FAYETTEVILLE — Junior linebacker Bumper Pool is having a very good junior season on a much improved Arkansas defense.
In seven games, Pool has 82 tackles, 31 solo, 5.5 for loss, 0.5 sack, five pass breakups and one quarterback hurry. The defense is much improved this year and Pool is quick to credit Barry Odom, the defensive coordinator.
“Coach Odom is the same person every day,” Pool said. “He loves football. So, every opponents to him is the same. I’m sure this week there’s probably a little extra motivation, but for him, it’s business as usual. For us, I think we want to go out there and play as hard as we can for Coach Odom because we know how much this means to him. But his approach to every week is the exact same. He’s going to do everything he can to put us in the exact same situations, and I’m looking forward to going out there and playing for him this weekend.”
Odom was the head coach at Arkansas’ opponent this week for the past four years. Pool is pleased to have him on the Arkansas sidelines this season considering what he has done for the defense.
“He’s been, like I said before, this is kind of the same group of guys we’ve had from last year, and obviously we’ve had some good additions,” Pool said. “But he’s changed the mentality of this defense. He’s put so much belief in us that I think we all started believing in ourselves. There’s games where we didn’t play as well as we should have, but this year you look at the mistakes. We’re so close to what we can be, and that’s a testament to him and all of this coaching staff. He does a great job of firing people up, getting us motivated. It’s been a great season getting to have Coach Odom.”
It has been two weeks since the Hogs played. They lost to LSU 27-24 on Nov. 21 when they were missing all the varsity defensive linemen with the exception of Jonathan Marshall. They will have those players back this week against Missouri.
“Getting those guys back is huge,” Pool said. “It makes our job so much easier. I think me and Grant were talking about that today. It’s just such a relief knowing you’ve got all of these guys in front of you that have so much size, holding gaps, and makes our job easier whenever you get — whatever reason your job is easier, you like the reason for it. Same thing, Jonathan Marshall. He’s definitely made me and Grant’s job easier this year. He’s a stud. He’s a great kid. Me and Grant go once every day and he’s always there with us. So, we kind of have a good little group we have rolling, and just love seeing him be successful because he’s such a great person, and works his tail. So, happy to see it and happy to have him.”
This week, Pool and the defense will face Missouri quarterback Connor Bazelak and running back Larry Rountree. Bazelak has completed 143 of 209 passes for 1,622 yards, five touchdowns and two interceptions. Rountree has rushed 143 times for 650 yards and eight touchdowns while also catching 10 passes for 57 yards.
“Those are two good players,” Pool said. “Quarterback is real technical. He’ll make sure you’re on the right reads. Then Roundtree, we played him last year. He’s a real hard running running back; hits the hole hard. I’m excited to get to play him. We kind of talked a little bit after the game last year, and, so, looking forward to getting to battle with him again this year.”
Sam Pittman has said one of the keys to the game is Arkansas winning the line of scrimmage. Pool talks about the Missouri offensive line that has allowed 12 sacks this season.
“Yeah, that’s a good unit,” Pool said. “We’ve played a lot of good offensive linemen this year, so this is just another group that we’ve got to go in there, be assignment sound, physical and we’re excited about the challenge we have with them and looking forward to getting to battle with them on Saturday.”
Brad Davis, who is now Arkansas’ offensive line coach, was in charge of Missouri’s unit last season. Has he shared any tips?
“Yeah he’s been giving us tips,” Pool said. “We’ve kind of got, we’ve got a lot of guys from Missouri so we know the personnel pretty well. We know a lot of things they do so we’re just really excited about it and I know getting to play this one for Odom is big.”
Much has been made and written about making this a rivalry game. Does Pool see this as a rivalry?
“I think it’s a game for respect, and whenever you have a game like that it becomes a rivalry,” Pool said. “I haven’t beat them since I’ve been here and having a team that close to us that should be our goal, to beat the guys we’re borderlined with, and it’s a rivalry for me. I know how much it means to all of the staff, the players and plus this game for our season is huge. Especially with new coach hired at Missouri and we got Coach Pittman. This is a big game for us and getting any trophy is huge. So yes, we’re taking it like it’s a rivalry game for sure.”
Since Odom was 4-0 against Arkansas when the head coach at Missouri is it good to have him on the other sideline this week?
“We’ve got the secret weapon on our side this year so I’m excited about it,” Pool said.
Arkansas and Missouri will kickoff at 11 a.m. on Saturday. The game will be televised on the SEC Network.