Morris’ style, scheme should help Arkansas’ running game

Arkansas running back Devwah Whaley / Photo:

Some may have the idea that new Arkansas football coach Chad Morris’ offense has more in common with pass scrimmage than “standard American football.”

While Morris clearly likes to see the ball in the air, he’s not adverse to running the football. A quick look at SMU’s 2017 stats shows more balance than some might have believed.

While the Mustangs did pass more than they ran the football, the difference was just one play, 486 rushes to 487 passes.

The Mustangs’ rushing average per game of 184.4 yards or 4.9 yards per carry weren’t exactly impressive. They were only average, but it wasn’t for a lack of opportunity.

By contrast, the 2017 Razorbacks had 462 rushes and average just 168 yards on the ground per game and 4.4 yards per carry.

The Mustangs did run an average of 8.2 more plays than the Razorbacks per game (74.8 for SMU to Arkansas’ 66.3).

When comparing stats, opponents have to be considered. Arkansas’ SEC schedule was much tougher than SMU’s. However, the idea that Morris is going to forego the running game at Arkansas is off base. That’s good news for Arkansas’ stable of running backs going into this season.

What might be even better news for them is that when the Hogs’ runners do carry the ball, there will be less congestion at the point of the attack because of the formations Morris is going to deploy.

The basic idea of Morris’ offense or any Spread offense is to force defenses to cover the length and breadth of the field in order to create one-on-one mismatches to exploit. Even if there isn’t a mismatch, Arkansas’ runners and receivers should have more space for maneuvering, making tackling more difficult on the opponent.

The concept is very much like spreading the floor in basketball to create driving lanes to the basket and to neutralize or reduce defenders helping each other. An effective Spread offense will keep a defense from placing eight men in the box.

The run-pass option or RPO is also a stressor on defenses. The idea is nothing new. With the quarterback as a possible runner it forces defenses to be responsible for one more man when setting a defense. However, what makes it so effective is that defenses are unable to determine if the play is a run or pass before the snap.

All of that should be good for the Razorbacks’ running game, which frankly had trouble playing bully ball the last two seasons even though that was supposed to be the Razorbacks’ bread and butter.

While the Razorbacks running game was stymied last season by more dominant opponents and injuries, the Hogs do have a number of highly effective runners that makes the backfield an apparent team strength going into the season.

Devwah Whaley is back for his junior season. Last year he rushed for 559 yards after running for 602 as a freshman. Whaley may have been running too heavy last season. Whaley played at 5-11, 215 pounds last season, is one of the Hogs who was asked to lose a little weight in preparation for the season. Arkansas’ latest roster has him listed at 209.

Next Thursday, the Razorbacks are going to have their official weigh in for the season before practice begins on Aug. 3. It should give the coaches a clue on how hard the Razorbacks worked toward goals set at the end of the school year.

Morris wants a leaner brand of Razorback for his program. Morris does stress strength but not at the expense of speed and endurance. The goal of head strength and conditioning coach Trumain Carroll is to optimize the speed, endurance, and strength of each Razorback through hard work and nutrition.

The plan for Arkansas’ backs is for them to not only run strong but also to separate from tacklers in order to end runs in the end zone rather than in a heap.

Sophomore Chase Hayden (5-10, 197) has the type of speed and elusiveness to be an asset in any offense before breaking a bone in his leg last season, he appeared to be coming into his own as a threat. Junior T.J. Hammonds (5-10, 205) is another athlete who seems built to excel in Morris’ offense.

Redshirt freshman Maleek Williams (5-11, 223) caught the coaching staffs’ eye with perhaps the best spring practice of any of the backs. He has a combination of speed and strength that works well with the counters and draws that are a part of Morris’ offense.

A wildcard expected to join the Razorbacks next week is junior college transfer Rakeem Boyd (6-0, 200). Boyd spent the summer finishing classes to become eligible. He was a Texas prep standout that started his career at Texas A&M before tumbling to Independence (Kan.) Community College. He rushed for 302 yards on 34 carries in his final regular-season game, and capped his JUCO career with a 215-yard, three-touchdown performance in the Midwest Classic Bowl.

Boyd and his Independence Community College squad is the focus of this season’s “Last Chance U” TV series on Netflix, if you’d like a glimpse into his junior college experience.

With such a versatile and strong stable of running backs, and questions at quarterback, there is thought that Morris might lean even more on the running game than usual in his first years as the Hogs’ head coach.

Morris has said he will adapt his scheme to the talent that is on hand to give the Razorbacks their best chance to win this season.

No doubt Whaley and the rest of the Razorback runners are eager to show what they can do in Arkansas’ new offense.