Week 1 of the 2010-11 college football season taught us a lot of things: Boise State is going to stay in the National Championship conversation at least for now, Ole Miss is in trouble, and Mark Ingram is not invincible.
Arguably the most important question in the SEC this week, however, was answered by the Arkansas Razorbacks defense.
This past Saturday, the Razorbacks squared off against the Golden Eagles of Tennessee Tech in Fayetteville. The Razorbacks returned Heisman front-runner Ryan Mallett, and saw him at the helm of the most high-flying offense in the country. The question that dominated all of the talk about the Razorbacks in the preseason, however, was whether or not the defense would improve.
That question was answered Saturday as the Razorbacks held the Golden Eagles to only 187 yards of total offense. Seventy of those yards came on two deep pass plays given up by the Razorback defense during the first and second quarters.
Despite giving up those two plays, however, it is clear that the Hogs defense has come into this season with a major chip on their shoulder.
All talks of the Razorbacks’ title hopes are constantly overshadowed by discussions of the inadequacy of the defense, which finished last in the SEC last season.
If the Hogs’ play on Saturday was any indication, that will not be the case this year.
After giving up a 39-yard pass by Tre Lamb that put the Golden Eagles on the Razorbacks’ one-yard line, the Hogs made a goal line stand that held Tennessee Tech to a mere field goal.
Although the Eagles didn’t know it, the ball passing through the uprights off the foot of kicker Matt Barker during their first drive of the first quarter was to give them their only score of the evening.
The SEC is sometimes criticized for scheduling relatively “easy” opponents during their non-conference schedule. Although any SEC fan will tell you that this is completely justifiable considering the ridiculous strength of the SEC conference schedule, the critics are still vocal.
Having said that, however, any time a team is held to three points and less than 200 yards of total offense, it can be considered a defensive victory.
The Razorbacks defense was a brick wall Saturday night. The first field goal was the only stumble in an otherwise perfectly executed game. Anthony Leon’s move from secondary to linebacker proved to be the right decision, as he recorded tackle after tackle against the struggling Golden Eagles offense.
The Razorbacks travel to War Memorial Stadium in Little Rock this weekend to take on the University of Louisiana, Monroe, another non-conference opponent. Mallett and his “dog pound” are expected to trounce the Warhawks, but look for the defense to attempt to have another statement game.
Much is still left to be determined, and the offenses of SEC teams such as Georgia, Alabama, LSU, and South Carolina will provide much stouter competition for the Hogs defense, but Saturday’s game most certainly taught us one very important thing: the boys are ready to play, and they will not allow themselves to be the weak link in the Hogs’ armor this year.