FAYETTEVILLE — Until the Arkansas Razorbacks prove their defense can be effective in SEC play, it will be questioned and it will be considered a weakness by most college football pundits and prognosticators. That’s the price the program pays for having one of the SEC’s most porous if not the most porous defense the past two seasons.
But what commentators — particularly ones who aren’t on hand covering the team — believe about a team going into a season doesn’t have to end up being true.
And after watching the Hogs’ spring practice, I believe the Hogs are going to be considerably better on defense this fall than they have been the past two seasons. The Razorbacks were better at the start of spring than they were a year ago, and all they did was improve over the course of 15 practices.
Arkansas’ Red-White scrimmage was a hard-hitting affair, and even without blitzes, the defense held its own against a talent array of offensive performers. The Hogs played faster, hit harder and were more sure of themselves than at any point in the Bobby Petrino era.
Granted that’s not saying a lot, but it is improvement. The Razorbacks are two deep with players who have SEC experience. That’s an advantage the Razorbacks have earned the last two seasons when Petrino and defensive coordinator Willy Robinson had to thrust players into the fray before they were ready. But that experience should pay dividends this season.
Now, with all that said, don’t expect the Razorbacks to be a dominating defense in SEC play. Arkansas does not have the athletic talent to be a dominating defense in the SEC. They don’t have the overall size for that although the Hogs should be a fairly fast defense, but no faster than the larger defenses Alabama. Florida and LSU will deploy.
But, Petrino does not specialize in coaching teams to win 13-10. He’s planning on his Razorbacks’ offense to average scoring two touchdowns a quarter.
I guess the big question is whether or not the Hogs’ defense is good enough to allow the team to challenge the likes of Alabama. Florid and LSU for an SEC championship.
Considering Arkansas’ favorable schedule, it’s possible, but if I were handicapping teams, I would still have to give Alabama, Florida and LSU the nod over Arkansas because their overall defensive talent is better. But Arkansas is closing the gap, and the Hogs’ offense, which was the most explosive in the SEC last season, might be enough to push them to the SEC Championship Game if things fall into place.
Honestly, I doubt Petrino is sweating his defense after the spring. It made progress and even more progress can be made from now until August and from August until the season opener.
But Petrino does have a problem that has to be fixed with place-kicking and punting. If those weakness aren’t corrected or improved to a great degree, the Hogs will not win a SEC Championship. In fact, if the Hogs place-kicking and punting does not improve, they will be susceptible to losing to any SEC team on their docket.
A team can only dodge so many bullets in a season when its kicking game is mediocre to poor, and one SEC loss could take the Hogs out of contention for a Western Division title this season.