FAYETTEVILLE — The linebackers and defensive backs at the University of Arkansas are piling up the early accolades, both nationally and regionally, thus far.
The defensive line isn’t get any awards, but Sam Pittman is pleased with the job that unit is doing. Pittman praised Derrick LeBlanc and the job he’s doing with that group.
“You know Coach LeBlanc has really got those guys playing well,” Pittman said. “We talked about going into Mississippi State, their five against or three: Advantage Arkansas. And we didn’t say we had to get the guy on the ground, we just had to move him. You can’t let him just stand there. He’ll pick us apart. And they did a very nice job. They did a really good job for two and a half quarters against Georgia.
“And those guys coming in here, obviously we want to have bigger guys and this, that and the other, but we have enough size you know with (Xavier) Kelly in there at times. And Eric Gregory. And of course Jonathan Marshall is playing as good as any of us would have thought. And then (Julius) Coates had a little bit bigger game. You finally saw him last weekend have some success. Zach Williams. There’s a lot of those guys – (Mataio) Soli – that are playing well. We rotate them and we keep them fresh. We feel like we have pretty good depth there. Especially when we’re playing the three-man line. If you look at the majority of our picks, the quarterback was moved some way or another or pressured.”
Williams is a sophomore from Joe T. Robinson who is fifth on the team in tackles. He has 19 tackles, including eight solo, 1.5 for loss and a sack. Marshall, who is a senior, is playing outstanding as well. He has 16 tackles, including 10 unassisted, two for loss, a sack and one quarterback hurry. Senior defensive end Dorian Gerald only played the first half of the Georgia game before giving way with an injured foot. He had four tackles, two solo, 1.5 for loss and 1.5 sacks in just that one half of football. Hogs are hoping to get him back soon.
Marshall is impressed with how the defense is playing.
“I feel great about our defense,” Marshall said. “We’re doing everything that we’re coached to do and it’s showing a lot. I feel very confident in us.”
With Gerald, Soli and Coates missing games for various reasons Marshall talked about how the line has been next man up.
“Like we said during camp, everyone on the D-line is fighting for a position,” Marshall said. “We’re all very talented on the D-line. And giving credit to Zach when that happened, he stood up in that role and played a big factor and is doing well right now. All of them are. Everybody’s competing. So there’s no drop-off on the defensive line.”
Among some others on the defensive line Isaiah Nichols is starting at tackle and has seven tackles, 0.5 tackle for loss and 0.5 sack as well as a pass breakup. Kelly is a grad transfer from Clemson. He has four tackles and a quarterback hurry. Soli has four tackles including 0.5 for loss.
The Razorbacks have nine sacks so far this season. They will have their work cut out for them in that regard on Saturday when they take on Kellen Mond and Texas A&M. Mond has only been sacked twice this season.
“I think he’s doing a very good job,” A&M coach Jimbo Fisher said. “I think it’s two things. Sacks are never always on the offensive line and because you don’t get them, you’re blocking well, we’re picking up blitzes, but also we’re getting the ball out, receivers get open, allows the quarterback to make decisions, allows his decision-making to happen faster, so it’s a combination of us just playing better overall offensively and the whole gamut of what we’re doing and getting rhythmic throws, getting them out and when we’re taking our shots, we’re doing a pretty good job of protecting and getting the ball down the field. So it’s a combination of everything and our offensive line is doing a nice job, along with our tight ends and backs and the chipping and blocking protection parts of it.”
Arkansas and Texas A&M will kickoff at 6:30 p.m. one week from today. The game will be televised on the SEC Network.