State of the Hogs: Deep Trouble

Can the Arkansas offense make the Tigers pay for playing their safeties deep? It's a good LSU scheme, but the Hogs might be the perfect match.

Garrick McGee knows all about the LSU defensive personnel. Impressive. It's as much talent as you'll see anywhere in the country, promises the Arkansas defensive coordinator.

There's Drake Nevis at defensive tackle. The 6-2, 285-pound senior can be a blur. He's strong and athletic. He'll likely be on some All-America list at season's end.

Middle linebacker Kelvin Sheppard is just as talented on the second level of the LSU defense. The 6-3, 240-pound senior plays the run as good as any in the SEC.

Then, there's cornerback Patrick Peterson, dangerous on defense and as a deluxe kick and punt return specialist. He looks like a linebacker at 6-1, 222, but he's athletic and a standout cover man.

The Tigers have superb talent elsewhere on that defense, too. But that's not what stands out to McGee. It's the way defensive coordinator John Chavis utilizes that talent. He's as good as any in the country.

"The scheme is really good," McGee said. "He's really good. There are a lot of teams that have great personnel, but it's the way (Chavis) puts it in play and his schemes that make playing LSU a really tough challenge. The scheme is really good."

That's the job the Hogs face when they play host to No. 5 LSU in Little Rock on Saturday. Can the Hogs handle both the scheme and the LSU talent?

There are some unique aspects of the Chavis style. Generally, he'll play the run with seven in the box and leave his secondary to play pass. And then there's the way he plays his safeties. Last year against the Hogs, he took safety Chad Jones out of the box and put him 30 yards deep in the secondary.

And Jones took a running start at Arkansas slot back Joe Adams when the Hogs tried to throw over the middle. Jones had a big game, but he took two helmet-to-helmet hits that ultimately knocked him out of the game with a concussion in an overtime loss to the Tigers.

"They do play their safeties deep," McGee said. "That's one of the challenges. Can you make them play the run? Can you make them move. I'm not sure anyone plays their safeties as deep as they do."

Adams said it's simple.

"They just aren't going to let you run by them deep," Adams said. "That's as deep as anyone has played us. They do play everyone pretty deep, but that was deeper last year when they played us. Deeper than usual for them.

"It makes no difference to me. I don't mind going over the middle underneath them if that's what they want us to do.

"I don't mind. I didn't mind last year. We look forward to this game. They have a good defense and they have a good secondary. We look forward to playing them. It's hard to get behind them, but they may be giving something up if they play that deep. We just have to run good routes and see what we can do against that scheme."

Arkansas tight end D. J. Williams isn't sure the Tigers can play their safeties that far off the line against the Hogs this time around.

"I don't think we had the running game last year that we do now," Williams said. "I think with the way we are blocking the perimeter and the way Knile Davis is running the ball outside, they are going to have to get their safeties involved in the running game.

"If they play their safeties that deep, I think we can run it. I am going to say that I imagine that their safeties are going to have to come down into the box to stop us this time.

"But I understand why they play those safeties that deep. You see the respect they have for Ryan Mallett's arm and the speed of our wide receivers."

Adams hopes he gets some touches at running back, too. His speed might be tough on the LSU safeties on sweeps.

"I love to play running back," Adams said. "I've gotten a few more touches at running back the last few weeks. I think I'm getting my quickness back (after an ankle injury) and I like to run it. That would be fun to get some runs this week."

If not, Adams looks forward to throwing some blocks for Davis.

"I think you see that the wide receivers take pride in blocking our guys all the way to the end zone," Adams said. "That's one of the things we say at wide receiver -- a block for a touchdown is as good as a catch for a touchdown. We got some blocks for D. J. Williams on his touchdown catch and we've gotten some for Knile. You get the last block on a touchdown play, it's pretty neat. I liked getting that last guy for Jarius Wright last week."

There's more to it than just blocking after the catch. The Hogs will have to contend with one of the best sack groups in the SEC.

"They have a great pressure package," McGee said. "There's a lot for us to prepare for this week. It's one of the best you see in the SEC. Again, I point to the defensive coordinator. He's very good.

"The way they play their safeties is a part of their philosophy, to play them that deep. And they have the kind of players you are going to see in the NFL. But the scheme is really good."

The Hogs will have to protect long enough to allow their wide receivers to make the double moves that are the trademark of the Bobby Petrino offense. The crossing routes will be open against that kind of safety depth if the Hogs can give Mallett time.

Then the Hogs will have to take the hits that will surely come against a physical bunch of Tigers.

"They are one of the most physical teams we see each year," Williams said. "You see it on tape. They really bring it. They have physical players at all 11 positions on defense and they have 11 running to the ball.

"I think what you see on film from the LSU defense is an attitude. They are going to try to put that into your mind, that physical play.

"I think we respect what they do with their defense, but we are not scared. We aren't scared of anyone. We look forward to playing the game."

And all of the little games that go on within the game. Can the Hogs make the Tigers pay for playing so deep in the middle of the field?

I'll take Joe Adams and D. J. Williams across the middle. I don't think the Tigers can handle that matchup.

And while it's proper to give LSU defensive coordinator John Chavis his due, it's also on target to say he's facing his match in Bobby Petrino, Garrick McGee and the rest of the Arkansas offensive staff.

It's the kind of matchup that lured the CBS national TV crew to Little Rock. It's going to be a high-powered, high-octane, high-stakes game that players and coaches love as much as fans.

Don't take your eyes off the middle of the field when the Hogs snap the ball. There will be collisions. There will be winning plays. It's where I think Arkansas will beat LSU.

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