Originally created 09/27/03

New look fits Arkansas well



FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. - Arkansas became so predictable on offense last year everyone from Louisiana-Lafayette to Georgia started stacking the line to stop the run.

Using the pass to set up a powerful running game, Arkansas (3-0) snapped Texas' 20-game home winning streak two weeks ago and the Razorbacks have shot from nowhere to No. 9 in the country.

In victories over Tulsa, Texas and North Texas, Arkansas has had a 100-yard rusher and receiver, something school officials say has never happened in three consecutive games.

"There's some things we can do better, but that's what you're trying to achieve," Arkansas coach Houston Nutt said. "You're trying to achieve a receiver or two that can get 100 yards, get the tight ends involved, backs involved and keep your running game the way it's been."

Arkansas takes its fast start to Alabama (2-2, 1-0 Southeastern Conference) on Saturday for its first conference game.

Despite being held to a combined 126 rushing yards against Louisiana-Lafayette and Georgia last year, the Razorbacks still led the SEC in rushing at 218.9 yards per game. However, if teams stopped the run, a passing offense that ranked 109th of 117 teams in the nation at 134.6 yards per game couldn't compensate.

Arkansas leads the SEC again at 234 yards per game on the ground and senior Cedric Cobbs tops the league with 121.3 yards per game. While the passing offense ranks last in the SEC at 181.3 yards, it has loosened up opposing defenses.

Using tight end Jason Peters over the middle and in the flat is one major difference in passing game coordinator Roy Wittke's additions to Nutt's play calling.

Peters, the leading receiver at tight end with just seven receptions the past two seasons, already has seven this year - for 67 yards and five first downs.

The running backs didn't catch a pass until last week's 31-7 win over North Texas, when Arkansas used the second half to practice plays it hasn't needed. The Razorbacks have controlled all three games early and used the run to wear down opponents and take time off the clock.

"We still don't have everything in," Nutt said. "We try to just pick and choose what's best for each game. There's still some things that we can do."

Starting quarterback Matt Jones and backup Ryan Sorahan have combined to throw for 544 yards, four touchdowns and no interceptions. Jones has the Razorbacks' only turnover of the year with a fumble against Texas that was returned for a touchdown.

Nutt has said Arkansas will need Jones and Sorahan, the better passer of the two, to complete the season.

In the Texas victory, Jones played all but one series after Sorahan had a cut that required stitches on his chin. Arkansas led North Texas 31-7 at halftime, so Sorahan took every snap in the second half.

"That situation is always day to day," Jones said. "If (Sorahan) starts doing some things then I'm sure he'll stay in. If we're moving the ball and scoring, then I'll stay in. We both can run the offense and it helps sometimes to get a breather, too."

Jones' growth as a passer won't have anyone mistaking him for Ole Miss quarterback Eli Manning, but he has been effective. His running ability - 11.4 yards per carry this year and 1,365 career rushing yards - makes him dangerous on rollouts and when he's flushed from the pocket.

Senior receiver George Wilson has caught nine passes for 211 yards in the past two games, while fellow senior Richard Smith had 122 yards in the opener against Tulsa. Arkansas hadn't had three 100-yard receivers in a single season since 1997, the year before Nutt arrived.

The passing success is fine, but the Razorbacks won't abandon running behind an experienced line that has four seniors and 6-5, 353-pound junior Shawn Andrews, Arkansas' first sophomore All-American last year.

"With the quarterbacks throwing well and the receivers catching, it has allowed me to come in and run behind the powerful offensive line that we have," said Cobbs, who has used three straight 100-yard games to rush for 364 yards and four touchdowns on 52 carries. "All the maturity on the offensive line and everything working together helps me go out there and do what I do."

Arkansas entered the season upset that it wasn't included in preseason rankings. Voters didn't pay attention to the 25 seniors returning from a team that won six in a row to tie for the SEC West crown.

They did see the Razorbacks end last year with a 30-3 loss to Georgia in the SEC title game and 29-14 defeat to Minnesota in the Music City Bowl.

Seniors such as Cobbs, Wilson and Smith are making sure a 3-0 start and the increased media attention a No. 9 ranking brings doesn't go to anyone's head.

"We've got a humble group of senior leaders who know not to get too over excited," Jones said. "The same people had us picked No. 41, so we're not worried. We'll let little things like the rankings take care of themselves."