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Hogs have too many defensive questions to expect much.

With all this feel-good Kool-Aid being passed around, intoxicating the Arkansas Razorback fans into believing a Top 10 finish is just around the corner, it's easy to forget that the Hogs had one deplorable defense last season.

But just when that bad memory has faded, luckily there is this Comcast/ Charter Sports South channel on cable TV, dredging up every bad game and lousy spring practice it can find to broadcast this summer, to remind fans that, one, a lot of other Southeastern Conference teams have some very fast football players back again this season and, two, that Arkansas' defense was indeed as bad as advertised.

The big question is, did Bobby Petrino and his staff do enough to repair it in one year? Or, is Arkansas more like North Carolina was last year, headed into a second season under a new coach with a much-improved offense but a year away from addressing the major defensive concerns?

After all, even the best coaches in the game can only take care of so much in such a short time. Arkansas was dead last in a handful of 2008 defensive categories, and that's not because the coaching fell short. The Hogs haven't had enough defensive talent in five years.

We can settle ill 2009 for an offense that can score four touchdowns against the best the SEC has to offer, if that's possible. The defense, though, can't give up the 31 points it surrendered per outing last year.

Think about how last November ended--no, not that miraculous fourth-down pass completion from Casey Dick to London Crawford to shock LSU. To start with, think about how easily LSU got the ball back into long field goal range in a matter of seconds, only to miss.

If you've got CSS handy on cable, you can be reminded as to how Arkansas made offensive misfit Mississippi State look like the best running team in football the week before the LSU finale. (If you really want to worry, think about how Arkansas in that same game would unbelievably get the ball into makeable field goal range to tie in the final seconds, only to miss badly. Will the critical field goals be made this year?)

Think about how South Carolina, full of quarterback confusion and offensive struggles all season, controlled the football for the fourth quarter on the ground and hung 34 points on the Hogs in November. Gamecocks coach Steve Spurrier in late July at the SEC Media Days was still gloating about that, like it was some proof that shaky Stephen Garcia is an SEC capable quarterback. Sorry Steve, that was against Arkansas' defense.

Think about how quickly teams could score on Arkansas all last year, whether it was in the last four minutes, when Kentucky stole the game from the Hogs with two quick touchdowns, or how quickly LSU's returning quarterback, Jordan Jefferson, rallied the downtrodden Tigers in Little Rock in the second quarter.

Bobby Petrino is a terrific offensive planner, and as the team improved last year his offense went out and made impressive early statements, such as against Mississippi State and LSU. And yet the defense would give up the rope. The Hogs went to Kentucky and dominated for 55 minutes, then the defense laid down. It was a minor miracle Kodi Burns of Auburn or Tulsa's quarterbacks couldn't put the ball in the end zone in the final seconds of narrow Hog escapes. The 5-7 record was about eight yards from being 3-9.

Come to think of it, the record was also London Crawford's sketchy hands from being 2-10. It was also Casey Dick's game-saving plays in the first two outings from being 0-12.

And we're to believe all is well with the defense with the addition of a freshman defensive tackle and some junior college and freshmen d-backs?

This is still mostly the same front seven from last year that was shredded by the run. Yes, they're probably several pounds bigger, more muscular and maybe a fraction faster thanks to the off-season eight room work. So is the rest of the SEC that's back from last year. The Razorback players' individual talent wasn't improved, only perhaps the technique.

Maybe that can make as significant a difference as the Kool-Aid-drinking fans hope. We just think they've conveniently forgotten that Arkansas isn't big and isn't particularly fast or strong or good in the defensive front seven. Truth is, the linebackers are SEC average at best. And while the additions in the defensive backfield might improve the pass defense, until the Hogs prove they can stop the run, Arkansas won't move up into the top 3 of the SEC West anytime soon.

So, look for 7-5 this season and 3-5 in the SEC, and a bowl destination a short drive from home.


More Jim Harris columns are available online at ARKANSAS SPORTS
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Title Annotation:THE LAST WORD
Author:Harris, Jim
Publication:Arkansas Business
Date:Aug 24, 2009
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