I get what you’re trying to say there, Kirbs, but with all due respect and with one significant exception, it kinda is. Same head coach, same defensive coordinator, same defensive scheme. The back eight — keep that number in mind — is full of familiar faces, including a bunch of super seniors who got a new, COVID-related lease on their college careers.
The significant exception is the defensive line, which is all new from a personnel standpoint, as Pittman went shopping in the transfer portal and brought in two linemen from Missouri (which explains both Arky’s improvement against the run and Mizzou’s decline in that department) and one from Illinois State. And let me tell you, those three ripped TAMU’s o-line a new asshole last weekend.
So, let’s stop there for a minute. Forget the scheme; if you can dominate the line of scrimmage with three defensive linemen, you can conquer the world. Making sure that doesn’t happen this Saturday is Matt Luke’s Job One.
Okay, back to scheme for a minute. If you’ve heard any punditry chatter in the past couple of days, you’ve heard all sorts of odes to Barry Odom’s scheme, like this from Matt Hayes:
What better way for Arkansas to continue a magical season than doing what it does best: finding a way to run on Georgia (no one has), and confusing the Georgia passing game with defensive coordinator Barry Odom’s patient yet effective umbrella defenses.
It’s a 3-2-6 zone arrangement that counts on the defense keeping their collective eyes on the quarterback, keeping everything in front of them and shooting a defensive back at the quarterback when the timing is right or the QB rolls out of the pocket. It was certainly effective against Texas A&M’s rookie quarterback, who looked like an inexperienced deer caught in the headlights. In his defense, he played behind a makeshift offensive line. His head coach’s play calling didn’t do him a lot of favors, either.
Now is when it’s worth mentioning that Arkansas isn’t playing the Aggies this week. JT Daniels isn’t Zach Calzada. He’s an experienced quarterback who knows how to deal with zone defenses. His offensive line isn’t nearly as banged up as TAMU’s was. (One thing that didn’t get much attention from that game was how Fisher was forced to keep his stud tight end in to block much of the game because of how shaky the o-line was.)
He’s also got some weapons at his disposal that Calzada didn’t have. Start with Brock Bowers:
The Razorbacks’ defense is a nightmare for quarterbacks, who almost always have to check down to receivers underneath coverage because of coordinator Barry Odom’s propensity to place six defensive backs on the field. Bowers might not only be a strong safety valve for the Bulldogs’ offense, he’s also the toughest skill-player matchup the Razorbacks have faced this season. He could be the key for Georgia’s offense cracking that top-15 defense this week in Athens.
With Washington’s return, along with Fitzpatrick, I expect Georgia to live in 12 formation for the Arkansas game. I also expect to see Daniels make a living out of backs leaking out to catch the ball in space vacated when Odom elects to shoot a DB to put pressure on him.
Another thing I expect that doesn’t involve Daniels is Monken is going to exploit the Hogs’ relative lack of speed at linebacker with a lot of outside runs. There are lots of things he can call to force Odom to close that umbrella, so to speak.
If I sound a little confident, it’s only because that’s what Monken was able to do last year with Stetson Bennett at quarterback in his first game last season. Georgia wasn’t great running the ball, but Stetson picked the Arky defense apart, going 20-29 for 211 yards and 2 TDs, forcing Odom to change his coverages. It’s hard to think Daniels can’t improve upon that, as long as the offensive line does its job.