (definition forthcoming), a few of them were in line with Briles’ style. For example, by my count, Arkansas has had 12 read option hand offs that have gone for at least five yards in SEC play. In addition, there have been 11 play action passes that have gone for 10 or more yards. The play action was something that was vital to Briles’ system, often incorporating Run-Pass Option plays.
Unfortunately, this type of play calling requires an effective run game. The Razorbacks have struggled to consistently run the ball in 2023 and when the running game has struggled, the play action pass has often been blown up for lost yards. In the Mississippi State game, Arkansas had exactly zero play action passes that gained any significant yardage.
A Hybrid Model
Dan Enos operated an extremely diverse offense, the complexity of which likely caused some of Arkansas’ struggles this year. You shouldn’t need a data analytics degree to understand it, but those sure come in handy to those who have broken it down best. Take Adam Ford, a University of Arkansas graduate with a masters in data analytics, who has done a great job explaining the Xs and Os behind Arkansas’ offense.
In the bye week, Sam Pittman said his team would focus on plays that were successful so far this season. To figure out what those plays were, I reviewed each game and found 109 plays in which Arkansas gained a first down, scored a touchdown, ran for at least 5 yards and/or passed for at least 10 yards.
I then broke those down into 19 different subcategories of play types, and that’s without differentiating between any of the traditional passes out of the shotgun. Here’s the list:
|Play Type||Times Successful|
|Trap Inside Run||3|
|Trap Outside Run||2|
|Play Action Bubble Screen||2|
|Play Action Short Pass||4|
|Play Action Medium Pass||4|
|Play Action Deep Pass||2|
The sheer diversity above gives us a sense of how Arkansas’ offense could remain complex even with 30% of its plays cut out. Let’s dive a little deeper into what we can learn from this list.
Arkansas Football Passing Game
Arkansas football has been more successful passing the ball this year than running it. That’s clear enough when considering the Hogs have earned 113 first downs this year and 62% of those have come via the pass.
Their success through the air has also been more evident in the end zone, as they have 15 passing touchdowns this season compared to just six rushing. If Pittman and Guiton are committed to running their most successful plays, the pass game should be the first priority.
Pittman, however, has always been “a run to set up the pass” kind of coach so we’ll see to what extent this happens. Arkansas may be more run-centric because the Gators announced on Wednesday that their leading tackler, linebacker Shemar James, is out for the remainder of the season.
Before this season, KJ Jefferson was noted for inaccuracy in his intermediate throws but that narrative appears to have changed a bit this season. Consider, medium passes out of a traditional shotgun set is Arkansas’ play with the most success this season. The Hogs have dialed up 18 such plays that went for 10 or more yards, a first down and/or a touchdown.
This may be because the lack of any play action gives KJ Jefferson added time to get the ball out and gives his receivers added time to get open. As much as Enos has earned the scorn of Arkansas football fans, perhaps he – along with QB guru George Whitfield Jr. – deserve credit for helping Jefferson in this regard.
The next most successful passing plays were deep passes out of a traditional shotgun look. Guiton may stick with some of these, although this does allow the pass rush more time to get to the quarterback and Pittman said himself that they only want Jefferson to be in the pocket 8-10 times a game going forward. Still, you may see some of this option with a moving pocket. It also provides a way to get Isaiah Sategna involved in the offense, which is something many have hoped would happen.
Lastly, if the Hogs can get some success in the running game, then play action can also be something they can utilize. Arkansas’ offense has had a few more successful play action passes than straight deep passes. The difference is they’ve come in all shapes and sizes, having success with everything from play action bubble screens to play action deep passes. These plays are also dependent on a successful running game.
Arkansas Football Running Game
Expect a boost to the running game this Saturday. Perhaps even a Rocket boost. Sam Pittman alluded to that possibility when asked about running back Rocket Sanders, on Sam Pittman Live Wednesday night: “I think he’s ready. I don’t know what type of shape he’s in, but we’re going to find out… He had a full practice today and looked good.”
From my research, the Hogs’ most successful running play type has been the inside run. These might have a zone scheme, where the runner determines a lane instead of there being a predetermined one, or they might not. There are no pulls or traps on these plays except for an occasional tight end. Arkansas’ offensive line always seems to get their best push on these types of plays where the objective is just to drive the defensive lineman in front of you.
The next most successful runs have been read option plays, where the quarterback decides to keep the ball or hand it off based on what he’s reading from the key defender. This play utilizes the threat of Jefferson keeping it and using his own speed and strength to gain yards. The threat of Jefferson running has been a very large component of Arkansas’ success this year.
Scramble plays were just as successful as read option plays. This emphasizes the need for Jefferson to be at least a threat to run going forward. In all games this year, Jefferson actually leads the team in runs over five yards. If you take away sack yards like they do in the NFL, Jefferson has 428 yards on 81 attempts. That’s an average of 5.3 yards per carry, which is second on the team behind only AJ Green (6.0 ypc).
Looking at the numbers, it is apparent that Jefferson is far more successful in read options and scramble plays (24) than designed quarterback runs (11). Read options and scramble plays account for double the number of successful plays than designed quarterback runs this season.
Kenny Guiton would likely do well to double down on this type of play scheme while getting rid of the designed QB run.
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