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Razorbacks Look to Pressure SEC in 2022

Razorbacks Pressure SEC 2022

Arkansas football decided to apply pressure to the SEC and it has impacted them drastically in a short time.   On May 10th of 2022 Arkansas defensive coordinator, Barry Odom received a contract extension that would prolong his time through the 2024 season. This would also increase his salary, by $100,000, to $1.85 million per year. This, paired with the extension of offensive coordinator, Kendal Briles. His new extension bumps his salary incrementally over the next three seasons.  Those announcements on the same day may be the Hogs’ most significant coaching acquisition of the off-season. The money is indicative that he has improved the product on the field. But just how effective has Odom been in an abbreviated time in Fayetteville? What else can Odom impact as the Razorbacks look to pressure SEC in 2022?

How Bad Was It?

Prior to Odom, Arkansas defensively ranked 108th overall in 2018 and 62nd in 2019 nationally. The two seasons concluded with consecutive 2-10 seasons and were in their worst stretch since the 1952-1953 seasons {2-8,3-7 records}. The 2018 season would see Arkansas be outscored 417 to 260 and would give up an average of thirty-four points and 413 yards per game. That season would include a 44-17 loss at home to North Texas, a 34-3 loss at Auburn, and an embarrassing 38-0 loss to an Odom-led Missouri.

The 2019 season would include a 20-13 win over Portland State and a 55-34 win over San Jose State paired with bad loss after loss which would include the final one for Chad Morris in a 45-19 loss at home to Western Kentucky in a nine-game losing streak to end the season. Following the loss, Arkansas would announce that Morris was relieved of his duties as head coach.

What Has Changed?

In the first season under the tutelage of Odom, the Razorbacks improved to the #50 ranked defense. It was a dramatic turnaround as they would also break their stretch of losing 23 of 24 games in the conference. In 2021, Arkansas would improve this national ranking to 39th in a season where they gave up a total of 4,769 yards including 676 yards to Ole Miss in an overtime classic and 633 to rival LSU. Last season would see Arkansas have to conform to an 8-man drop-scheme defensively. This was partly due to the hurry-up style offenses in teams such as Ole Miss, Mississippi State, Auburn, and others but the main reason was that the hogs got zero pressure on the opposing quarterbacks.

Arkansas has not put any pressure on any quarterback since the 2018 season. That year they finished 61st nationally with twenty-six sacks. In the seasons prior to last, the Hogs had 21 in 2019 [91st nationally], and 14 in 2020 [83rd nationally]. This will have to increase in 2022 for the defense to make yet another leap in the national ranks.

2022 Outlook

The Razorbacks will change their defensive scheme and apply more of a 4-2-5 look going into this season to increase the pressure. This will enhance their chances of increasing the pressure they can apply on opponents. They will occasionally still drop multiple defenders into coverage when the play call demands. At times last season, this defense would blitz with higher effectiveness and create havoc on offenses such as the season-high four sacks in a 42-35 loss to Alabama. What will the 2022 defense look like?

Defensive Line

As mentioned, the Hogs struggled to sack the opposing quarterbacks throughout last season. They ended with twenty-four on the season which was ranked 89th nationally. This season, Arkansas will look to veteran junior lineman Taurean Carter to lead players such as Jashaud Stewart, redshirt first-year Cameron Ball, first-year JJ Hollingsworth, and others in the trenches. Arkansas picked from the transfer portal to beef up this position by adding Landon Jackson from LSU. Jackson played in five games in special teams action before sustaining an ankle injury during practice. These players will be vital for this defense to be a threat, especially in SEC play which can be a grueling grind to maneuver.

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The Linebacker will be the most interesting position on the defensive side for Arkansas this season. While talented players such as the 2021 Burlsworth Award and 2021 Jason Witten Collegiate Man of the Year Finalist, Grant Morgan are no longer on the roster there is a multitude of players to make up for it. Players like redshirt first-year Chris ‘Pooh’ Paul Jr have emerged as potential starters this spring. The former three-star recruit recorded his first tackle and tackle for loss against Arkansas Pine Bluff in a 45-3 victory in 2021.

Bump[er] Into the History Books

Linebacker Bumper Pool has set the standard for linebackers in Fayetteville. His 125 tackles in 2021 now have him at 349 for his career as a Hog.  Tony Bua, who played from 2000-2003, holds the current record for most career tackles at 408. Basic math will calculate that Pool is only fifty-nine tackles away from breaking a twenty-year record.  Pool exceeded the 60 tackle mark by the 6th game in 2021. If Pool matches his 2021 total he will surpass the current record by 64.  How long before Pool ‘Bumps’ his way into the Razorbacks record book?

Defensive Backs

The secondary may be the strongest part of this defense. Junior Jalon Catalon is a 2022 Phil Steele Preseason First Team All-American and All-SEC First Team selection. His return should garner excitement from fans. Catalon combined with converted safety Khari Johnson, corner Hudson Clark {22 tackles, one tackle for loss in 2021}, and junior Myles Slusher, who played in six games totaling fifteen tackles and tied for the team with two fumble recoveries in 2020, will look to improve as a unit during the spring in preparation for this upcoming season. The secondary will look to lead this defense against opponents on the schedule who prey on mistakes. Will they be ready when the time comes?

When you look at this 2022 Arkansas defense, they will have to apply pressure quickly. Now that the roster has depth, and the players understand the expectations will we see them improve? Time will tell but September 3rd will be a good test. We will see if the ‘Sam Pittman Effect’ will continue.

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