Dan Hampton didn't know the numbers, but he knew the look of the Arkansas defensive line as he met with reporters after his talk Wednesday at the Northwest Arkansas Touchdown Club.
One of the most violent players to ever play at Arkansas and an NFL Hall of Famer, Hampton rated what is wrong with the Razorbacks in the pass rush in simple terms. More violence is needed.
Arkansas head coach Bret Bielema played in the defensive front as a “tilted” nose guard at Iowa. He played with a violent nature and preaches physical toughness. From Hampton's perspective watching the Hogs from his Chicago home on cable television, he just wants more of that.
There's no doubt that Bielema preaches it. It's in his DNA. Just like Hampton, he grew up working on farms. Hampton said his father toughened him in the hay fields near Jacksonville. Bielema grew up on a hog farm not far from Chicago.
Hampton's critique of the UA pass rush – last in the SEC with just seven sacks – was spot on. It's clear the Hogs have not replaced Trey Flowers and Darius Philon's productivity with improved depth. Flowers led the team with six sacks and Philon added 4.5.
Hampton said he'll be watching. He always does. The old defensive tackle wants to see if the defensive front can manhandle the Sky Hawks when they kick off at 3 p.m. Saturday at Reynolds Razorback Stadium.
It reminds me of an old adage about depth told to me years ago by my father. Sometimes when you have two players that are similar at the same position it's because you don't have a first teamer. You've got two backups.
I think there is still potential in the UA pass rush. Defensive ends Tevin Beanum, Jeremiah Ledbetter, Deatrich Wise and JaMichael Winston are all good players, but none have emerged as great players. Mitch Loewen also has pass rush potential and causes problems with his length.
But it's not just the lack of sacks. The Hogs lack quarterback hurries, too. After coming up with 36 last year – 15 by Flowers and Philon – there are just 15 this season. Loewen leads with three.
One of the interesting twists up front has been the lack of productivity of Taiwan Johnson. He seemed to flourish as a 260-pound nose guard. He had 4.5 sacks and scored a touchdown in the bowl game, recovering a fumble in the end zone against Texas. He's now a 290-pound tackle. He's got 14 tackles and only 2.5 for losses. He had 26 with 8.0 for losses last year.
Beanum said the Hogs have worked on pass rush this week, just as they have all season. The focus has been to improve the bull rush, a straight ahead drive. Told of Hampton's comments, Beanum said, “Then we need to work on our violence.” And, there's nothing more violent than the bull rush.
The big question – maybe not as big as the hefty guarantee the Hogs are giving Tennessee-Martin – can the Hogs do what no one else has really done this season. UT-Martin quarterback Jarod Neal has hardly been touched this season.
The Hogs are proud of allowing just six sacks. The smallish UT-Martin front (300, 313, 250, 280 and 282) has allowed just four sacks. Neal, with only four interceptions in 239 attempts, has only lost 22 yards against 177 gained. Clearly, he stays away from the bad play
“We look at their (offensive) line and see that they are all veterans,” Beanum said. “Every single player has a redshirt year so we know they've been around. They don't make mistakes.
“The quarterback is very good. He gets the ball off quick. We have worked on getting our hands up and trying to get in his way.”
So we'll open our keys to victory with quarterback pressure. Can the Hogs do what they haven't accomplished all year against a team from a lower division. If it ever is going to happen, it will be this week when they should have an advantage as far as size and speed over the Sky Hawks.
Top 10 Keys to Victory
1, Pass Rush – The Hogs have a solid rotation at defensive end, just no bell cows. Jeremiah Ledbetter has flashed at times, leading the team with 6.5 tackles for lost yardage. Ledbetter and Tevin Beanum started the year at the same spot, but Beanum was switched to the strong side to help with the pass rush, putting captain JaMichael Winston on the bench. It was clear last week that Deatrich Wise was making progress as a pass rusher, forcing Auburn to hold him on almost every play. Can one of these four get loose against UT-Martin.
2, Pass Defense – See item number one when you try to figure out why the Hogs are giving up 257.7 yards per game through the air. There are too many busts in the secondary, but a little more rush would help the cause in the back end. Bielema was upset that junior D.J. Dean busted on the play that allowed Auburn position for the game tying field goal in regulation. Josh Liddell's return to the free safety spot seemed to bring some positives, but the safeties have to make a few more plays in the passing game. Liddell did come through with a pass breakup on the final play of the game. Still, the pass defense gives up plays over the middle too often.
