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Thursday, January 5, 2012
Razorback defense ready for revival

By Edward Aschoff

Jake Bequette knows Arkansas’ defense underachieved in 2011.

It was a unit that was supposed to be coach Bobby Petrino’s best during his Arkansas tenure, but following the preseason hype, it found itself near the bottom of the SEC in most defensive categories at the end of the regular season.

Arkansas’ senior defensive end knows there was just too much bend.

Jake Bequette
Arkansas' Jake Bequette hopes the Razorbacks' defense can finish on a high note vs. Kansas State.
But Friday is a chance for the Razorbacks’ defense to temporarily reinvent itself. It’s a chance to end the season against a Kansas State offense that might be ranked 96th nationally, but is putting up 33 points a game.

With the way Arkansas’ defense ended the season, this one could be a shootout fit for the old west, but Bequette hopes it’s the Hogs that deliver most of the ammo.

“Hopefully it’s not a shootout,” Bequette said. “Hopefully, it’s a one-sided shootout for us.”

With the offensive weapons No. 6 Arkansas has, staying alive in a shootout shouldn’t be a problem. But making sure one doesn’t ensue will probably come down to what the Hogs do when Kansas State has the ball.

The eighth-ranked Wildcats don’t put up a ton of yards each week (they average 343.7 yards per game), but they do have a dual-threat quarterback in Collin Klein, who is averaging 237 yards of total offense a game. He led the Big 12 with 26 rushing touchdowns during the regular season and also threw for another 12.

His leading receivers -- Chris Harper and Tramaine Thompson -- have yet to cross the 550-yard mark and have six touchdowns between them, so the Wildcats mostly rely on a ground game made up of Klein (1,099 yards) and running back John Hubert (933).

That could be bad news for the Hogs, considering they ranked ninth in the SEC in rushing defense, giving up 174.3 yards per game, and were second to last for allowing 20 rushing touchdowns.

Bequette said the key to making sure Arkansas’ defense doesn’t revert to its old ways is winning the battle of first-and-10 and stopping the run early. Getting the Wildcats in third-and-long situations will be very beneficial for this defense, Bequette said.

That starts, Bequette said, with stopping Klein. Now, that doesn’t necessarily mean Arkansas has to get him to throw more. Klein passed for more than 200 yards just twice -- once in a loss to Oklahoma State and once in a win against Texas A&M. It’s stopping his ground movement that will be essential, as he has rushed for 90 or more yards in eight games this season.

Klein’ ability to run opens things up for Hubert, and might catch Arkansas looking in the secondary.

The Hogs also need to play within themselves. This team isn’t suffering from talent deficiencies on defense. Depth certainly is a problem, but the Hogs are equipped with defensive starters that could find plenty of playing time elsewhere around the league. The issue is playing consistently for 60 minutes at a time.

“You don’t win 10 games with bad players or without playing well,” Bequette said.

What should also help Arkansas’ defense is the fact that there is some fresh blood on board. Bequette said parting with defensive coordinator Willy Robinson was tough, but the team has more than welcomed Ohio State’s former co-defensive coordinator and safeties coach, Paul Haynes, to the bunch.

In the short time Bequette has worked with him, Bequette said he’s been thoroughly impressed. He has not only injected some new life into the unit, but he has players feeling and playing more confidently. He’s putting a lot of responsibility on Arkansas defenders, and they like it.

Friday also marks the end of the road for a handful of seniors who helped Arkansas get to where it is now. Most of them come from the defensive side of the ball, so it’s been especially hard for them to look back and see some of the unit’s shortcomings.

But this group is motivated to lead the charge for the future. A win will give Arkansas its first 11-win season since 1977, and Bequette thinks it will generate a ton of momentum heading into the offseason for next year’s team.

“As seniors, we want to win our last game, but we also want to leave a legacy,” he said.