FAYETTEVILLE — Arkansas’ defense is one of the hottest topics in college football.
It’s a unit that went from being the subject of jokes to very highly respected nationally. Former Arkansas head football coach Lou Holtz said in a speech in Northwest Arkansas the Razorbacks should move their defensive linemen to offense because they can open holes fast.
No longer is the defense being laughed at and they are causing problems for opposing offenses. Sam Pittman was asked about the defense on Wednesday during the SEC Teleconference and how Barry Odom has this group playing so fundamentally sound.
“Well, it’s him, it’s Sam Carter, (Derrick) LeBlanc, (Rion) Rhoades,” Pittman said. “They all do a really good job over there and Barry obviously orchestrates it. The thing that Barry can do, and we have the kids to do it, is we can play multiple different defenses. We can have a whole new game plan that possibly you have or have not seen. Barry basically is (thinking) what’s the best way we can stop these guys. And it’s not necessarily a new blitz or slanting the line or something that twists the line, it might be a whole new concept going from a four-down to a three-down look, playing zone the entire day, or let’s blitz and play man free. He’s able to do that. He’s diligent about his film study, and kids believe in him because he’s a great teacher and a great man. Those are the things, and he’s got good help around him and guys that can communicate.”
Teams can’t plan for a particular base defense used by Odom. He plays multiple fronts and schemes.
“I think they can expect the players, but the schematics of it, we’re certainly going to go in with a plan and whatever it may be for us to have the most success,” Pittman said. “So far, it’s worked out for us and our kids have done a lot of extra film study and things of that nature. I would say that would be somewhat true.”
After Mississippi State blew out LSU in the season opener, Odom came up with a scheme to defend them in Week 2. It worked and since then Kentucky and Texas A&M have used some of Arkansas’ plan. Texas A&M coach Jimbo Fisher talked about that on Wednesday.
“Oh, no doubt,” Fisher said. “I mean, you look at everybody who has success against an opponent you’re going to play and you try to conceptually see how that builds into what you do and how you do it. Barry and those guys did a tremendous job against them and it definitely helps, no doubt.”
Linebacker Grant Morgan is having an outstanding senior season. He had 19 tackles and returned an interception for a touchdown in the win over Ole Miss this past Saturday. Morgan said Arkansas’ defense wants to be the template everyone uses.
“We talked about it throughout the week that we wanted to set the standard for what other teams did against these offenses,” Morgan said. “That we played them so good they were able to say ‘Alright, we want to do what Arkansas did against these teams.’ As you can see, I feel like Kentucky did that against Mississippi State the next week, and who knows what the next teams do that are going to play Ole Miss. They’ll probably look at our game and thing this is what we’ve got to do. This is the type of offenses that we’re going to see probably more. They’re going to pass the ball more and more. It’s an offensive minded league. They want to score 60 something points per game. We say the heck with that. We’re a multiple defense. We’re going to change our defense to give us the best shot no matter what type of game we’re going to play. We could be in Jack, we could be in Razor, we could be in several different things.”
Cornerback Hudson Clark had three interceptions in Saturday’s game against Ole Miss. He talked about the game plan.
“The game plan, they tried to keep it as simple as possible,” Clark said. “We were in zone most of the time, then we’d run a little blitz to and put an extra guy in the box. We just saw how fast they would go and how fast they got set up. I felt like it was easier for us to be able to sit back in the zone and read the quarterback. Because we worked on that all throughout practice.”
Linebacker Hayden Henry filled in for the injured Bumper Pool against Ole Miss and had a good game as well. He talked about the defense being a template for others.
“Your first question I would just say there’s nothing wrong with tailoring your defense in the best way possible to be successful and that’s what Coach Odom has done,” Henry said. “Every week we’ve done a little something different based on what we’re getting. It’s his ideology that we’re going to try to stop the run and then we’re going to defend the pass. And if we stop the run it forces them to be one dimensional, so we’ve harped on stopping the run quite a bit.
“As far as dropping eight goes, you know we have some dominant defensive linemen that can really rush hard, just three of them, so we have the ability to drop eight, which causes a lot of problems for a quarterback on the back end. It’s really hard to see the open air. Where’s the open receivers? Where’s the open grass at? It’s been beneficial for us. Then you add in some pressures every know and then and it can cause a lot of havoc.”
As far as Odom, count redshirt freshman safety Jalen Catalon among the biggest fans. Catalon had a pick six and a forced fumble as well as recovered one on Saturday.
“Every day he’s coming to work,” Catalon said of Odom. “I like him so much because what you see is what you get. You’re not getting anything different, but a guy that’s ready to come in and make this team better every single day. Come in with a game plan every single day. That’s something I love and we build off the energy that he brings every day.
“It doesn’t matter if it’s a Monday or a Saturday on game day the same energy and the same coach. We treat every day like a game day. That’s what he stands on and I think we build off that energy. I think the team is really grateful we have him because he’s a really good DC and I mean Coach Pitt really did good with his hiring. I’m glad he’s on our defensive staff. He’s just a great guy overall. He makes sure we’re good not only on the field, but also off the field. I think that’s something we appreciate very much. Overall I think he’s a great man and a great coach.”
Following Saturday’s win over Ole Miss Pittman praised his entire defensive staff.
“Barry Odom is awesome,” Pittman said. “So is Sam Carter, so Rion Rhoades and so is Derrick LeBlanc. Those guys on defense get their team ready to play. They have all kinds of tendencies, Where the back is, who is inside, who is outside and where numbers are. They have it cut up for the kids and the kids obviously watch it.
“We’re talented. We’ve got a talented group. We’ve got a resilient group. We have a group that can catch passes on defense and return them for touchdowns. I told the team Morgan, if I’m a running back I might be a little bit worried about it. He took that back to the house. They picked off six passes. They were in position to play well. Barry Odom is the real deal and I’m happy. He’s a great friend of mine and I’m also very happy he’s on the staff.”
Arkansas’ defense is giving up 25.5 points per game and 418.8 yards of total offense each game. They have intercepted 10 passes.
Arkansas and Texas A&M will battle on Saturday, Oct. 31, in College Station at 6:30 p.m. and televised on the SEC Network.