By Jason Pattyson
The Razorback defense has carried the bag for this 2023 Arkansas team for most if not all of this 2023 season.
All three levels of the defense have performed close to an elite level against the high-powered offenses of LSU, Ole Miss, and, this week, Alabama’s 24-21 loss.
Landon Jackson has shown flashes this season of dominance but had yet to put together an entire game where he imposed his will until today against the Crimson Tide. He had 11 total tackles, seven solo, four assists, and 3.5 sacks, totaling a net negative of 24 yards. Those sacks were also counted as tackles for loss in his totals.
Linebacker Jahiem Thomas was not surprised by Jackson’s effort today and felt he had a great day on the field.
I mean, he balled out. When opportunities came, he capitalized on them,” Thomas said postgame. “He does it every week in practice, and every practice translates to a game. So I’m proud of him.”
Running Back Rashod Dubinion and the offense knew the defense would keep them in the game and knew it would be a 60-minute effort. It was complementary football, and Jackson and the defense would keep them in the game.
“I’m really excited for the defense. … They went out and made plays,” Dubinion said after the game about the defense. “We were going three-and-out, three-and-out, and they were still making them [Alabama] go three-and-out. I was proud of those guys and I let them know as soon as they came off the field.”
At one point, Jackson and the defensive line forced Nick Saban and offensive coordinator Tommy Rees to switch out left tackles, hoping to slow down the pass rush of Jackson and the line push all day.
“We really just studied the o-line. I wouldn’t say we treated it any different than we have any other week,” Jackson said postgame of the opportunities against the Alabama offensive line. “More so just, myself personally broke down the left tackle and realized and felt that I was capable to win a lot on the edge. I mean, I just took it out to the field from what I saw on film.”
The defensive unit for the Razorback was missing some key pieces, with Cam Ball, Pooh Paul, Jalen Braxton, and Dwight McGlothern out today. Young guys got a chance to step up and make a difference, and Jackson gave all those guys who stepped up today a lot of credit that allowed the line to make plays to keep them in the game.
“Man, young guys stepping up. Jordan Crook had a phenomenal week of practice,” Jackson said. “He stepped up and said it’s time for him to make plays, and that’s what he did today. Same with Antonio Grier. He stepped in and made multiple plays. And then the back end, our DBs played a great game today as well. It’s next man up mentality. You’ve got to be able to be ready to go when somebody goes down.”
This team is close to making a breakthrough and finally turning the close losses into wins. Both units are ready for a break to fall in their favor that could help them get over the hump and score a win. Until then, they just need to keep fighting until that break comes.
“Keep fighting. You’ve got to keep fighting,” Jackson said. “You can never bow down and just be okay with losing. I mean, it sucks. I really thought we were going to pull this one off today, but I mean, we just got to go back to work Monday and just keep fighting and get the win next week.”
The Razorbacks finally return to the friendly confines of DWRRS next week for homecoming to face the Mississippi State Bulldogs and return the favor of the blow the Bulldogs handed the Hogs last season. State quarterback Will Rogers tore through the Razorback defensive secondary and racked up 406 yards through the air and three touchdowns.
First-year Head Coach Zach Arnett understands that the trip to Fayetteville will be a tall task for State. Jackson and the defense will be leading the way in hopes of Arkansas scoring their first SEC victory of the season in front of a sold-out home crowd, and that could be the difference the Hogs need.
“It’s really exciting. Get to play in front of people that love you. I mean, it’s great,” Jackson said. “Getting just to play in front of the fans. Play on your own field. Be in the environment you’re used to. I mean, I’m excited for it, and I think the whole team is.”
Mississippi State will face Arkansas coming off of a bye week, and the game is set to kick off at 11 a.m. and will be broadcast on ESPN.