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Arkansas caught a lot of flak for not being a strong run defense last season, but that stat is misleading when it comes to straight up stopping a standard rushing attack, something the Hogs should see more of in 2011.
When it came to holding a team with a great dual-threat quarterback the Hogs struggled. Aside from the Auburn game with Cam Newton, when he ran inside, around and over Arkansas, and the Mississippi State game where the Bulldogs got off 70 run plays, much of the blame has to fall on the defensive ends and outside linebackers. At the same time it is the result of facing some great college football players. Those perimeter players made some big plays at the line-of-scrimmage and in the backfield, but the primary responsibility of an end on most downs is containment.
Teams tried to hurry Arkansas last season, and at times it hurt defensive ends more than anything because they couldn't get in sync on passing downs or get comfortable on running downs. Mississippi State got plays off at a faster clip than any other team Arkansas faced, and Auburn is known for their hurry-up, no-huddle assault. Arkansas spent extra time working against a hurry-up offense in camp to better prepare for these situations.
The following teams had marquee dual-threat quarterbacks against Arkansas; Ohio State (225 rushing yards on 45 carries), Mississippi State (262 yards on 70 carries), Ole Miss (185 on 42) and Auburn (330 on 49). The only team to have a lot of success on Arkansas without a notable dual-threat QB was Alabama, who had the 2009 Heisman Trophy winner in Mark Ingram (227 on 40), and most of that yardage came between the 30s as the Tide were held to just 14 points until a couple of costly interceptions in the fourth quarter.
Teams with just decent running quarterbacks didn't do much damage, it was just the teams with standouts under center. LSU had a guy who could run in Jordan Jefferson, but the Hogs held the Tigers to 100 yards on 39 carries. South Carolina's Stephen Garcia has been known to pick up yardage with his legs, but the Gamecocks were held to 105 on 27. Vanderbilt and dual-threat QB Larry Smith were held to 117 on 31, and Jerrod Johnson and Texas A&M were held to 112 on 33. The only other notable game on the schedule last season was Georgia, where the Hogs held the Bulldogs to 139 on 41. Those performances are all more than respectable.
Things will be better for Arkansas this season not only because they will be more prepared and more experienced, but there is not the same dual-threat element in the conference this season. A player may emerge somewhere, but the lone notable dual-threat quarterback coming back is Mississippi State's Relf. And the Bulldogs needed overtime and 70 runs to get to 262 against the Hogs (3.7 per pop). This year's game is in Little Rock, and that will hurt MSU's attempt to play a conservative option game while repeatedly snapping the ball with 17 seconds left on the play clock and amassing only three penalties through four quarters and overtime...
This is the best group of defensive tackles, one through six, ever at Arkansas. The 5-0 defense gives them a chance to own any rushing attack they will face this season. Expect to see that formation used heavily against teams like Alabama, Ole Miss, South Carolina, Mississippi State and LSU, while the Razorbacks will run more of a 4-2-5 against Texas A&M, Auburn, Vanderbilt and Tennessee.
Sophomore nose tackle Byran Jones, 6-2, 312, did a very good job last season as a true freshman starter before an injury sidelined him against Vanderbilt and plagued him into the spring. Jones relied on natural ability last year and made errors at times, but with the experience he has gained, more strength, better conditioning and another year of coaching he should be a force inside. Few true freshmen have the ability not only to start at nose tackle in the Southeastern Conference but also to be an impact player going in ahead of what was an already solid rotation.
As if the defensive tackle spots weren't strong enough, in comes junior college sophomore defensive tackle Robert Thomas, 6-3, 308. Thomas arrived in the spring and got great experience working with the first unit while both 2010 starters were out with injuries. The crazy part is, the whole time he was having to play himself into shape and did not come from a junior college program with a consistent weight room program. First day of camp, it was clear he had moved some weight around in the off-season and was in better condition. He is listed at 308 now but was probably closer to 338 when he arrived. In high school when he came to Arkansas' camp, it took two offensive linemen to block him. When he arrived out of junior college, the thought was he would be a great run-stuffer. But in summer workouts, it was Thomas who finished ahead of the pack when the players ran sprints and gassers, and coaches love the extra dimension he provides as an interior pass-rusher. He is a big-time addition to an already stout interior.
