- Chris Low, ESPN Senior Staff Writer
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When you look at the makeup of Bret Bielema’s staff at Arkansas, one of the more intriguing things to watch going forward will be the identity the Hogs take on offensively.
Bielema’s teams at Wisconsin were known for their big, nasty offensive lines and bruising running games.
But his offensive coordinator, Jim Chaney, has a background of generating high-powered passing games.
It’s no coincidence that Bielema went out and got Chaney, whose passing game last season at Tennessee flirted with school records and finished second in the SEC with an average of 315.6 passing yards per game.
But it was in the Big Ten where Bielema got the biggest dose of Chaney’s passing game. Chaney was Purdue’s offensive coordinator from 1997-2005 and coached a guy by the name of Drew Brees.
In 2000, Brees led the country in total offense with an average of 349.1 yards per game and finished his career with 11,792 passing yards and 90 touchdown passes. The Boilermakers won a share of the Big Ten championship that season and played in the Rose Bowl.
“I saw it firsthand when he was at Purdue and how explosive they were,” said Bielema, who was on the Iowa defensive staff in those days. “He went to the [St. Louis] Rams from there and saw the pro-style offense, something he really believed in and something he tried to do at Tennessee. Now, it evolved into a passing offense based on personnel and a change in philosophy when he first got hired there with Lane [Kiffin], and then it evolved to what Derek [Dooley] wanted to do.
“It was important for Jim to go to a program that wanted balance. I think he also understands that for a team to have success in the SEC that you need to have the ability to run the football.”
Bielema’s banking on the Hogs finding the right mix. During Wisconsin’s run of three straight Rose Bowl appearances under Bielema, the Badgers averaged at least 236 rushing yards per game all three seasons.
The Hogs don’t have a bruiser in the mold of Montee Ball, but the coaches have been impressed so far this spring with sophomore Jonathan Williams, who’s bulked up to 220 pounds. He’s the leading returning rusher after gaining 231 yards last season as a freshman. Fellow sophomore Nate Holmes also fits into the equation, and the Arkansas coaches have raved this spring about his speed.
Arriving this summer is prized freshman signee Alex Collins, who shouldn’t have to wait long to see the field. The Hogs also plan to get the fullback more involved in this offense, and they have a good one in senior Kiero Small.
“It’s been fun, just percentage-wise setting up practice,” Bielema said. “We’ll go in saying we’re going to run the ball 75 percent of the plays versus 25 percent pass … or vice-versa. It’s something that’s been very beneficial, the give and take.
“One thing we both believe in is balance, and we also understand that for us to win a championship, you need to be able to run the ball.”
3dSam Khan and Greg Ostendorf