The Return of Dan Enos to Arkansas and the Potential Within

Coach Sam Pittman’s search for a new offensive coordinator lasted about as long as the average Arkansas fan can hold their breath. With plenty of talks of former OC Kendall Briles moving on, the athletic department was listening. Those potential moves – well known to this point – wound up costing the now TCU offensive coordinator. Being reeled back in originally, it didn’t leave a great taste in anyone’s mouths.  Fast forward to the present and Briles’ second attempt to flirt was his last. 

Not many names were making an appearance on the hot boards to replace Briles, but one grabbed some steam and fast. Dan Enos had all but moved in by the time the news of Briles moving on had been announced. 

In a seemingly overnight shift, the speed to which Pittman and company pulled the move off proved they were prepared. Not only that, it also provided a much better foundational assurance that Pittman has been striving to create. 

Rumors Prove Pittman’s Loyalty Commitment

What’s to follow is mostly speculation, but also holds a ton of weight. Going into the offseason, it was predetermined that Briles was going to need a bump in his contract. There were plenty of head coaching jobs at appealing lower-tier schools that could’ve brought attraction. Turns out, we were looking toward the wrong seat in the coaching tree. 

With lacking news of a new contract in the media, up sprouted the Mississippi State rumors. As it turns out, that was nearly his new home. Scrambling to keep him on staff to an extent, that finally brought out the talks of a new contract. One that was likely more than necessary. The rumors fell through soon after and Briles remained. Now, take a look at the angle that Pittman has on players entering the transfer portal for a second. Valuing loyalty at the top of the pyramid, a lot of players are deemed gone once they step foot out the door. Only a select few were given the nod to return. The same principles certainly apply to the Briles fiasco. 

As mentioned previously, the attempted move, especially with an SEC rival, didn’t leave a smile on anyone’s face. It nearly had the same amount of awkwardness as Jim Harbaugh wanting to move on to the NFL again before last season, only to stay at Michigan. When it felt like the dust had settled, it was only just beginning. Like any old-school love story, Briles went back to throwing pebbles at windows to get a girl’s attention. Only this time, Hunter Yurachek was prepared to cut the cord. 

All while Briles dug his own tunnel to Fort Worth, Sam Pittman was laying down the Razorback red carpet for a man who wanted to be here. That coach, fitting the exact mold that Pittman wants in his peers, was none other than Dan Enos. A great friend of Pittman even before they worked together at Arkansas, it felt almost poetic. Already getting to work with the staff, let’s look back briefly at Enos’ tenure. 

First Arkansas Stint: Having the Pieces

Taking on the Arkansas offensive coordinator job under Bret Bielema in 2015, Enos had a great quarterback to help lead the team to the promised land. That player being none other than Brandon Allen, he helped supply Arkansas with some astounding offensive numbers both personally and as a team. 

In that 2015 season, the offense had 2565 rushing yards and 3486 passing yards. Those numbers combined to fall second most in Arkansas history despite just eight wins to show for such an accomplishment. That season would see Brandon Allen become first in Arkansas history in passing efficiency. Alex Collins, should none forget, racked up enough yardage to find himself behind just one man, Darren McFadden. Hunter Henry also won the Mackey Award during that offensive explosion. 

The foundation of that offense was supplied by none other than Sam Pittman’s offensive line. While they had just one year such as 2015, the proof of success together is there.

Moving on to 2016, Enos’ second season, Austin Allen had big shoes to fill. With big brother moving on, Enos had him prepared enough to not ruin the bed sheets. Austin, while throwing 15 interceptions, still carried himself well enough for Arkansas to find a winning record in his first season as starter. 

Filling in for his record-setting brother had its own pressure. He could have given into the pressure that presented itself, but instead of crumbling, Enos kept his quarterback’s head up. Even with the touchdown to interception ratio being 1.5 to 1, he still produced a rating of 146.0.

The biggest flex that season was having running backs such as Rawleigh Williams and Devwah Whaley be work horses for solid stables of backs. Rawleigh ran for over 1300 yards which allowed him to place fifth in school history in that category. 

2017 is a season to forget, needless to say. With the two seasons beforehand having so much potential squandered, the implosion surrounding Austin Allen’s injury was a fitting finale. The losing record would show Beilima the door and Enos would be off to explore a great opportunity that came calling. Who would turn down the chance to work for Nick Saban and his quarterbacks?

