NWADG College Football


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4 NWA COLLEGE FOOTBALL PREVIEW | 8.29.2021 COLLEGE FOOTBALL P R E V I E W Quarterback is the most important position in football. I do not argue that point. But the reason Arkansas has a chance to improve this football season won't be determined by whether or not KJ Jefferson is a difference-maker. When the Razorbacks have been successful in the SEC — or against Rice or Texas for that matter — is when they've been able to play defense. And, the reason they've played good defense has always started up front. Great defensive line play is what sets the SEC apart from the rest of the Power 5 leagues in college football. Two years into his time at Arkansas, Bret Bielema had a simple answer when asked to compare the SEC and the Big Ten: talent and depth in the defensive line is much better in the SEC. A few years ago I pinned down old friend Pat Jones on what he was seeing across the Big 12. The former Oklahoma State coach said, "I don't see the kind of defensive tackles and defensive ends that I see when I turn on CBS." Jones, an Arkansas alum and former assistant coach under Frank Broyles, was talking about the SEC featured game each week on CBS. All of those teams from the SEC were loaded with defensive line depth and talent. The Razorbacks — under head coach Sam Pittman and defensive coordinator Barry Odom — are finally building some defensive line depth. The acquisition this summer of transfers Tre Williams (Missouri), Markell Utsey (Missouri) and John Ridgeway (Illinois State) are difference-makers. Perhaps all three earning starting spots. That gives the Hogs as many as nine players with starting experience in the defensive line, more than enough to offset the graduation of Jonathan Marshall, one of the SEC's best linemen last year. Interestingly, a couple of weeks ago I was given a recording from Chip Souza, the sports editor of the Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. He'd asked questions about Texas and Oklahoma entering the SEC during an interview with Kim Dameron, the second-year head coach at Fort Smith Southside High School. Dameron's thoughts mirrored mine on what those two teams would face in their move to the SEC. "I've seen Texas and Oklahoma personnel up close and personal as they say," said Dameron, a 2019 defensive analyst for Kansas. "I was in the Big 12. I know they have good players at Texas and Oklahoma. Oklahoma is really good on offense, but neither of those teams have the quality of athletes on the defensive side of the ball that you see in the SEC." Dameron coached the secondary at Ole Miss from 2008-10 and faced SEC teams during his tenure as defensive coordinator at Louisiana-Monroe (2005- 07) and head coach at Eastern Illinois (2014-18). He said the SEC is a different animal. When someone like Dameron speaks, it carries weight. At 60, he's a veteran coach and has seen it all. I love his Benton County roots. One of the all-time greats at Rogers High School, Dameron was raised for the same kind of distaste for all things Texas that are in my bones. He walked on at Arkansas and earned a scholarship as a wide receiver and defensive back from 1979-82. Surely, there are plenty of great memories as a four-year letterman for the Razorbacks, but there is one that stands out. "Through the years when I have met people and they find out I'm from Arkansas, they ask me for my favorite game. I don't even have to think about it," Dameron said. "It's Arkansas 42, Texas 11, 1981. We put a whuppin' on them and it does not get any better." That was one of the landmark victories for the Hogs in the fantastic series with Texas. The Longhorns were ranked No. 1, but thrashed from the opening whistle by the unranked Razorbacks. Billy Ray Smith Jr. recovered a fumble on the opening Texas play. It was one of seven turnovers committed by the Longhorns that day. I'll always remember in horror when Arkansas fans could not wait for the final seconds to tick off the clock. They stormed the field with 14 seconds left to rip down the goalpost. There was a massive party on Dickson Street that night. Broken glass from empty beer bottles covered the main intersections. "I grew up on Arkansas-Texas," Dameron said. "I love this kind of a rivalry. "I know we have trophies for Arkansas-Missouri and Arkansas-LSU, but none of those are like Arkansas- Texas. "As far as Oklahoma and Texas coming to the SEC, I love it. I coached in both the Big 12 and the SEC, so I know what this is all about and I'm so excited as an Arkansas alum to see this and also to see what Sam Pittman is doing with our program." Rivalries are cool. Dameron has learned about one of the great ones in Arkansas high school history. Southside opened with the Battle of Rogers Avenue against Fort Smith Northside in Week 1. I'm reminded that he played in another great high school rivalry, Rogers vs. Bentonville. His father, Dick, was the long-time athletics director at Bentonville when Kim transferred to play for Blackie Bond, a legendary Rogers coach. Those were the days when Rogers toyed with anything Bentonville. It's not like that now with Bentonville dominating the 7A-West, but the series that dates to 1913 is still lopsided on the side of Rogers, 70-41-6. I don't know this for sure, but I would guess the side with the most victories had the best defensive line. DAMERON STILL RELISHES WHUPPIN' UP ON TEXAS IN 1981 COMMENTARY CLAY HENRY

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