Arkansas linebackers coach Randy Shannon isn't sure what formations Northern Illinois will present Saturday night, but he knows that's not the issue for either team.
"They are going to be in one back, two back and they will go from one, to two to even maybe four wide receivers," Shannon said of the NIU attack. "But it's going to be the same for our defense as it is for their defense. It's going to be like a whole night of inside run."
That's not to say Arkansas and NIU won't try some passes. They will, Shannon assures. But it's still going to come down to playing a physical smashmouth offense that resembles the "inside run" segments of both team's practices on a daily basis.
"The two teams are the same mindset," Shannon said. "It's going to be like inside run. Both teams want to pound it, shorten the game.
“It’s hard against any team with a quarterback that can both run and throw because you have to be able to take one away. If you take away the running game, then you’ll be successful, but if you can’t take away the running game, it will be a long game. “
That might sound like a game that would require Arkansas to play its base defense more than it has in the first three games. Strongside linebacker Braylon Mitchell has hardly been in the game as the Hogs have played packages that have either featured TQ Coleman at that spot, or an extra cornerback.
"No, we don't know," Shannon said. "Braylon could be out there if they play certain looks, but we don't really know for sure how (NIU) wants to play us. We are ready if they go with a tight end and two backs. But they don't always want to do that."
None of that effects the number of snaps for defensive end Trey Flowers. And, he knows the package doesn't change the way the Huskies play.
"Northern Illinois prides itself on running the ball," Flowers said. "They like to run between the tackles and get you pinching in and bounce it out with the scat back. It's a pretty interesting game. We look forward to it up front.
"They've got an O-line that has been around the block. They are pretty good at what they do."
Secondary coach Clay Jennings said the challenge is to leave the run to the front and play pass.
"We have to keep our eyes right," Jennings said. "We have improved, I think. But they are going to test us. You want to go help with the run because they are going to pound you, but that's the lure of this offense, that you don't stay with your man and stay ready for the pass.
"I think we are better at reading our keys. We have to trust the keys and play them."
The good news is that Jennings may have a full stable of defensive backs with Tevin Mitchel healthy and De'Andre Coley and Davyon McKinney nearing full speed. He's also added an extra corner/safety in walk-on Kevin Richardson.
"We are the healthiest since the fourth or fifth day of camp," Jennings said. "We got Tevin back and he played with some confidence. He made a couple of plays early and that seemed to get him going. He found out, 'I'm back.' He got some confidence in what we were doing. He made a couple of breakups and made tackles."
Jennings saw it coming in practice.
"I think we saw what we could do last week," he said. "I think we had 23 breakups and 15 picks. We were contesting throws. But last week was last week. We have to see it again."
There was also some pleasant developments with true freshman Henre' Toliver, making his first start.
"The stage wasn't too big for him," Jennings said. "That's what we saw. He doesn't bat an eye. He gave great effort and I don't think the game is too big for him."
Toliver got a scouting report on what the stadium would be like from Jennings.
"I just stayed chilled," Toliver said. "Coach told me about the environment and I was just totally normal."
There was an early up tick when he saw Mitchel make a play.
"I knew at one point they were talking about redshirting Tevin," Toliver said. "But when he did that, I thought, 'He's back!' He hasn't lost a beat."
The surprise, even in the eyes of Jennings, has been the play of Richardson, the former quarterback at Jacksonville.
"I'd say a surprise, a pleasant surprise," Jennings said. "He helped us on special teams and now he's in some packages. He's a hard worker. He gives great effort.
“We thought Kevin had a chance in the spring. The first time he flashed was really during one-on-ones. Throughout the spring we would throw him in there a couple of times and he played some plays. Corner in the spring and then about halfway through fall camp he got some dead legs and we needed a guy to play in the slot and he did a tremendous job and continues to do a great job for us.”
Richardson is playing despite a skinny frame. He weighs only 160. Attempts to add bulk have been futile. Strength coach Ben Herbert has tried almost everything.
"Coach Herbert thinks I may have tape worms," Richardson said. "Not really, but he mentioned it. The latest thing is something called Man Feed Pro. It's like horse food. You put it in a shake. But it hasn't done anything for me.
"They want me at 185. I can't gain anything."
But it hasn't kept him off the field.
"I had a tough spring, not many reps," he said. "Then in the fall, I made my move. I started getting some chances. I made a push. I made plays when I was out there with the threes at corner. Then, they put me with the ones in two minute and finally last week at Tech, I was out there with the game on the line. I think it was 14 snaps."
Richardson, who had eight interceptions as a senior, was all-state at Jacksonville and had offers from Harding, Arkansas Tech and Arkansas-Monticello.
"The Harding offer was good, maybe a $100,000 scholarship," he said. "But my dream since I was little was to play for the Razorbacks. Coach (Barry) Lunney talked to me and said I'd have to start with the scout team. He said it would be tough. But this is what I wanted to do.
"It's a long way from 6A-East to the SEC, but this is what I wanted to do. In high school, when I played quarterback, I didn't read safeties. I just threw it. I thought when I came here, I'd be a wide receiver, but Coach (Taver) Johnson said they needed me with the DBs. That was fine."
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