Arkansas defensive tackle DeMarcus Hodge gets excited just thinking about this week's trip to No. 8 Alabama. It's the kind of game the senior from Monroe, La., has always looked forward to as far as his college career.
"If you are a big-time defensive linemen, this is the type of game that challenges you," he said. "I don't know how you couldn't look forward to this kind of a game, a downhill running team. That's what you want to face as a defensive linemen."
Defensive line coach Rory Segrest knows the Hogs were successful in shutting down the Tennessee running game in the second half last year. The Hogs did okay last year against Alabama, too. But this is a different challenge.
"This is the best offensive line we've faced," Segrest said after practice Wednesday night. "Alabama is big and they do a good job with the run game. They do well as far as scheme and they also are a team that is going to use multiple tight ends. They will play two, one of them in the backfield.
"So we face a different challenge this week with what Alabama does. They have two very good backs. Derrick Henry is the big one, although both are good. He's very big and strong.
"I can tell you this about playing against Derrick Henry, you are not going to bring him down with an arm tackle. It just won't happen. If our defensive linemen are still engaged with a blocker when he comes through the gap, you aren't going to get him down. And, he's going to fall forward and get more yards. You just can't arm tackle him. He's physical and he presses up into the hole. If a blocker is on you, you are not going to tackle him."
Hodge said that means fundamentals are even more important this week.
"You must shed blocks," Hodge said. "If you don't get a full body on Henry, he's not going down."
Hodge and Segrest said it's a big week for gap control fundamentals.
"You just have to have guys in position," he said. "It's all of our guys doing their job. That's what we did a better job of in the second half against Tennessee. We've had some ups and downs, but we got better. And when a guy had a chance to make a play, they made it.
"There is no miracle cure for this. It's everyone doing their job and getting off blocks."
Hodge knows the Hogs did it against the Tide last year for the most part in a 14-13 loss.
"I think it's going to be a dog fight again, an interesting game," he said. "We know what Alabama is, what they always are, a big, physical team. I do look forward to this game, I am telling you that.
"They are different than the other teams we play. They still do a lot of the same things. They have more balance with (offensive coordinator Lane) Kiffin. But it's still about the run. And, if you play in the defensive line, you want to be in this type of game, trying to stop the run.
"I'll be honest, that's kind of what I like the most, too. If you are driven at all, and I am, you want this type game. This is a big one. It's what I like to do the most. I thrive on this.
"The key is to shed the blocks, release. That's what Segrest has stressed all week, release. You have to get your whole body on the back. Arm tackles won't work this week."
Linebaker Brooks Ellis said the defensive front has grown in the last couple of weeks. And, there is a different challenge this week with style of play.
"We've had to contain mobile quarterbacks," Ellis said of Alabama's Jake Coker. "This week, the goal is to disrupt the quarterback, affect his play with pressure.
"You want to go after him, get in his head, make him uncomfortable. He's not much of a runner like the last few weeks. I think that helps us. It's about pressure and coverage. Last year, we did a great job of stopping the run. It will be about doing that again this year and then affecting the quarterback."
Ellis said Alabama's success makes it a fun week.
"You know Alabama has always been one of the really good teams, in our conference and in the nation," he said. "So it's a fun week. But you know it's going to be a lot of work to beat them."
Ellis knows it will be on the linebackers to make the stops.
"We know linebacker play is important," he said. "We have gotten good play from Dre Greenlaw. He's what you want at inside linebacker, a good tackler. He's worked hard beside me every day.
"I think what we saw last week with our defense is that we settled down, calmed down. I think Dre calmed down. I think that's the key again this week."