FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. – DeMarcus Love still remembers his first reaction to Arkansas coach Bobby Petrino's playbook.
Love, then wrapping up his redshirt freshman season for the Razorbacks, was accustomed to running only a handful of different plays on the offensive line under previous coach Houston Nutt. Within those plays, linemen were responsible for knowing only six or seven different blocking schemes.
When Love walked into a spring playbook meeting in 2008, he got his first glimpse at the different line calls under the newly hired Petrino.
In addition to the sheer volume of man- and zone-blocking calls, there were different formations, techniques and assignments to learn.
"Is this guy serious?" Love thought.
When No. 17 Arkansas opens its season against Tennessee Tech on Saturday night, it will do so with an offense that led the Southeastern Conference in scoring last season. It's an offense led by a line much more confident in its ability and knowledge of the Razorbacks' offense than it was two years ago in Petrino's first year.
"It's a lot more comfortable now because a lot of us have three years under our belt," senior offensive tackle Ray Dominguez said. "We were bombarded at first, but once we stopped and studied, everything was a lot smoother. It's a real prostyle offense."
In 2007, Nutt's final year as coach, Arkansas was second in the SEC in total offense (450 yards per game), and led the conference in rushing (286.5) and was next-to-last in passing (163.5). The Razorbacks also were third in points per game (37.3) that season.
Arkansas finished fourth in the SEC in total offense in 2008, Petrino's first year, but the offense's struggles were evident as it averaged just 21.9 points, seventh in the conference. The Razorbacks were second in passing offense (259.6), but the rushing yardage — with a struggling offensive line and minus former standout running backs Darren McFadden, Felix Jones and Peyton Hillis — bottomed out at 113.5 yards, 10th in the SEC.
"(The offensive line was) all over the field, missing blitzes and stuff like that," Arkansas senior tight end D.J. Williams said. "It was all new to them."
In addition to the change in offensive philosophy, Arkansas dealt with information overload that season, particularly on the offensive line. There were missed calls and missed blocks as the Razorbacks struggled at times to grasp the enormity of the new system.
"That season, we were still learning the ropes," said Love, now a senior. "There were a lot of things that went wrong that season because guys didn't know the plays and weren't all the way ready and mentally focused."
The offense showed improvement last season as Arkansas finished 8-5, leading the SEC in average points (36) and finishing third in total offense. Offensive coordinator Garrick McGee credited some of the improvement to the "natural progression" of the veteran Razorbacks, noting that Arkansas played 16 freshmen two years ago.
"We were confident going into Week 1 two years ago," McGee said. "We've got the same confidence now, but we understand more about the game of football than we did then."
Despite the improvement last season, the Razorbacks still finished 10th in the SEC in rushing (131.8) and struggled with consistency in conference losses to Alabama and Mississippi — averaging just 54 yards rushing in the two losses. Those are numbers the confident offensive line plans to improve this season.
"Last season was a good season, but that's not where we want to be," said Love, who was recently joined the Lombardi Award's watch list. "Our goal is to go a little higher. We want to go all the way."