The Razorback secondary has been solid at times this year, but the lack of experience behind the starters caused them some problems in their SEC-opener against Ole Miss last Saturday.
Ole Miss ran 77 plays in their 31-17 victory against Arkansas and had possession of the football for 32 minutes and 28 seconds, including nine minutes and 48 seconds in the fourth quarter. As the game progressed, holes opened up for the Rebels in the running game, but they really took advantage of the depleted energy of Arkansas’ secondary. The back end of the defense missed several tackles in the second half, as Ole Miss would find a receiver over the middle and watch them run through and by Razorback defenders.
“That’s something that, from us as a staff, we have to continue to bring these other guys along and get them reps and get them the confidence that they need in practice,” Arkansas head coach Chad Morris said Monday. “Again, when you put the defense out there as long as they have, you’re going to see some things at the end of a game that we’ve got to do a better job of substituting.”
Out of the 70 players on Arkansas’ travel roster, 15 of them play in the secondary. However, the five starters in nickel Gregory Brooks Jr., corner Jarques McClellion, corner Montaric Brown, free safety Joseph Foucha and strong safety Kamren Curl have played the vast majority of snaps through two games. Safety Myles Mason contributes when the Hogs run their dime package, but the rest of the second unit has been virtually invisible. There was a lot of hype surrounding freshman Devin Bush and redshirt-freshman LaDarrius Bishop throughout the offseason. Bush enrolled early this spring and the duo has worked together since then. Jalen Catalon arrived this summer and stood out during fall camp, but the athletic freshman was expected to contribute more than he has thus far. He didn’t even see the field in Arkansas’ season opener against Portland State. Additionally, junior Micahh Smith made some strides as the team’s second-unit nickel.
“They’re not bad. Coaches, sometimes they get a little bit nervous, and we were trying to get that thing turned around. We kept our best guys in there. That gave us the best shot,” Arkansas defensive coordinator John Chavis said. “We got to speed that up. We got to find areas where we can get them in the game so can they can gain that experience. It’s the truth, you can practice in practice but you got to get game experience to get ready to play.”
Curl is the most experienced member of Arkansas’ secondary as a junior, and he has put together an excellent season, so far. He has made 11.5 total tackles and is the only player in the nation with a sack, an interception and a fumble recovery for a touchdown. Curl took a fumble 69 yards to the house that made it a one-possession game early in the fourth quarter against the Rebels in Oxford. As a unit, the secondary has picked off three passes this season through two games, only two shy of their 2o18 total of five interceptions.
“It’s a big part of what we do and work. The emphasis paid off. [Curl] was able to get the ball out and able to pull out and it bounce right back to him,” Chavis said. “Any time you get an opportunity to score on defense it’s a big play, I just wish we would have done some other things on defense so we could have made it count.”
The Hogs will face Colorado State on Saturday at 3:00 p.m. (CDT) in Donald W. Reynolds Razorback Stadium. The Rams feature a pass-heavy offense with star quarterback Collin Hill, and this could be an opportunity for some of the younger guys in the Arkansas secondary to take a leap forward and provide some relief.