Arkansas DEs Chris Smith, Trey Flowers (USA Today)
Leading up to Friday's contest against Arkansas, TSD is previewing the Razorbacks on both sides of the ball. Today we take a look at Arkansas' young, but promising, defense.
Before No. 15 LSU (8-3, 4-3) kicks off its regular season finale against Arkansas (3-8, 0-7), TSD is previewing the Hogs on both sides of the ball. Yesterday I examined Bret Bieleman’s run-heavy offense, and today I’ll take a look at an Arkanasas defense that ranks near the bottom of the SEC in both defending the pass and run.
PROJECTED ARKANSAS STARTING DEFENSE
DE: Chris Smith (Sr., 6-3, 270)
DT: Darius Philon (R-Fr., 6-3, 300)
DT: Byran Jones (Sr., 6-2, 318)
DE: Trey Flowers (Jr., 6-4, 265)
SLB: Braylon Mitchell (Jr., 6-3, 230)
MLB: Brooks Ellis (Fr., 6-2, 230)
WLB: Jarrett Lake (Sr., 6-3, 235)
CB: D.J. Dean (Fr., 5-10, 190)
SS: Alan Turner (Jr., 6-0, 200)
FS: Eric Bennett (Sr., 6-0, 200)
CB: Jared Collins (R-Fr., 6-0, 175)
Notable Backups: CB Will Hines (So. 6-1, 190), CB Tevin Mitchell (Jr., 6-0, 180), S Rohan Gaines (Jr., 5-11, 195)
Arkansas defensive coordinator David Ash, who followed Bielema from Wisoconsin, has had a rough go at it in his first season in Fayetteville. The Razorbacks rank No. 11 in the SEC in both rushing and pass defense and are coming off two of their worst performances of the season, 488 yards allowed to Mississippi State and 531 to Ole Miss.
Though the unit as a whole has struggled through most of the season, the Razorbacks’ defense does feature two of the best defensive ends in the country. Chris Smith ranks second in the SEC with 8.5 sacks, and Trey Flowers’ 12.5 tackles for loss trails only Missouri’s Michael Sam.
Redshirt freshman Darius Philon has also been a pleasant surprise for Arkansas on the defensive line. Philon was originally committed to Alabama in the Class of 2011 but flipped after the Tide only offered him a greyshirt. After sitting out the 2012 season, Philon has emerged as a disruptive force up the middle, totaling 40 tackles, including 8.5 for loss.
The strength of the defensive line has somewhat hidden the weaknesses of the LB corp, which has been a steady experiment for Arkansas this year. The Razorbacks have tested a number of different combinations, but it appears that they’re comfortable moving forward with Jarrett Lake, Brooks Ellis and Braylon Mitchell.
Arkansas hopes they’ve found its MLB of the future in Ellis, who has started each of the Razorbacks’ last three games. Lake’s been a steady presence in the starting lineup getting time at both weakside and middle linebacker. He ranks third on the team with 69 total tackles, including 3.5 for loss and a sack.
Arkansas rotates its strongside linebacker with a safety in nickel sets, so Mitchell and Rohan Gaines have mostly split time at that position. Mitchell has been consistent for the Razorbacks, ranking third on the team with 32 solo tackles, and Gaines is coming off one of his best games in which he recorded nine tackles against Mississippi State.
Eric Bennett's the senior leader of a young secondary (USA Today)
There are some question marks in the secondary for Arkansas, particularly at CB. The Razorbacks started a pair of freshmen last week against the Bulldogs in DJ Dean and Jared Collins, the first career start for both players.
Dean was forced into the lineup to replace Tevin Mitchel, who missed last week’s game after his mother suffered a stroke. It’s not known at this time whether he’ll be available for Arkansas this week, but he does lead the team with six pass breakups. Arkansas hopes it struck gold with Collins, who notched his first career interception against Mississippi State and also recorded five tackles and a pass breakup.
Sophomore CB Will Hines, who opened the season in the starting lineup, recently returned to the field after breaking his arm earlier this year. But Hines has only resumed a reserve role, but he does give the Razorbacks some experienced depth behind the two freshmen.
At safety is where Arkansas is probably most experienced. Alan Turner and Eric Bennett have been consistent for the Razorbacks all season, and Turner’s coming off a 16-tackle game against Mississippi State and leads the team with 86 total. Bennett, a senior, leads the secondary with 31 career starts and has broken up three passes this season and has also come down with an interception.
The LSU offensive line will have its troubles holding off a strong Arkansas defensive line. But the Tigers will be riding high after allowing zero sacks last week against Texas A&M, and with a pair of freshmen corners, Zach Mettenberger and Co. will certainly like their chances of taking advantage of this secondary.
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