"We're not as conservative as people think we are," says Greg Thomas, the senior quarterback with the flypaper hands and radar-guided arm. Good execution sometimes looks conservative. Operating the Razorback wishbone offense, Thomas fumbled only twice last year, threw just one interception while averaging 15.4 yards per completion and led the Southwest Conference in passing efficiency.
His secret? Thomas says it's his knack for reading coverages. Also, he got a tip from quarterback coach David Lee: "Coach Lee says to hit the man who wears the maroon-and-white jersey, not the guy in orange or purple."
This kind of solid advice could carry the Hogs to their first SWC title since tying with Houston in 1979. For example, head coach Ken Hatfield could tell junior halfback James Rouse, the team's top runner as a freshman, not to break a leg and miss most of this season, as he did last year. Or he might suggest to undersized (6-foot, 242-pound) all-conference noseguard Tony Cherico that he go on a malted-milk diet to enhance his shot at the Lombardi Award.
And Hatfield might mention to oversized (6'4", 350) offensive guard Freddie Childress, already a second-team All-America, that he ought to consider dropping about 30 pounds from his chassis for improved road handling.
Actually Hatfield has talked to Childress, and the big guy shed all of five pounds over the summer ("All we can do is hope," says one Hogs insider). It's the sort of fine-tuning a coach can indulge in when he gets back 15 starters from a team that went 9-3 and played in the Orange Bowl. Hey, it's no shame to get blown out 42-8 by Oklahoma.
So the stage is set for a run at Texas A & M: Though someone must fill the void at fullback, Arkansas has swift backs in Rouse and Joe Johnson, arguably the best pair of runners in the SWC.
The receiving corps—even without tight end Theo Young and three-time all-conference split end James Shibest—is strong, with Donnie Centers, Tim Horton and freshman Derek Russell, perhaps the best wide receiver ever to come out of the Arkansas prep ranks. And Hatfield's veteran defense surrendered just 142 points, the fewest in the conference last year.
Potential obstacles: 1) a first-ever meeting with Miami at Little Rock in September, and 2) any move to maroon-and-white jerseys by enemy secondaries.
DONALD L. MARQUIS/ARKANSAS DEMOCRAT
Johnson is one of the speed burners in a Hog backfield that's running for the Cotton Bowl.