Posted on: December 6, 2011 5:49 pm
Posted by Jerry Hinnen
The 2011 Arkansas defense was supposed to be the Razorbacks' best yet under Bobby Petrino, with star seniors like defensive end Jake Bequette and linebacker Jerry Franklin. That didn't happen, and so it's probably not a coincidence that defensive coordinator Willy Robinson resigned his position Tuesday.
"I want to thank Willy Robinson for his role in helping our defense, which he leaves in better shape than when he arrived," Petrino said in a statement. "I have the utmost respect for Willy Robinson as an individual who wants the best for the young men he coaches. I give Willy credit for his part in the building process the last four years and wish him future success."
Robinson's departure continues a substantial shakeup on the Razorback coaching staff. Offensive coordinator Garrick McGee recently accepted the UAB head coaching position and special teams coach John L. Smith has done the same at FCS Weber State, making Robinson the third Hog assistant to leave in three days.
Robinson had been in Fayetteville for all four years of Petrino's Razorback tenure but had come under fire for his first two defenses, both of which finished in the bottom half of the FBS in total defense; his 2009 unit ranked dead last in the SEC in total defense, yards per-play, and pass defense. Petrino stuck by Robinson and was rewarded with substantial improvement in 2010, as the Hogs cut their yards given up per-play by more than a half yard, finished 36th in the FBS in total defense, and placed fifth in the SEC in total D.
But even with the most experienced defense of his tenure and an SEC as offensively deficient as it's been in years, the Razorbacks still backslid in 2011, finishing 51st in the FBS in total defense and ninth in the SEC. Rush defense was a particular problem; the Hogs gave up an average of 203 yards on the ground to their nine BCS-level opponents and finished 79th in the FBS.
Posted on: November 22, 2011 2:25 pm
Posted by Jerry Hinnen
ARKANSAS WILL WIN IF: the Hog defensive line plays the game of its collective life. As noted here in the run-up to LSU-Alabama, the Tigers' big plays come almost exclusively in the passing game; even with Spencer Ware and Michael Ford around, LSU ranks among the nation's lowest producers of long runs even as they rank among its most consistent in grinding out 4, 5, or 6 yards a carry. Without that steady diet of chain-moving runs, though, what happens? Against Alabama, what happened was that Jarrett Lee found Rueben Randle blanketed, the LSU passing game got neither big plays nor small ones, and the Bayou Bengal offense as a whole (even in victory) limped to its worst offensive showing of the year.
Obviously, the Hog defense isn't going to be able to do the things Alabama's did, and there's a danger it could get run over completely; already, the Razorbacks have given up 197 rushing yards to Alabama, 381 to Texas A&M, 291 to Auburn, 222 to Vanderbilt. But in players like ends Jake Bequette and Tenarius Wright and tackles D.D. Jones and Byran Jones, the Hogs have the potential to play much better than those numbers would suggest. If they can occasionally slow down Ware and Ford and force the LSU passing game to methodically move down the field rather than pop the big one to Randle on second- or third-and-short, their offense will have a chance at outscoring an LSU unit that -- for all its many strengths -- isn't as consistently explosive.
LSU WILL WIN IF: their secondary comes to play. Let's be honest: Dennis Johnson has given the Razorback running game a real spark over the past several weeks, and the potential return of Knile Davis might spark them further still. But against the nation's No. 4 run defense, the Hogs simply aren't going to win the game on the ground. Tyler Wilson, Jarius Wright, Joe Adams and Co. are going to have to get theirs. And they've got some hope--against the only other truly dedicated pass-first offense they've faced this year, LSU gave up 463 yards, 7.1 an attempt, and two touchdowns to West Virginia.
But since then, Morris Claiborne, Eric Reid, Tyrann Mathieu, Ron Brooks, Brandon Taylor (and the rest) have been on lockdown, allowing zero touchdown passes over their last seven games while collecting seven interceptions. Nationally, only Alabama boasts a lower opposing QB rating. If the LSU defensive backs do anything similar to Wilson like they'd done to everyone else this season that wasn't West Virginia, the Hogs won't stand a chance.
