FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. – Lost in Arkansas’ less-than-stellar start to the 2017 season is an improvement. In fact, if you had asked most Razorbacks staffers and fans if the team’s run defense would improve 40-something spots in the team rankings, they’d have likely said 2017 would be an improvement over 2016 record-wise.
One part is right, anyway.
The run defense has progressed by massive amounts, even if the record has not. While not quite an apples-to-apples comparison – different opponents in different seasons, obviously – it is something of a barometer, anyway.
|Arkansas rush defense numbers||2016||2017|
|Opponent yards rushing||817||730|
|Opponent yards per carry||5.24||4.42|
|Opponent QB rush yards||227||121|
The biggest jump to the eyes both, looking at the chart and looking the film, is the way the Razorbacks have mostly bottled opposing quarterbacks. Of those 121 yards above, 79 came on one play by Texas A&M quarterback Kellen Mond. Just about everything else has been contained. And containing quarterbacks – rather, not containing quarterbacks – was at the heart of Arkansas’ defensive problems last year.
Inside linebackers coach Vernon Hagreaves has some theories on why the Razorbacks are better now.
“I think just the knowledge of it, how we’re deployed at times with the defense that we play,” Hargreaves said. “Gives us more eyes and allows us to have more people to go and get him on the ground. Simply overall awareness.”
Hargreaves two starters, Dre Greenlaw and De’Jon Harris, have been arguably two of the three performers on the entire defense. They’re tops in tackles with 43 and 39, respectively. Exactly what Hargreaves wants from his players.
They will need that to continue against Alabama. Crimson Tide quarterback Jalen Hurts is third in the SEC yards rushing with 517. That is not to suggest stopping Hurts means stopping Alabama.
But it will go a long way helping at least give a chance.
“We should lead the team in tackles. … It’s a fairly good indication of what’s going on,” Hagreaves said. “If your secondary or somebody else is leading and they’re not making enough, that’s a bit of a problem there. That’s a problem. I think we’re going in the right direction in terms of what it is we’re trying to do.”
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