FAYETTEVILLE — Senior linebacker Hayden Henry is part of an Arkansas defense that has shown tremendous improvement this season over recent years.
Henry started the Ole Miss game when Bumper Pool was unable to go. He finished the game with eight tackles, including six solo, two for loss and a pass breakup. Henry talked about his play the past couple of games.
“I think I’ve been playing good,” Henry said. “I’ve definitely left quite a few plays out there on Saturday. I think I could’ve played better. But I think I played good; good enough to win obviously. And it’s nice to see that the habits that I’m having in practice are paying off and I’m playing good in games and tackling well. And so yeah, I feel like I’m playing good and could definitely play better. I’ve got to give credit to the coaches for instilling quite a bit of confidence in me when it comes to the game plan and understanding the opponents’ scheme and what they’re going to run. I’ve got to give it to them for that. Because I feel like I know what play’s coming before the ball is even snapped so it’s really nice.”
Even Arkansas head coach Sam Pittman chimed in on how well Henry played against Ole Miss.
“Didn’t he play well?,” Pittman said. “I mean, he really did. He played really well. He’s kind of a throwback a little bit. He’s kind of a wild-eyed, kind of a crazy kid, in a good way. He’s going to hit you and he’s going to tell me about it. He keeps telling me, ‘Coach, this is what I’m going to do.’ I said, ‘Hey, dude, I can go anywhere from the 15 to the 15. I’ve got the best seat in the house, so I’ll be at the game, you just show it to me.’ We kid back and forth, but he’s played really well. Honestly, it’s given me more confidence in that group of linebackers. I thought he played a really good game against Ole Miss.”
For the season, Henry has 16 tackles, 10 solo, three for loss, one sack and a quarterback hurry. The way the defense has played so far has it surprised you?
“That’s a great question,” Henry said. “I think in our minds I mean we wanted to be a dominant defense. I think we practice like that every day. I think the coaches try to instill that confidence in us that we can be a really great defense. So I wouldn’t say that we’re shocked or surprised by any means about how well we’ve performed. But it’s just nice to see your hard work pay off. It’s really enjoyable to go out and play great defense and enjoy the game and play it how it’s meant to be played.”
Henry offered up a reason for Arkansas playing better this year and winning two SEC games which is more than they had won in the previous three years combined.
“I just think everyone’s so fed up you know,” Henry said. “We’re so tired of being Arkansas: The bottom feeder. I think it’s been great getting to win some games to realize that ‘Wow, we have talent on this team’ and we have guys that can play really well at a high level. It’s just really like some camaraderie on the team. We’ve got guys making a lot of plays. We’re feeding off each other and doing a lot of good things.”
Barry Odom is an outstanding defensive coordinator. But what about Rion Rhoades the linebacker coach?
” Just another great coach,” Henry said. “I mean, I definitely love sitting in the meeting room with him. Really funny. Really, really smart. Understands the game of football really well. And he coaches us really hard. I mean he’s a really hard coach. He doesn’t – he’s not going to let us mess up on a play and not rip us for it. That’s for sure. We know he’s going to make sure that we’re making every play and playing the best we can. I think he’s great about helping us with the game plan, learning what we’re going to get that week. And I think he’s done a phenomenal job. I think he’s a great coach and I really enjoy playing for him.”
Henry talked about the entire staff coming up with the plan for Saturday’s games.
“It’s the whole defensive staff,” Henry said. “They come up with the game plan and then Coach Rhoades is the one who relays it to us. They’re in the staff room meeting about what defense we want to run to stop what they’re doing. Coach Rhoades, I mean, he’s a great teacher. That’s what you are when you’re a coach. You’re a teacher. You’re a professor, and we’re in the classroom with him and we’re his students. He’s teaching us the best way he can. He’s tough on us and I love that. I don’t want a coach that’s going to go out to practice and baby me every day. He pushes us like no other and he’s made a quite a bit better football player, so I’ve got to give it to him.”
While the defense has played much better than in the past, Henry said the team isn’t going to get too confident and knows they have to continue to improve.
“I just think we’ve seen so much of it for the past however many years that the good stuff hasn’t really outweighed the bad stuff yet,” Henry said. “A lot of us are still kind of under the impression that we haven’t really done enough to prove ourselves yet. We still have quite a bit of a chip on our shoulder. We had 2-3 years of terrible football and now that things are clicking a little bit and we’re playing some better ball, I don’t think that means we’re necessarily listening to social media more. I think we’re definitely excited to get wins, and it’s nice to see people tweeting nicer things about you, for sure. There’s nothing worse than losing and getting freaking ripped on Twitter, I’ll tell you that right now. It’s terrible, so it is nice to see people tweet good things at you. But I think everyone is still very hungry to keep proving people wrong.”
Is this defense good enough to dominate a team and win a game itself?
“I think it’s just we’re realizing that we can all 11 play really well together,” Henry said. “We have a very cohesive defense. Our secondary is extremely sound, our front seven are playing great, so we just know everyone is going to do their job and when everyone does their job we’re going to make big plays, we’re going to have TFLs, we’re going to have sacks, interceptions, we’re going to turn the ball over, things like that. When the offense turns the ball over or we punt the ball and you walk on the field with a defense that’s got that kind of swagger, it feels good. It’s nice. I know that all the other 10 guys are going to do their job and that allows me to do my job and make plays.”
The Razorbacks are off this weekend. Some have expressed concern the players could go out and get exposed to COVID and miss more games. Henry addressed that.
“It’s dangerous,” Henry said. “Covid is very real. Coach Pittman says that all the time. It’s important to be safe and cautious, but at the same time we’re college students, we’re young adults and we have lives outside of football that we’d like to enjoy as well. You’re not going to find me in my apartment all day. I’m just going to be honest. I’m going to go out, get dinner somewhere and go hang out. But it is important to be safe and smart about the virus, and I think a lot of people are. But at the same time, it’s important to have a social life still.”