THE X-FACTOR: Adams has long since proven his ability to change a game with his punt returns, but Brad Wing and the elite LSU punt coverage unit mean he may not get much of a chance. The bigger issue: if the Hogs can avoid the backbreaking turnover. Wilson has been largely careful with the ball but may face heavy pressure and has had a brainfart or two here or there; see his gift-wrapped pick-six vs. South Carolina. And Johnson has already given up a handful of critical fumbles this season. If the Hogs hand an LSU team that thrives on field position those kinds of early Christmas presents, forget winning--they'll be lucky to keep the game competitive.
Tags: Alabama, Arkansas, Auburn, Brad Wing, Brandon Taylor, Byran Jones, D.D. Jones, Dennis Johnson, Eric Reid, Jake Bequette, Jarius Wright, Jarrett Lee, Jerry Hinnen, Joe Adams, Keys to the Game, Knile Davis, LSU, Michael Ford, Morris Claiborne, Ron Brooks, Rueben Randle, SEC, South Carolina, Spencer Ware, Tenarius Wright, Texas A&M, Tyler Wilson, Tyrann Mathieu, Vanderbilt, West Virginia
Posted on: November 15, 2011 2:00 pm
Edited on: November 15, 2011 7:46 pm
Posted by Jerry Hinnen
MISSISSIPPI STATE WILL WIN IF: their secondary gets some help. The Bulldogs were hoping to be sitting prettier than 5-5 at this stage when the season began, but it hasn't been the defensive backfield's fault; led by a pair of senior safeties and junior corner Johnthan Banks's All-SEC caliber performance, State ranks 14th in the nation in pass defense and in the top 30 in opposing passer rating. Even on the road, even without injured safety Nickoe Whitley, the Bulldogs figure to cause Tyler Wilson as many headaches as any team he's faced since Alabama; it was just last week the Tide's AJ McCarron posted the second-lowest QB rating of his season in Starkville, lower even than his performance vs. LSU. But just keeping Wilson (relatively) in check won't be enough. The rapidly improving front seven has to prevent the boom-or-bust Dennis Johnson from getting rolling; the State running game has to move the chains and keep the low-fi Bulldog offense from getting in field position trouble; and of course the Bulldog special teams can't give up cheap to scores to Joe Adams on punt returns or Johnson on kickoffs.
Do all of those things, and the secondary should provide enough of a defensive foundation to build an upset win around.
ARKANSAS WILL WIN IF: they keep coming up with big plays. Mississippi State is a team simply not built to win a shootout on the road; since their Week 2 explosion vs. Auburn, they've averaged just 12.6 points per their five SEC games. Meanwhile, the Hogs have scored 49 and 44 points against their last two SEC opponents, many of them coming via the home run. Against Tennessee there was Adams' ridiculous punt return, a 70-yard Johnson sprint, and a 40-yard bomb, again, to Adams; against South Carolina the Hogs got a Johnson kickoff return for TD, a 68-yard strike to Jarius Wright, and the game-icing sack-and-strip from Jake Bequette that set the offense up at the 1. Big plays like those not only demoralize the opposition and put points on the board in a hurry, they represent quick possessions that pack more possessions and plays into a game and offer the Hog offense even more chances at pushing their total in the 30s or 40s. Do that against MSU, and the Bulldogs won't have a prayer of keeping up.
THE X-FACTOR: Johnson. The junior has struggled the past two years with injuries and thanks in part to fumbling issues, didn't break into the Hog lineup immediately this season even after the loss of Knile Davis. But Johnson's combination of power and explosiveness offers the Arkansas running game a spark it just doesn't have otherwise, and Bobby Petrino has shown for years that if he can pair some kind of legitimate ground attack with his aerial fireworks ... watch out.
