Mallett leads nation in passing efficiency
By Michael Casagrande
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Coming back to his home state following a transfer from Michigan, Ryan Mallett was a little overweight but had a cannon of a right arm.
In July, he just had potential.
By September, he lived up to it.
Arkansas’ first-year starter leads the nation in passing efficiency (193.5) and has passed for more yards per game than any quarterback in the Southeastern Conference (358.5) this season.
Coming off a school-record 408-yard passing night in a 52-41 loss to Georgia, Mallett grabbed the attention of the Alabama defense that ranks third nationally and 31st against the pass. His five touchdown passes averaged 28 yards on drives that averaged 5.6 plays.
Targets are also plentiful for Mallett. Six players have at least five catches through two games, led by Jarius Wright’s 10 catches and 247 yards, and five players have hauled in touchdown passes.
“The thing I like most about Ryan is the way he’s been distributing the ball according to what the defenses are doing,” Petrino said Wednesday. “He’s got confidence in all his receivers, tight ends and running backs and that helps, because you don’t force anything, and, so far, he’s been able to not force anything.”
However, with a pro-style offense that looks to achieve balance between the run and pass, Alabama is planning to see more than deep passing routes.
“Whatever they come at us with, we’re going to have an answer for it,” Crimson Tide linebacker Eryk Anders said. “It doesn’t matter if they try to run it or try to throw it; we have a pretty good defense. It doesn’t matter what they do. It’s about what we do.”
Alabama coach Nick Saban promised that his players wouldn’t sleep on the Razorback rushing attack, which gained just 77 yards (15 percent of the offense) against the Bulldogs. A lot of the burden will be placed on the front four of the Tide defense, not only to stop the run but also to pressure Mallett.
Committing too many linebackers and safeties to pressure the backfield would allow Mallett to find open receivers, because fewer defenders are in pass coverage. The front line has six of the 10 Tide sacks this season and five of the 10 quarterback hurries.
There will be exceptions, though. Saban used baseball to illustrate his point.
“Playing defense is a lot like being a pitcher,” he said. “If you’re a one-pitch guy, they are probably eventually going to hit you. If you’ve got good blitzes and you blitz all the time, eventually you’re going to live by the sword and die by the sword. But if you’ve got a good change-up and you throw a slider on the outside ...”
Linebacker Rolando McClain, the team’s leading tackler, also recognizes the need to disguise defenses while understanding the need to keep Mallett on his back.
“If he has all day to sit in the pocket,” McClain said, “he will make plays.”
Of the three quarterbacks Alabama has faced thus far, Mallett stands out. At 6-foot-7, 238 pounds, he won’t have any trouble seeing over the line of scrimmage. Arkansas’ all-conference tight end, D.J. Williams, told the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette about Mallett passes that travel as fast as 115 miles per hour.
Mallett’s running ability isn’t something Alabama defenders have spent too much time working on in practice. Mallett’s seven runs have netted just 6 yards.
“He’s certainly not Tyrod Taylor from Virginia Tech,” Anders said. “But, I mean, with that line he’s got and with those blocking schemes, if we get to him, we can get to him. It’s going to be a challenge for us.”