Opportunity in Tuscaloosa

Taking on a room that now has produced three NFL talents including Jalen Hurts, Mac Jones, and Tua Tagovailoa, it was quite fruitful. Coaching up Tua, he would overtake Jalen Hurts as the starter for the 2018 season. That year was as close to perfect as it could have been. Throwing for 3966 passing yards and 43 touchdowns, he would produce a completion percentage of 69%. Those stats compiled together to form an efficiency rating of 199.4. 

With the regular season being nearly unworthy of their opponents’ presence, Enos’ QB led the Tide to an SEC Championship and a victory in the college football playoff. They would inevitably fall in the championship game, but without their stellar play from Tua, who knows how different the season could have been. 

The end product after just one year with Saban provided accuracy boosts to every quarterback down the road. Jalen Hurts, who settled around 61% completion his first two seasons, would fall just short of the 70% mark in 2019 at Oklahoma. Mac Jones, who didn’t get a true shot until 2020, produced video game numbers and finished with a 77.4% clip. 

Developing the Younger Tagovailoa at Maryland

Part of Enos’ intrigue in taking on the offensive coordinator job in College Park was the transfer of Taulia Tagovailoa from Bama to Maryland. A team that needed a jump start after just five total wins between 2019 and 2020, Enos became a major factor in that answer. Both seasons under Enos brought Maryland to the top of the Big Ten in total offense. The Terrapins would finish fourth amongst the conference in either season. Incredibly better than the years prior.

2021 brought the best season of the two for Taulia. In 13 games, he would surpass 3800 yards through the air with 26 touchdowns and 11 interceptions. The renewal of the Tagovailoa name would land Maryland third in the conference in pass yards per game. Unfortunately, their rushing attack was never nearly as reliable as the ones established while in Fayetteville. An unexpected drop in passing yards this past season, Tagovailoa pulled off another season with over 3000 yards. Combined under his two years with Enos, he threw for 6868 yards while also reeling off multiple Maryland school records. 

During that span, he would also hold a touchdown to interception ratio of 44 to 19. The most notable stat improvement prior to Enos’ arrival involved his completion percentage. Surprising right? In the shortened 2020 season, the completion number was just 61.5%. Between the next two seasons, Taulia would reach a career high 69.2% in 2021 and a slight fall down to 67% this season. Enos once again proved what he’s excelled at his entire career.

The Potential with Arkansas’ Skill Players

A situation that first comes to mind amongst all this is what’s to come from KJ Jefferson. The most fun aspect of the plot to unfold is that Enos has proven to increase quarterback accuracy at his former stops. With an offense that has modernized a bit since his original Arkansas stint, it still takes on less aspects of the quarterback run game. 

Why does that matter? 

That could be where building accuracy and decision making shines. Kendall Briles is notorious for creating prototype scrambling QBs. Accuracy was always at the forefront of concern under his lead. 

While not being something that needed major addressing, it was the most glaring amongst his quarterbacks’ development. That was no different with Jefferson, but something just might be brewing for a player that needs no introduction to running over an opposing player. Coaching up the accuracy department while pairing him with new strength coach Ben Sowders could be magical for his final season. 

The argument could be made that Enos hasn’t had a running back as stellar as Rocket Sanders in his career. Reflecting back to the days of Alex Collins and Rawleigh Williams and there is certainly room to debate. That’s for another time. What Enos has yet to have is a pairing such as Jefferson and Sanders in the same backfield. The narrative this offseason has been what incredible things await the pair going into 2023. Now with Enos, what he decides to do with such power is something that will be impossible to wait for as a fan. 

Outside of them alone, the transfer portal has given Enos incredible physical talent to use on the outside. Wide receivers TeSlaa, Broden, and Armstrong were all super sought after players and for good reason. Each of them are specimens in their own right. Their presence alone should add value to boosting Jefferson’s accuracy next season. 

If anything, their height will present challenges to opposing teams in the red zone. The struggle to punch the rock in time and time again near the goal line played a major role in bringing in the massive talents. At Maryland, Enos’ red zone success was 82% with a higher touchdown rate than Arkansas the last two seasons. 

Factoring in the arrival of freshmen Luke Hasz and Shamar Easter at tight end and the potential sky rockets. If the offensive line can produce like the last time Enos and Pittman were together, the SEC could get put on notice.

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