Razorbacks' John L. Smith Believes Special Teams Must Be ‘Special'

by Jim Harris  on Monday, Jul. 16, 2012 12:00 am  

Arkansas kicker Zach Hocker is more familiar than most with new head coach John L. Smith. (Photo by Mark Wagner)

This story is from the archives of ArkansasSports360.com.

Arkansas fans not used to hearing John L. Smith cracking wise — which he did early and often in his April introductory press conference as the Razorbacks’ new head football coach — might have been taken aback by Smith’s comments about the direction of the special teams.

Smith, of course, was only joking — well, partially — when he said he’d have to take over the special teams because Hog assistant coach Steve Caldwell had “screwed them up” after Smith left the staff temporarily for the Weber State head coaching job.

Truth is, Arkansas’ special teams performance against Kansas State in the Cotton Bowl, Caldwell’s first game with the title of special teams coordinator, was anything but a screw-up.

Zach Hocker made all three field goal attempts. Joe Adams, crisscrossed the field in running a punt back 51 yards for a touchdown, his fourth of the 2011 season. Hocker kept Kansas State bottled up to start its offense with four touchbacks out of six kickoffs, and the Hogs allowed an average of 18.5 yards on the two returns. When Arkansas’ offense stalled on its own end, Dylan Breeding punted the Hogs out of trouble, averaging 46.8 yards on four kicks, and twice pinned the Wildcats inside their 20. Kansas State’s only returned punt netted 4 yards. The Arkansas kick return team even got in the act when upback Ross Rasner stunned everybody in Cowboys Stadium with a 31-yard runback to open the game.

With the exception of a blocked PAT that resulted in 2 points for Kansas State, special teams were clearly a key in the Hogs’ convincing 29-16 win.

Just the same, Arkansas can point to surrendering a pair of back-breaking punt returns for touchdowns in its two losses last season, to Alabama and LSU.

Smith doesn’t need to be reminded who was in charge then. But Smith coached the special teams in all his head coaching stops, including Louisville and Michigan State, and he plans to have a big hand in them this season in taking over as head coach for Bobby Petrino.

Petrino himself noted last year that one area he immediately sensed needed a big boost after his first season as Hog head coach was in special teams play, and he brought aboard an out-of-work Smith in 2009 to help ratchet it up to SEC standards.

With talented returnees at place-kicker and punter, along with one of the nation’s top kickoff returners back in Dennis Johnson, Smith believes the Razorbacks’ success in the special teams should continue.

“If the new special teams coach doesn’t screw that up, then we should be OK there,” said Smith, ever the joker.

So, he is usurping Caldwell after all?

“No. He vetoed my wanting to take it away. … ,” Smith said jokingly. “Yeah. I’ll be spending time there as well.”



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