3, Pass Drops at Linebacker – I'm guessing you are seeing a pattern developing here. Linebackers coach Vernon Hargreaves said the run defense has been adequate at times, with improved play from Dre Greenlaw, Brooks Ellis and Dwayne Eugene. Still, the linebackers have to be more consistent in their drops, perhaps falling into coverage more quickly. He wants improved play in re-routing wide receivers to help the back end. The top four pass catchers for the Sky Hawks are all wideouts. Tight end Corey Rogers has only two catches.
4, Intensity – It's hard to match what the Hogs brought last week against Auburn. Obviously, they brought intensity and played like they knew it was a big game. That only happens three to four times in a season. I can remember Frank Broyles saying that you get maximum effort only a few times a season. It would be difficult to imagine that the Hogs played as hard against the Sky Hawks. But that's a point of emphasis because some players recall going through the motions for too much of the Toledo game and it led to an upset. Mentally, the Hogs have to prove they can get close to their top game more often and not just against SEC opponents. Do they bring anything close to their “A” game against the Sky Hawks?
5, Running Back Depth – Clearly, the Hogs are down a man once again. After losing Jonathan Williams in preseason, the Hogs have now hit the second half stretch run without another key player. Rawleigh Williams is out for the season after undergoing neck surgery after the Auburn game. The good news, it looks like they gained a man in the backfield with the return of Kody Walker. Out since a broken finger sustained against Toledo, Walker was a force in the overtime periods against Auburn. Alex Collins has an injured toe and has not been full strength in several weeks. If Walker hits his peak, perhaps this is a game that Collins won't need a heavy work load. Denzell Evans and Juan Day could contribute, too. Day's presence is a surprise after coming back from spring knee surgery. I wouldn't expect to see Day unless the game is safely put away. He's only had one scrimmage to prepare for action and may be still learning the nuances of the offense.
6, Help at Wideout – Tevin Beanum prefaced his comments with the obvious. He said, “I'm no doctor. But, I still think it's a medical miracle.” That was to reference the return of wide receiver Jared Cornelius at wide receiver. He's listed as the starter at the slot position, along with starters Drew Morgan and Dominique Reed at the other two wideout spots. Cornelius broke both bones in his lower arm against Texas Tech. He's been cleared to play, pending no setbacks in practice. Beanum said, “The defensive line doesn't go against our receivers much, obviously. But I've made sure not to hit him. I still am surprised to see him back. I do know we have the best doctors and trainers, so I know he's good to go.” Cornelius has quickness and a burst to help the Hogs on the outside.
7, Red Zone – An area of concern all season, the Hogs had a huge jump against Auburn, going six of six, mainly thanks to a perfect score in the four overtimes. The Hogs have improved gradually in this area. They are now 71 percent for the season in red zone scoring, 52 percent with touchdowns. That's still a work in progress. Can they maintain that perfect score against the Sky Hawks? They should be able to run the ball against a UT-Martin defense with two freshmen at linebacker.
8, Antiseptic Play – The keys are always simple. Play solid in the special teams. Kicking game mistakes are generally the culprit if there is an upset. The Hogs botched a punt snap to help Toledo, then had a punt return called back on a holding penalty. Those two plays alone were enough to give Toledo a chance. The other key areas in a game against a lower division team, don't provide easy help with turnovers and penalties. The Hogs have improved in both categories of late, but they'll need to play clean to dispose of the Sky Hawks in quick fashion.
9, Quarterback Play – There are two veterans at work in this game. UT-Martin's Jarod Neal is a good one. But if Brandon Allen does his job and gets the ball distributed with balance, it could be a big day for the UA playmakers. Allen has been impressive of late and is coming off his best game. He should have some confidence this week against the Sky Hawks. The Hogs want to get after Neal and disrupt his play. The Sky Hawks have produced 18 sacks with a decent pass rush, but they have not faced a running game quite like the Hogs. That should make Allen's play action passing especially dangerous this week against an over matched foe.
10, Homecoming – Finally, it's the second straight week for an Arkansas native to be calling the shots back around old friends. Last week, it was Gus Malzahn, Rhett Lashlee, Tim Horton and J.B. Grimes coaching the Auburn offense. All had played or coached at Arkansas. This week, it's UT-Martin offensive coordinator John Bond close to home on the UA Homecoming game. A Rogers native, Bond is a veteran play caller with an effective system. He's been offensive coordinator for 18 years after beginning his coaching career as a graduate assistant under Lou Holtz and Ken Hatfield at Arkansas. He's had success as an underdog, probably best under Todd Berry at Army where they shattered 35 school records. Bond was an all-state quarterback at Rogers under Hall of Fame coach Gary Bond, his father.