Posted on: November 8, 2011 3:42 pm
Edited on: November 8, 2011 3:43 pm
Posted by Jerry Hinnen
TENNESSEE WILL WIN IF: Tyler Bray finds the broken thumb miracle cure between now and Saturday. The Vols' sophomore starter hasn't played since his team's loss to Georgia Oct. 8, and though he got his hard cast off this week, it doesn't sound like he's going to be nearly ready to play against the Hogs. But the Vols might not have a prayer without him: in the three SEC games Bray has missed, backups Matt Simms and Justin Worley have combined to complete 39.5 percent of their passes and post a 0-to-5 TD-to-INT ratio. Yes, those three SEC games came against teams with far better defenses than Arkansas's -- LSU's, Alabama's, and South Carolina's, in fact -- but two of them also came at home. It's also not like the Vols' 118th-ranked rushing game (fresh off averaging all of 2.67 yards per-carry vs. Middle Tennessee State) is going to be much help. Unless Bray can find a witch doctor or mad scientist or special magnetic wristband that fixes his thumb in time, it's awfully hard -- and just about impossible -- to see the Vols winning this game.
ARKANSAS WILL WIN IF: they can just avoid catastrophic mistakes. Maybe easier said than done, of course, if you saw Tyler Wilson do this vs. Carolina last Saturday:
Wilson isn't the only Hog to have turnover issues of late: Dennis Johnson's fumbles helped keep both Vanderbilt and Ole Miss in those respective games. If Wilson, Johnson or any other butter-fingered Hog set the Vols up with short fields or throw away scoring opportunities, the Vols have shown -- in their 6-6 halftime tie with Alabama -- that they can hang around with better teams, even on the road.
Hang around long enough to win it? Probably not, but where turnovers are involved, never say never. Wilson and Co. have to make sure they aren't.
THE X-FACTOR: Jake Bequette. The Razorbacks' preseason All-SEC defensive end had suffered an injury-plagued and disappointing season until last Saturday, when he roared to life with three sacks of Connor Shaw and the game-clinching forced fumble. If Bequette terrorizes poor Worley or Simms the way he terrorized Shaw, the Vols really, really have no hope.
Posted on: November 6, 2011 1:24 am
Posted by Jerry Hinnen
WHY ARKANSAS WON: Because eventually, even with the help it got from Taylor and special teams, the Gamecock offense just wasn't built to keep pace with Arkansas's. Connor Shaw had led Carolina to 28 points total in his team's two previous games--getting them to 28 in this one game alone was a huge step forward, and a nod is due even if the Gamecocks somehow got there on only those barely-more-than-200 yards.
Arkansas, meanwhile, twice settled for field goals after driving inside the Gamecock 15, were stopped on 4th-and-goal at the 2, and had two other drives end in a missed field goal. And they'd still scored 37 points when Shaw stepped back to pass inside his own 10 late in the fourth -- no time any more for trying to grind out drives -- and was buried by Hog defensive end Jake Bequette. Shaw fumbled, the Hogs recovered, ballgame.
WHEN ARKANSAS WON: when Bequette made that sack. But we suppose getting Broderick Green into the end zone two plays later (pushing the lead to 16 points with only 4:07 to play), as opposed to a second goalline stuff, made it official.
WHAT ARKANSAS WON: Combined with Alabama's loss, a ticket directly back into the SEC west race. If the Hogs win out -- a tall task, since that would include taking down LSU in Baton Rouge -- they would force a three-way tie atop the division that would be broken by the BCS standings. It's a long shot, but it's a shot nonetheless.
WHAT SOUTH CAROLINA LOST: their grip on the SEC East. The Gamecocks now slip a game behind Georgia in the loss column, and will need beat Florida at home next week and have the Dawgs to lose to either Auburn or Kentucky to make it back to Atlanta. Their shot is probably better than the Hogs', truthfully, but it probably doesn't feel that way with their destiny controlled by someone else.
Posted on: October 7, 2011 1:02 pm
Posted by Jerry Hinnen
Though no one at Arkansas expected their defensive showing against Texas A&M to be quite the bloodbath it proved to be -- 628 total yards given up, 381 on the ground, even in the win -- the Razorbacks could at least comfort themselves with the fact that multiple key defenders were either banged-up or out completely. And with Auburn on deck for Saturday, they can now comfort themselves that one of those defenders is set to return at last.
