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Identifying Your Playmakers and Rebuilding The Razorback Defense

What defense will the Hogs field in 2020? Who will step up this fall for the new Barry Odom defense?

Arkansas fans have seen terrible defenses fielded since 2015 but NONE have been as terrible as the ones coached under the watch of Chad Morris for the past two seasons. With quality players at every level including McTelvin Agim, Armon Watts, Scoota Harris, Dre Greenlaw, Ryan Pulley, Bumper Pool, and several underclassmen it is embarrassing to see how Arkansas performed the past two seasons.

A once proud program that was ranked as high as third just nine seasons ago, a rabid fan base that is passionate about their football team and a proud program that until the end of 2016 looked to be trending upwards has fallen and needs a foundation. A foundation should be built in the trenches and then branch out. There is indeed plenty of talent to see improvement right now.

Through recruiting and raw talent alone Arkansas should never lose to the likes of North Texas, Colorado State, San Jose State and Western Kentucky the way they did. Extraordinary bad is not even the phrase to describe what fans have seen on defense under Morris and company.

Under a very proven defensive coordinator and former head coach, Barry Odom who’s Missouri defense finished 14th in the country in total defense (312.0 ypg) and third in the Southeastern Conference. That same defense surrendered only 19.4 points per game good for 17th in all of college football.

In a league that is spread heavy predicated on the pass, look to see five to six defensive backs on any given play. His Missouri defense last season gave up only 179.3 yards per game through the air and that was good enough for seventh in the country.

What about his Memphis defenses? When Odom took over as defensive coordinator there the defense was dreadful and that’s to be put nicely. His Arkansas defense is about in the same boat, too. When he arrived at Memphis their defense ranked 117th nationally. Under Odom, Memphis improved defensively each year. They would rise to 50th in total defense (383.6 ypg) during the 2012 to 39th (370.7 ypg) in 2013 to 22nd in his final season with the Tigers in 2014.

Arkansas’ defenses trended backward in 2019 when they ranked last in all power five schools for points (36.8 points per game-124th), 69th in pass defense (229.2 yards per game), 122nd in pass defense (222.0 yards per game) and 110th in total defense (451.2 yards per game-LAST on SEC).

Odom looks to field an attacking defense that is multiple, though. So, exactly what will this defensive scheme look like? Well, from numerous interviews since December he plans to field four different base schemes but said he will not stick to just one.

Arkansas returns many players that could play a role in turning around the Razorback defense in 2020. At every position Arkansas will have a playmaker or two at least in every level. There is even quite a few in the 2019 recruiting class that could help. The actual point is to name some guys who will be your playmakers but will also name a few guys to watch out for.

Obviously at the mike Linebacker spot, Bumper Pool returns as a junior. He recorded 94 tackles and 6.5 for a loss last season. Pool is a agile fellow who can deflect passes, tackle well and has good enough speed to stop the run laterally. Under Odom, I expect him to surge and be one of the top linebackers in the conference which he is very well capable of.

In the secondary, there will be plenty of movement throughout the game. One constant on the 2020 defense should be Joe Foucha who returns for his junior season is the leading tackler of all returning SEC safeties. He recorded 87 tackles and one interception in 2019 but is a coming out party in the cards for a Foucha in 2020? You bet it is.

Among the defensive line, former Razorback McTelvin Agim was always the constant. A versatile playmaker that could lineup at any position among the defensive line. Who will step up this season? Look no further than Razorback legacy Mataio Soli. He only recorded 19 tackles last season but most of the season he spent with a club on his arm keeping him from the ability to tackle appropriately. A monster four-star defensive end out of Douglasville, Georgia Soli totaled 84 tackles as a senior with 29 tackles for a loss and 22.5 sacks. Soli also recorded 20 sacks as a junior in high school. This sack monster is ready to be unleashed in 2020.

There are several other defensive players to watch for in 2020, too. They include:

S Jalen Catalon: With an increased role for defensive backs in the new Odom defense you can expect to see more of him. He will be a redshirt freshman this fall after playing just four games last season recording six total tackles on the season. All of them came in the Western Kentucky game where he also has a pass breakup and a forced fumble.

DB Jarques McClellion: The former steal of the 2017 class was this guy. He committed to the Hogs on signing day over Michigan State and Florida. He was the most active cornerback last year recording 34 tackles, one interception and four pass breakups.

Others to keep an eye on:

DB: Montaric Brown and Greg Brooks, Jerry Jacobs

DL: Tauren Carter, Eric Gregory, Marcus Miller, Isaiah Nichols and Jonathan Marshall, Xavier Kelly

LB: Zach Zimos, Luke Draper