Defensive end Jake Bequette knows his Arkansas football history. His grandfather George, his father, Jay, and his uncle Chris all played for the Hogs. So when Bequette gauges the expectation level of Razorbacks fans for 2010, he has perspective. "The closest thing to this year was entering my freshman season ['08] when we had Darren McFadden, Felix Jones and Peyton Hillis," Bequette says, referring to three 'Backs backs who are in the NFL. "I think this [year] even surpasses that. Everywhere you go, people are excited. There is just a buzz around Fayetteville and Little Rock; you can feel that something special is on the way for Razorback football."
With a Heisman Trophy candidate at quarterback (Ryan Mallett), explosive weapons at wide receiver, a deep corps of running backs and a veteran offensive line, Arkansas gives the faithful good reason to be excited about the Razorbacks' chances to improve upon their 8--5 record in 2009 and challenge for the SEC West title. But how far the Hogs go may be determined by a defense that was at the bottom of the SEC last year in total yardage (401.2) and surrendered 29.1 points a game in conference play. "Our success is going to be based on defense," says coordinator Willy Robinson. "We are very much aware of that."
The cornerstone of that unit is Bequette, a 6' 5", 271-pound junior whom Robinson says reminds him of 12-year Steelers veteran Aaron Smith, a player he coached for four seasons in Pittsburgh. Bequette's strength is his athleticism and ability to rush off the edge (he had a team-high 5½ sacks in 2009), and he spent the spring working with new defensive line coach Steve Caldwell perfecting his rushing technique.
Bequette will play a major role in Robinson's plan to put more pressure on the passer without having to blitz. Last year, due to a combination of inexperience, injuries and lack of a consistent pass rush (Arkansas had 25 sacks, fourth worst in the SEC), the Razorbacks were susceptible to the big play, surrendering 26 gains of 30 yards or more. "Our defense is based on getting to the quarterback and wreaking havoc," Bequette says. "As a defense, we realize we have been challenged, and we embrace that."
COACH Bobby Petrino (3rd year)
2009 RECORD 8--5 (3--5 in SEC)
FINAL AP RANK NR
RETURNING STARTERS 16
Offense 9, Defense 7
4 Tennessee Tech
18 at Georgia
9 Texas A&M (in Arlington, Texas)
16 at Auburn
23 Ole Miss
6 at South Carolina
20 at Mississippi State
The team's No. 1 deep threat, Childs plays best against top competition (402 yards against Top 25 teams in '09).
He spent the spring in the coaches' doghouse for a lack of commitment to conditioning but led the Hogs in tackles in '08 and '09.
Scouts love his size and arm strength, and he's a likely Heisman contender and first-round pick.
WESLEY HITT/GETTY IMAGES
The athletic Bequette will be counted on to improve a pass rush that was one of the SEC's worst in 2009.