Coordinated effort goes into implementing Wittke's offensive wrinkles

Updated: August 14, 2003, 5:09 AM ET

FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. -- When Houston Nutt calls the plays from the sidelines this fall, he'll have a few more possibilities to choose from.

Nutt hired Roy Wittke to add a few nuances to an Arkansas offense that has become increasingly one-dimensional over the past three seasons.

"I'm not an ego person where nobody can tell me nothing," Nutt says. "That's not the way we operate. Play calling, a lot of times, is overrated."

Wittke, an offensive coordinator at Eastern Illinois, was given the title of passing game coordinator when he was hired in the spring, while offensive line coach Mike Markuson is the running game coordinator.

On the field, there's about 35 to 40 seconds from the time the whistle blows until a delay penalty flag gets thrown if the next play hasn't started. Wittke said that's why preparation during the week is more important and why he doesn't mind working for a head coach who calls the plays.

"Obviously, from a communication standpoint, there has to be one voice on Saturday and that voice has been coach Nutt," Wittke said. "He's tremendously skilled in his play calling."

Arkansas has averaged 27.8 points per game during Nutt's first five seasons. Former coaches Lou Holtz and Ken Hatfield directed offenses that averaged 27.1 points in their first five years at the school.

The Razorbacks ran the ball with success in 2002. They led the Southeastern Conference for the first time ever with 218.9 yards per game. Arkansas also led the league with 4.8 yards per carry and it was the only team to surpass 3,000 yards at 3,065.

But the passing game finished last in the SEC for the second straight year and it ranked 109th among NCAA Division I schools. Matt Jones, known for his ability to run and scramble, completed 122 of 234 passes for 1,592 yards with 16 touchdowns and eight interceptions.

Opposing teams didn't fear Jones' throwing ability or Arkansas' pass attack, which consisted of sideline routes and short passes over the middle. Rarely did Arkansas use its running backs and tight ends to soften the middle of the field, giving its receivers a better chance to catch deep routes.

Tight ends made just six receptions and running backs had just 27 out of 148 team completions. Fullback Mark Pierce caught 10 passes for 104 yards and the only two touchdowns among the group.

Besides using quarterback Ryan Sorahan for his passing skills, Wittke's scheme seeks much more production from running backs Cedric Cobbs and De'Arrius Howard and tight ends Jason Peters and Jared Hicks.

The players are excited about what they've seen from Wittke's additions during the spring and the first few days of practice this week.

"I love him. He mixes it up with different formations and we're going to confuse a lot of defenses," said Howard, a sophomore who caught just one pass for minus-1 yard last year to go with 595 yards rushing. "We'll be lining up outside and going in motion. I really like the offense."

Wittke's changes have forced the running backs to work more on their receiving skills. They have stayed late after practice to catch some extra balls. On Tuesday, Howard stayed later than other backs to work with the receivers.

"Our goal is to become more balanced offensively," Wittke said. "That's not just in run and pass, it's balancing out who gets the football. We need to involve both our backs and our tight ends."

How often that happens depends on how much confidence coaches have in players' ability to make plays successful. Nutt said play calling begins during the week, when he, Wittke, Markuson, receivers coach James Shibest and running backs coach Danny Nutt make a list of plays for different situations.

"As you go through the game film you decide whether you're going to run this play or this play," Nutt said. "I already know as a group, these are our top five third-and-longs."

Nutt also said once the plan reaches the field on gameday he's still open to suggestions, but the timing has to be right.

"That's not to say in the middle of a game -- I don't like being talked to during a series -- but after a series 'What do you think here? What did we do good? How do we get the ball down the field," Nutt said. "Or during a TV timeout, third-and-6, I haven't called one right all day. Give me one."

This year, the one that Wittke calls down just might be the deep ball or passes to the tight end that Arkansas fans have been screaming for the past few seasons.

This story is from's automated news wire. Wire index