Bobby Petrino confirmed Thursday night that All-SEC defensive end (and CBSSports.com College Football 100 member) Jake Bequette will play against the Tigers, ending a four-week absence following a hamstring injury suffered against New Mexico.
"He’s been in there and done a nice job," Petrino said of Bequette's week of practice. "He’ll be ready to go."
It's boost enough for the Razorbacks that Bequette is a decorated senior leader who led the team in sacks in 2010 and has long been one of the team's stouter defenders against the run. But there also might be no position where Arkansas needs the help more than at defensive end, where the Hogs' second projected starter, Tenarius Wright, is still recovering from a broken arm. With both Wright and Bequette out, the Hogs failed to record a single sack on 35 Texas A&M passing attempts and have just five for the season, tied for 98th in the FBS.
With Auburn certain to ride Michael Dyer on the ground and look for big plays down the field in the passing game -- the sort of plays a pass rush would help disrupt -- Bequette could be returning just in time. With the senior on the field, if the Tigers gouge the Razorbacks in any similar fashion to the way the Aggies did, there's going to be even less comfort this time around.
Posted on: September 26, 2011 4:36 pm
Posted by Jerry Hinnen
With star running back Knile Davis out for the season, star defensive end Jake Bequette missing the Alabama game with a hamstring issue, and multiple receivers at less than 100 percent, Bobby Petrino no doubt felt his team had already endured enough terrible luck with injuries to last the the season ... and that was before they took the field against the Tide.
But that didn't stop the Razorbacks from enduring yet another major injury blow when starting defensive end Tenarius Wright left Saturday's loss gently holding his left arm. Per Arkansas RapidReporter Jimmy Carter, Petrino confirmed Monday what may had already suspected: Wright has broken the arm and will be out four-to-six weeks after undergoing surgery Sunday. Wright had 10 tackles on the year to-date, one for loss.
The loss would be significant even if everyone else was healthy; a third-team preseason All-SEC selection, multi-year starter, and collector of six sacks a year ago, Wright was already a key member of the Hog front seven before Bequette went down at the other starting end position. But with Bequette out and backups in at both end positions, it wasn't surprising that the line was largely helpelss against the powerful Tide ground game, giving up more than 5 yards a carry.
With Texas A&M's one-two punch of Christine Michael and Cyrus Gray on the docket this week, getting Bequette back would be huge. Petrino said the senior ran with the team at Sunday night's practice and could be back in uniform for Saturday.
But if he's not, a defensive line that's already hurting will be hurting even more thanks to Wright's absence. If any Razorback fans out there have any protective juju for the remaining starters on the line -- tackles Dequinta Jones and Byran Jones, and end Chris Smith -- now would be the time to use it.
Posted on: September 23, 2011 2:46 pm
Edited on: September 23, 2011 2:54 pm
Posted by Jerry Hinnen
In which we break down the SEC's biggest games. This week: Tide and Razorbacks.
AT STAKE: Oh, not much, just a continued place in the national championship discussion and a seat alongside LSU as one of the conference's two true favorites. And maybe even more for Arkansas, who despite their Sugar Bowl appearance from a year ago still aren't popularly recognized as a true heavy-hitter on the national stage. Beat Alabama at Alabama, and no one will deny Bobby Petrino's team their place at the "potential crystal-ball hoisters" table any longer.
WHEN ARKANSAS HAS THE BALL, THEY MUST: protect Tyler Wilson. Alabama's secondary is one of the most feared in the nation -- and rightly so -- but they have a dirty little secret: they can be beaten deep. Downfield threats like South Carolina's Alshon Jeffery, the Razorbacks' Jarius Wright, and Auburn's array of pump-and-go targets all found plenty of success against the Tide defensive backs last season, due somewhat in part to the inexperience in the unit but also to a pass rush that got to Stephen Garcia just one and Ryan Mallett twice.
All the Tide defensive backs from a year ago return, but then again, so do all the Hog wideouts (Wright included). If Wilson is given the same amount of time Mallett (at least in the first half) and Garcia were in 2010, he and Petrino will find the space to hit a handful of potentially game-deciding big plays down the field.
