FAYETTEVILLE — Junior defensive end Zach Williams could possibly see his role increased in the Outback Bowl with the departure of Tre Williams.
Zach is a junior from Joe T. Robinson who has played in all 12 games this season. He has 23 tackles, seven solo, 5.5 tackles for loss, 2.5 sacks, a quarterback hurry and one forced fumble. Williams said he and the other ends will have to pick up the slack with Tre gone.
“It’s a big inconvenience that Tre isn’t there for the bowl game, but like Coach (Sam) Pittman says, all we have is all we need,” Williams said. “It would be easier if Tre was here, but I think with the rotation we have going on with me, Eric Gregory, Eric Thomas, John Ridgeway, Markell Utsey. Coach (Jermial) Ashley and Coach (Barry) Odom, they do it pretty good at rotating us, so I don’t really think there will be much of a difference in the rotation with Tre gone.”
In Williams’ third season he has seen the team go from 2-10 to 3-7 to 8-4 and spot in the Outback Bowl against Penn State.
“It’s something from your dreams that come true,” Williams said. “Because when I first came here, we were like 2-10, stuff like that. I said, ‘This is a program we have to change.’ And from the time I’ve been here, it’s been a major 180. It’s been great. The coaching staff has been great.
“My grandparents actually live in Tampa/Clearwater, Florida, so I think it was a pretty special moment for me to know we’re playing the Outback Bowl there. It makes me want to play even harder for what I have going on there.”
Williams said he would get to visit his grandparents (mom’s parents) after the game. He also said the Hogs have had no issue getting motivated for this game.
“We’re most definitely going to be motivated,” Williams said. “A lot of people have always seen us as less advantaged. For us to make it to a bowl game being 8-4, it was a big statement. Like Coach Pittman says, we have a chip on our shoulder. We just have to win this to show people that we are that team. We are getting better, that we are progressing. And we’re not just a cliche.”
Since the majority of the defensive ends in this game will return for the 2022 season is this an audition for next year?
“Yes sir, it is,” Williams said. “We’ve been through a lot of games with each other, so I really think that they know what I can do. But when you have someone older and a little bit more skilled in front of you, you can’t really show that off. Now that the inconvenience with Tre, it’s too bad, but you have to find good in every bad. With that happening, I’ll be able to show them more of what I can do and what I’ve learned from this past season.”
Regardless of who is in the game for Arkansas the key will be putting some pressure on the Penn State quarterback. Tre Williams led the Hogs with six sacks. How much pressure does that put on the linemen in this game to pressure the Penn State quarterback?
“You know, it puts on a bit of pressure,” It puts on pressure for everybody, because Tre was a leading (pass) rusher, and now that he’s gone somebody has to fill in the job — either somebody or somebodies. Somebody needs to do it. It puts a little bit of pressure on us, but the way the coaching staff has been motivating us, it’s not really pressure, it’s more like motivation. I don’t really feel pressure to do anything, but I just want to do it, because that’s the right thing to do. I’m motivated to do it.”
Behind Tre Williams’ sacks was linebacker Hayden Henry with three and then Zack’s 2.5. Henry has complete confidence in Zach.
“I feel great just like I do every game because he’s a baller,” Henry said. “He plays with a really high motor. He plays really hard, and he’ll do it for four quarters. He’s not afraid of contact and when you get him on the edge, he can win a one-on-one with a tackle.”
Williams feels he has improved in some areas this season that he needed to make those strides.
“I’m pretty happy with the way that I’ve been using my hands more,” Williams said. “Like, year by year I’ve started using my hands more. I’m starting to recognize blocks faster. That helps me get off. It’s mainly just the hands, but everything else, like I said.”
Greenland defensive lineman JJ Hollingsworth signed with Arkansas on Dec. 15. He then practiced with the Hogs this week.
“He’s adjusting pretty well,” Williams said. “Honestly, I forget that he’s a freshman, because he adjusts really well. He doesn’t have the shoulder pads on yet, but he has on the spiders, so he does individual with us. Coach Ashley only needs to tell him one thing one time and he picks up on it. He has a really good skillset to be not even a freshman yet. He has great potential and I can’t wait to see what he’s going to do next season and in spring ball.”
Arkansas and Penn State will meet on New Year’s Day at 11 a.m. CT in the Outback Bowl. The game will be televised on ESPN2.