State of the Hogs: Pride

Members of the Arkansas defense have pride in silencing critics and excitement with a trip to New Orleans.

It goes down as one of the best and most appropriate quotes of the last season. Jake Bequette said it in the post-game celebration after the victory over LSU.

There was no certainty that Arkansas had earned a Sugar Bowl trip at that point, but everyone knew the Hogs had grabbed the favorite's role with Auburn sitting at No. 1 in the country.

"I love New Orleans," Bequette said. "I've never been, but I love it."

That's probably the take you'd get from every 21-year-old male in the state of Arkansas. Nothing wrong with imagining what it's going to be like on Bourbon Street.

Obviously, that's reality now. It's soaked in for Bequette. He's got another take now. It's pride.

The junior defensive end beams about being on the first Arkansas team to play in a BCS game. He also thinks the Hogs have earned some of the pride back on the defensive side of the ball.

"One of our goals was to get Arkansas back to the national scene, go to a BCS game," he said. "We did that. My dad played on the last Arkansas team to play in the Sugar Bowl, 30 years ago. So there's pride in that, too.

"The other part was to silence some of the critics as far as our defense. We deserved blame. We weren't very good the last two years, but we improved this year. It's always satisfying when you silence critics. We wanted to do that for our coach, Willy Robinson. It was a privilege to play for him.

"As far as the 1980 Sugar bowl, my father talks about that game, playing against Bear Bryant and Alabama. I know they didn't get the result they wanted, but that was a great Alabama team."

Indeed, it was Bryant's only 12-0 Alabama squad, undisputed national champion. Jay Bequette was the starting center on that Arkansas team that fought gamely, but fell, 24-9.

One of the results of that game was a change in recruiting strategy by Arkansas coach Lou Holtz. He looked at Alabama in warmups and noted that every lineman (and the Tide played two sets of offensive lines) stood at least 6-4. He thought the Hogs were tiny by comparison.

Ohio State, by today's standards, has a massive offensive line. But this Arkansas defense should be able to measure up physically. Bequette is 6-5, 268 and runs like a linebacker. He's perfectly suited to go against two fine Buckeye offensive tackles.

"One of them is going to be a high draft pick," Bequette said. "I get excited when I know that's the type player we are going to face. He's very good. They are both very physical. But we see that every week in the SEC. We are prepared for this type of opponent."

Bequette will see both Ohio State tackles since he flips sides based on the calls in the UA scheme. It's not a weak-strong scheme, but does have some of those tendencies based on calls and formations.

"I'm supposed to be the strong side, but there are certain situations where it's not that way," he said. "We have some disguise in what we do, so you can't just look at one player and know the way we are aligned. Honestly, it's been about 50-50 as far as field or boundary side for me. I've probably been a little more to the right side and I like that because that's the blind side for a right-handed quarterback."

The Hogs have never beaten a Big Ten team in postseason, but they've only gotten three tries. So that's not going to be a huge part of the hype to this game. It's not like what the Buckeyes have hanging over themselves. They are 0-9 against SEC foes in postseason.

Senior defensive end Damario Ambrose feels the pride issues that Bequette mentioned, but said the battle between SEC and Big Ten will be a theme that the Hogs embrace, too.

"It's going to be a physical game," Ambrose said. "It is going to be a pride thing. We will be representing the SEC. Just like Auburn is carrying the SEC banner in the championship game, we have to hold up our end in the Sugar Bowl. We want the SEC to be the best conference.

"We will be ready to step on the field against anyone. We want to be known as a great team, one of the best ever to play at Arkansas."

Told what Bequette said about New Orleans, Ambrose smiled.

"I've never been to New Orleans either and I grew up in Mobile, just three hours away," he said. "And I think I am going to love it, too. Is there anything to do there?"

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