The key for the Tide will be making sure Wilson doesn't have the time in the pocket necessary to make those kinds of long-developing throws. And Nick Saban has to love their matchup at weakside tackle*, where true freshman Mitch Smothers will be making his first SEC start opposite none other than Courtney Upshaw, the Tide's most explosive pass rusher. If Smothers can hold his ground against Upshaw and the rest of the Hog line can pick up Saban's tricky, terrifying blitz packages, Wilson and the receivers should be able to do their bombing-run thing.
If not? If there are no big plays in the passing game? And the Hogs are required to instead methodically drive down the field, without Knile Davis, via precise execution and careful mistake-free football, against that Tide defense? Forget it.
WHEN ALABAMA HAS THE BALL, THEY MUST: Not. Turn. The. Ball. Over.
Not much has gone wrong for the Tide so far this season. The offensive line has had some hiccups, but nothing that can't be fixed; Trent Richardson's slow start isn't an issue with Eddie Lacy running rampant, and may be behind him after the North Texas bludgeoning anyway; aside from one early drive against Penn State, the defense has been as flawless as expected; and maybe most importantly, AJ McCarron-to-Marquis Maze has given the passing game something to hang its hat on. But there is one fly in the ointment, and that's the Tide's seven giveaways, a number that puts them among the nation's bottom 20 teams in that department.
Maybe even more worrying than the number itself is that it hasn't been one issue. McCarron and backup Phillip Sims have thrown two interceptions apiece. McCarron has also lost a fumble. Receiver DeAndrew White put the ball on the ground twice against Kent State. And though he hasn't lost a fumble yet this season, Lacy's ball security has reportedly been an issue limiting his playing time in the past. Solving the problem may not be as easy as just telling McCarron to not throw picks.
Still, the Tide's offensive job is simple: hang onto the ball, and eventually Richardson, Lacy and the line should eventually be able to bulldoze their way past the Jake Bequette-less Hog front seven. Turn it over -- especially in the Tide's own half, negating the Tide's ability to force the visitors into attempting home-run balls, as above -- and the Tide could find themselves in the kind of hole McCarron and the non-Maze receivers aren't yet ready to pass them out of.
WHAT ALABAMA CAN'T ACCOUNT FOR: Punt returner Joe Adams. Adams already has two highlight-reel punt returns for touchdown this season and the Tide have had some minor struggles in coverage, only allowing three returns but allowing those three to average nearly 10 yards. (Kick returns could be interesting, too; they've been a sore spot in the past for 'Bama, and Hog freshman Marquel Wade already has a touchdown this season, too.)
WHAT ARKANSAS CAN'T ACCOUNT FOR: The brilliance of Richardson (left) and Lacy. The last time Arkansas came to Tuscaloosa, the Hogs had gotten off to a steady start until Richardson turned what should have been a three-yard loss into a twisting, shifting, tackle-breaking 52-yard touchdown run. Final result: 35-7, Tide. If Richardson and his (equally?) capable backup can provide similar fireworks in this meeting -- and they looked primed to do just that against UNT -- there won't be anything Arkansas can do.
AND IN THE END: Arkansas gets two first-half touchdowns and carries a slim lead into the fourth quarter, but a slim lead against the Tide ground game isn't lead enough. Alabama 23, Arkansas 20.
*Arkansas is one of the few teams that doesn't have "left" and "right" tackles, preferring instead to employ weakside and strongside tackles that flip back-and-forth depending on the play and formation.
Tags: AJ McCarron, Alabama, Alshon Jeffery, Arkansas, Auburn, Bobby Petrino, Courtney Upshaw, DeAndrew White, Eddie Lacy, Jake Bequette, Jarius Wright, Jerry Hinnen, Joe Adams, Knile Davis, Marquis Maze, Mitch Smothers, Nick Saban, Phillip Sims, Ryan Mallett, SEC, South Carolina, Sugar Bowl, Trent Richardson, Tyler wilson