Defensive tackle DeQuinta Jones, 6-5, 307, may be the most physically gifted of all the defensive linemen up front, though all of the top three are tough to beat. He also plays with a nasty streak and approaches each play like it's make or break. DeQuinta, better known as 'DD.' has a different mentality that has at times left him in post-play scuffles. It's a nasty streak that coaches would like to contain between plays, but maybe they should not mess with it for fear of changing him. DD will see action on the inside in the 5-0, and he is also the top backup at tackle, nose and defensive end in the 4-man fronts, which means he'll see as much action if not more than the starters.
On any Razorback team in another year, junior Alfred Davis, 6-1, 326, would probably be listed as a starter, but he will get nearly as much action as the above mentioned players. Davis has the widest body of all the defensive tackles and is more of an anchor than anything else. He is probably the best interior run-stuffer on the team because holes don't open in his territory. Running backs have to bounce it outside because it sometimes seems like Davis is rooted into the field. He won't win many sprints, and he's not much help moving laterally, but when it's 4th-and-2 at the goal line Davis is a great option. He also keeps offensive linemen off the linebackers.
Just to further show the depth of this unit, senior Zach Stadther, 6-1, 295, was a starter as a true freshman and sophomore, logging 16 starts those two seasons. It is just further indication of how far this defensive line has come. He will be a regular in the rotation, but when the depth chart is released his name will pop up on the third team. Stadther is not as physicaly gifted as Byran, DD or Thomas, but he plays with great tenacity and still has a lot of natural ability. As he has already proven, and has already been stated with Davis, on any other Hog team Stadther would be a starter.
Senior Lavunce Askew, 6-3, 290, who contributed and even started one game as a true freshman, does not even enter the conversation until the third team is discussed. This is a veteran who started five games last season and has only improved each season. Ironically, he has slipped further down in the rotation in spite of that, but he will still play a big role and will see action in the first quarter just like the other top six defensive tackles.
Other interior players who will see action in the first three games and in any mop-up duty include true sophomore Jeremiah Jackson, 6-3, 281, who may redshirt if possible, and walk-on senior Jared Green, 6-0, 315. Jackson had a solid spring and fall camp, but it was not enough to overtake any of the top six just yet. Green is listed at 6-0 but is probably closer to 5-10 and probably would have seen notable playing time at Arkansas a few years ago. True freshmen Demarcus Hodge, 6-1, 301, and Lonnie Gosha, 6-2, 270, are expected to redshirt. Gosha, an end when he arrived, missed 10 practices with an injury and was working with the defensive tackles when he returned.
Arkansas is not as deep at defensive end as they were out of the spring because the coaches opted to move backup Colton Miles-Nash to tight end, where he is excelling. Having DD working at both end and tackle will help a great deal because he is athletic enough to play on the edge even at 307 pounds. DD also played some end in high school.
Senior Jake Bequette looks to be in the best shape of his life and focused on improving his flexibility and pad level in the off-season. At 6-5, 271, he will at times stand up like a linebacker in the 5-0 defense. Look for Bequette to improve on his 9.0 sacks from last season and have another All-SEC season. He is one of several veteran players on defense and is essentially another coach on the field.
On the other side of the line is junior rush end Tenarius Wright, 6-2, 252, better known as 'Tank.' He did not start last season but played enough to finish ninth in the SEC in sacks with 6.0. Expect that number to increase a good deal if he can stay healthy. Wright suffered an ankle injury as a linebacker his true freshman season and has missed time with injuries in the spring and in fall camp, but he has played in all 26 games in his career. He still considers himself somewhat of a linebacker at heart and loves the idea of standing up at end at times in the 5-0 defense.
Sophomore Chris Smithk, 6-3, 251, is in the same mold as Wright and has great potential as a pass-rusher who registered 16.5 sacks his senior season of high school. Wright wears 43 and Smith wears 42, so they are oftentimes confused for each other because of similar builds and styles at the same position. Smith should make a big leap from last season when he saw action in six games.
Past those four, numbers are a bit of a concern, but a talented true freshman should be able to step in and contribute in a similar manner as Smith did last season. Horace Arkadie is listed at 6-4, 235 in the media guide. Try 6-4, 274. With that size he should be able to step in and play a couple of snaps here and there if there is a need to get the starters and key backups off the field in a game that is in hand. Fellow true freshman Trey Flowers, 6-4, 243, is described as a great worker by teammates, coaches and the strength and conditioning staff. Expect one of those guys to burn their redshirt this season.