By Jason Pattyson

LITTLE ROCK — A year ago, fans would have welcomed the chance to hold an opponent to under 30 points and 300 yards in a game, and it wouldn’t have mattered which one you would refer to.

Fast forward to today, the opening game of the 2023 season, and the state has bought into the message this coaching staff has conveyed throughout fall camp that the defensive talent is deep up front, and all three levels are talented in a 56-13 win.

There were a few instances in the defensive backfield where players missed assignments, but those didn’t result in big plays, and that is important for making it through a first game of the season.

“Defensively, we played really well, got turnovers,” Coach Sam Pittman said after the game. “If I was going to say anything, we have to cut down on the penalties and do a little better running the football. And at times do better in the secondary and things, but I thought it was really prepared by our coordinators and our guys, and I was really happy with the win.”

There are many positive things to be said regarding the transition the Co-Defensive Coordinators have made. They came in and implemented a system that prepared the players, and they were able to translate that to the field today. 

The players felt like they answered the call the coaches talked about all week.

“Coach T-Will, he preached to us all week: turnovers, turnovers,” Linebacker Jaheim Thomas said. “That was our game plan. We wanted to add turnovers. Make plays. Just having us out there flying around and able to make those plays when the opportunities came, that really helped us.” 

Jayden Johnson, Dwight McGlothern, Hudson Clark, and Brad Spence all recorded an INT for the defense. Yeah, he can play safety. He can play Hog. You can depend on him. He’s so smart. He knows everything. But he made a nice little pick today, early. He’s a guy that you can just count on.

Spence’s INT was returned 85 yards to the house at the end of the fourth quarter, and the team was happy to see him get a mark in the stat column.

“But that was a lot of fun, wasn’t it?,” Pittman said. “They had a drive going. I just didn’t want them to score. I did not. I wanted us to — because last year, when we put our 2s in, the (other) team just went Zoom. That’s not why you play. You play to stop people. You play to score. But it was really exciting to see him.”

Johnson recorded his first INT of the season, and his hard work has paid off..

“I would say just the coaches that we brought in, they helped a lot and just sat me down and talked to me about how I’ve got to be consistent,” Johnson said. “So, that was something that I worked on during the offseason, and I got a lot stronger and faster. Just our group, our DB group, it’s happiness, peaceful, and we like to have fun. That helped a lot.”

His teammate Jaheim Thomas knew his hard work would translate to the field on game day.

“Well, he’s a playmaker, man,” Thomas said. “He always brings juice to practice every day, so seeing him out there, flying around, and he’s a ballhawk, too. So just watching him make plays and just stay consistent — consistency is the main thing, so him being consistent and making plays is big for him.”

The depth at defensive line was noticeable, and when one group exited, the others picked up right where they left off. And Coach Pittman mentioned that after the game. 

I feel like we’ve got nine or 10. I mean, we do. So we’ll go in there with a four-man rotation of four plays. I think we pretty much stuck to that. Of course Nico (Davillier), he played a lot. And Quincy (Rhodes) and those guys got in, said Pittman. 

The Hogs return to Fayetteville to face Kent St. next Saturday at 3 p.m