Lou Holtz spent the summer watching films of his Arkansas Razorbacks, then switching to films of the other Southwest Conference teams, then switching back to flicks of the Hogs, and then scratching his head, trying to figure out how this year is going to go. Holtz couldn't come up with an answer. Finally, he scratched his head some more and said, "Most years you can say, 'Well, the worst we're going to do is this.' Heck, this season I feel like I'm going into finals and I'm not even sure if I studied the right course."
The course for the Razorbacks last spring wasn't so much football as winning football. "There's a fine line between being a good football team and a great one," Holtz says. "It's leadership and having a plan that you believe in so strongly that you're willing to jump on the grenade."
Last year Arkansas led in the fourth quarter of all its 11 regular-season games, which says something. The Hogs lost three of them, which says something else—like, someone wasn't snuffing out those grenades in the waning moments. And though Holtz says that his 1982 team "probably has more good football players" than any other he has coached, the Razorbacks can't depend on the fourth—or any other—quarter getting easier, because the Southwest Conference has never been stronger from top to bottom. "Not only don't I know how good or bad we're going to be," says Holtz, "I do know that we're in the toughest conference in the country."
Things are fine where the offense begins, which is on the line—specifically, the right side, where Guard Steve Korte and Tackle Alfred Mohammed will be working alongside Center Jay Bequette. Korte is the best lineman Holtz has had at Arkansas, and it's easy to see why: He's 6'2½", 263 pounds and is capable of bench-pressing three reps of 525 pounds each. Arkansas has two quality quarterbacks, senior Tom Jones, brother of the Rams' Bert and a two-year starter until he injured a knee last year, and sophomore Brad Taylor, who came on in the last five games of '81 and ended up as the Southwest Conference Offensive Newcomer of the Year. A shoulder injury kept Taylor out of spring practice, so Jones was the starter again, but Taylor will be hard to hold back. Holtz has said that Taylor has the quickest release of any quarterback he has ever coached. Reminded that among those was Joe Namath, Holtz says, "Yeah, I know."
What Holtz would most like to find is a running back, a wide receiver and a free safety. He knows he can fill one of those positions with senior Gary Anderson. But which one? As a running back last year, Anderson was the Razorbacks' leading rusher, with 616 yards, and he was also the second-leading receiver, with 26 catches, and the leading punt returner. Twice before, Holtz has wanted to move the 6'1", 175-pound Anderson to wide receiver, but on both occasions he was forced to keep him in the backfield and cringe each time Anderson took a pounding. This year Holtz swears Anderson will be a receiver—except of course when he plays running back...or if he's desperately needed at free safety.
Holtz is also looking for a ball-carrying bruiser, or what he calls a "cowbell" back. "That," says Holtz, "is a guy who can carry the ball 20 times a game and shows up to practice on Monday without a lawyer, an agent or a doctor." He hopes his cowbell will be Jessie Clark, a 6'1" 227-pounder who carried the ball 106 times last year. Twenty per game would double his load.
"You can't possibly hope to have a real good year if you aren't real good on defense," says Holtz. "We have a few question marks, but I think we have a chance to be real good there." Really. End Billy Ray Smith, a magnificent 6'3½", 228-pound specimen who was one of the four finalists for last year's Lombardi Award, is the key. He's a friendly, easygoing type—he plays guitar and piano and a little softball in the summer—until he gets on a football field. Last year Smith made 50 unassisted tackles. A bout with hepatitis weakened him somewhat this summer, however. Also on the sick list, with mononucleosis, was starting Tackle Phillip Boren. At cornerback are Danny Walters and Nathan Jones, and the strong safety is Keith Burns, all of them high-quality defenders.
One man the Hogs will surely miss is Bruce Lahay, the nation's top field-goal kicker last year, especially because Holtz predicts that at least six games will be won or lost in that fourth quarter. But Holtz also says, "I just feel we'll have that resolved by the time we get going." Perhaps his optimism derives from freshman Ernie Villarreal, who broke all the Carson (Calif.) High School records of former Razorback Placekicker Ish Ordonez.
Meanwhile, Holtz is locked in the projection room, studying every step the Razorback bit players took last year and hoping that Central Casting may have slipped a Jim Brown look-alike into one of those crowd scenes.
Holtz is wrestling with finding the right position for Anderson.