Saturday, December 11, 2010

RAZORBACKS ASSISTANTS KNOW A THING OR TWO ABOUT JIM TRESSEL

Arkansas offensive coordinator Garrick McGee (ArkansasSports360.com)
FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. — This may be the first time ever that Arkansas and Ohio State have faced one another in a college football game, but the Razorbacks have a couple of men roaming their sidelines who are quite familiar with the Buckeyes and their head coach Jim Tressel.

Arkansas offensive coordinator, Garrick McGee, spent four years at Northwestern (2004-2007) — the last two seasons being the Wildcats' offensive coordinator. McGee certainly knows first hand what a Tressel-led team looks like.

"Jim Tressel has always been one of my favorites," McGee said. "I've always watched him from afar. When I was at Northern Iowa, I coached against him when he was at Youngstown State. Then I spent four years in the Big Ten (at Northwestern)."

McGee said the most impressive thing about Tressel is the way he leads.

"I've got a lot of respect for (Tressel)," McGee said. "I've always respected the way he carries himself and the way he handles his team. I just have a lot of respect for him.

"It's an honor for me personally to be able to compete against his team."

McGee has choreographed one of the best offenses in the nation this season, helping guide the Razorbacks to more than 5,800 total yards (10th in the FBS).

However, McGee's offenses while at Northwestern — in 2006 and 2007 — didn't have much success against Tressel and the Buckeyes, averaging just 8.5 points and 208.5 yards per game. McGee's offenses only averaged 34 yards on the ground in those two contests.

Although there's no argument that he has more talent to work with at Arkansas, McGee admits that nothing has changed with the Buckeyes' defense — they still have talent and speed everywhere.

"They've got all-conference players at all three levels," McGee said. "They're only giving up about 90 yards rushing a game and about 150 passing.

"I've watched a lot of film of them. They're fast and they understand the scheme. It will be another challenge for us."

Another man on the Razorbacks' sideline who knows the Buckeyes quite well is special teams/outside linebackers coach, John L. Smith.

Smith was the head coach at Michigan State from 2003 to 2006. Of course, he didn't fare too well against Tressel, losing all four meetings he had against the Buckeyes by an average of 17 points per game.

Arkansas head coach Bobby Petrino, who has never faced Tressel or the Buckeyes, said he will definitely turn to McGee and Smith for advice during preparations for the Sugar Bowl — even if it's just telling the coach what not to do.

"I don't have any experience against (Tressel)," Petrino said. "Obviously there's a tremendous amount of respect for him and his program and what they've been able to accomplish ...

"Certainly when we watch the video, you know, (McGee and Smith) both coached against them. They can relay to you, 'I remember when they did this. I remember when they did that.'

"John L. was breaking down all the special teams today. He had a lot of insight into what they had done before."

Terrelle Pryor
(The Buckeye Times/Darla Dunkle-Hudnell)
Unfortunately for the Razorbacks and Petrino, none of that insight will be on how to defend Ohio State quarterback Terrelle Pryor. Pryor was in high school when both McGee and Smith coached in the Big Ten. Even Arkansas quarterback Ryan Mallett, who played his freshman season at Michigan, has never seen Pryor up close and personal.

Let's face it, knowing Pryor is more important to Arkansas' success in the Sugar Bowl than knowing Tressel.

The only player Arkansas has faced this season who has any similarity to Pryor is Auburn quarterback Cam Newton.

Arkansas's experience with Newton was a total disaster, as the Auburn signal caller torched the Razorbacks for 328 total yards and four touchdowns — three of which coming on the ground. Pryor can kill you in similar ways, so Petrino is praying that his Razorbacks experience against Newton will help them with the multi-talented Buckeye passer.

"I hope so, I hope it helps us," Petrino said, when asked if playing against Newton will help with Pryor. "They do some things differently (than Auburn), though."

But Petrino said that the defensive philosophy — which didn't work against Auburn — will be the same.

"A lot of times when you play a running quarterback it starts with your technique, your fundamentals, your eyes," Petrino said. "You have to be very good with your eyes, and you have to play fast.

"The one game we didn't defend a good running quarterback (Newton), we didn't play fast. We were hesitating."

He who hesitates in this game is dead.

The No. 6 Buckeyes (11-1) and No. 8 Razorbacks (10-2) will play in the Sugar Bowl on January 4 in New Orleans. Kickoff is scheduled for 8:30 p.m. eastern.