1. Bobby Petrino appears to have mastered the offensive side of football. Can you go into some detail as to the tenants of the Razorback attack? How do the receivers get so open?
Petrino isn't particularly known for his charm or social skills, but he does know offense, which leads me to believe that he may be some sort of futuristic cyborg sent from a planet where all they do is endlessly process ways to develop effective football attacks (why such a planet would exist I don't know...I'm not an astronomer).
Although he's known as a passing guy, he's actually pretty into the concept of offensive balance...his main thing is to have enough running and passing weapons so he can hit you with either at unexpected times (although we've thrown more than we've run in every game this year). He uses a lot of different formations and a lot of different plays to keep defenders off guard and unsure of what's going to happen next. And he definitely believes in being aggressive...he likes to throw it downfield a lot and go for it on 4th down (which I'm sure is at least partly due to the fact we have a terrible kicker).
2. What, aside from having freakish athletes, did Alabama and Florida do to stop that powerful offense?
With Alabama, it all started from bringing constant pressure on Mallett. It's no secret that he's not particularly fast (to put it politely), so when he started seeing huge, angry Bama defenders in his face immediately after the snap he wasn't in much of a position to dart away or even dump it off. Factor in that it was also his first SEC game on the road and it all pretty much went downhill from there.
Against Florida, the offensive line generally played better but the Gators still brought enough pressure to affect Mallett's accuracy and general ability to play his game. He made many more throws than he did against Bama, but he also missed some very open receivers in places that could have won the game for us.
Of course, I could have just answered that question by saying they have freakish athletes.
3. Recently, we have seen a huge turnaround in the Razorbacks' defense. Talk a little bit about what's happening differently on that side of the ball that has been so successful in the past few weeks.
After the Georgia and Alabama games, Hog fans were getting ready to fire up the airplane banners and FOIA requests on defensive coordinator Willy Robinson, but in every game since then the defense has improved noticeably.
I'm not enough of an expert to really break it down for you, but I can give you a few observations. For one, Robinson has been shuffling around the lineup and may have found some combinations that are working. Also, it sounds moronically simple but our guys are just tackling better...we've gone from not being able to tackle a soul against Bama (seriously...it was painful) to sacking the Mighty Tebow six times last week.
We've also done a (slightly) better job of shutting down the big plays. Although I can pretty much guarantee that Snead will hit at least one super long bomb or McCluster will break out at least one super long run this weekend, we've gone from giving up what seemed like about 15 huge plays against Georgia to just one against Florida. One interesting stat is that, even before the Florida game the defense was in the top 20 nationally at tackles for a loss...unfortunately we were also at the top of the list of giving up ridiculously easy bombs and long runs. So, if we can keep those kind of costly mistakes to a minimum (I don't think we'll ever be good enough this year to totally shut them down) then our defense can actually be pretty good.
Lastly, we've been doing a much better job of forcing turnovers, which always helps.
4. Who is the best offensive player that no one is talking about? Defensive? What makes them both so special?
Offensively, you know about Ryan Mallett and Michael Smith, and you probably also know about TE D.J. Williams and WRs Jarius Wright and Greg Childs (another good receiver - Joe Adams - is still out after suffering a mild stroke the week before the Auburn game). You might be less familiar with RB Dennis Johnson, who is one of the nation's top kick returners but also ran for more than 100 yards against Florida. He's little, but is super tough and is usually good for at least one broken tackle when he runs. I'll also call out freshmen WR Cobi Hamilton and RBs Ronnie Wingo, Jr and Knile Davis...I'm not sure how much they'll play, but they have potential. Big back (and USC transfer) Broderick Green has also been playing better after a slow start to the season.
We have fewer stars defensively, for obvious reasons. DT Malcolm Sheppard is the most well-known guy, but other names to watch out for include Elton Ford, Jerrico Nelson and Jake Bequette. They've all had their share of big plays over the last few games.
5. What's your prediction on the outcome of the game? How will it play out?
That's a tough one...this is one of those games where the outcome will set the tone for the rest of the season for both teams, and because Ole Miss and Arkansas are generally well-matched I think their mental attitudes will play a big part. Houston Nutt is an absolute master of firing up his players for games like this, and I think you guys will play your best game of the season.
On the Arkansas side, we're coming off a very tough loss in Gainesville...if the players are still moping around or preoccupied with that then I don't give us much of a chance. But, Petrino is all about keeping an even keel emotionally and I'm thinking he'll be able to get the team focused and ready for this one. If - and these are big if's - we can shake off the Florida game, bring that same sort of defensive intensity and execute our offense properly then I think we'll win a close one. But, like I said, I think Ole Miss will play their best game of the season so those are big if's.