7 way-too-early predictions for Arkansas’ defense in 2022
Arkansas football is back and it didn’t even need a top-notch defense to get there. Just a decent one was enough to spring the Razorbacks back to life.
So, what might we expect from the 2022 Hogs if their defense is one of the best in the SEC? Could they be one of the best in the conference, and if so, where would that lead as far as wins and losses?
Those questions won’t be answered until the transfers and other new faces settle into their new roles. Replacing linebackers Grant Morgan and Hayden Henry is no small task — though we already know Drew Sanders is a standout. Neither is finding suitable stand-ins for DBs Joe Foucha and Montaric Brown. And along the line, filling holes left by John Ridgeway and Tre Williams won’t be easy, either.
So, head coach Sam Pittman has worked his magic once again through the transfer portal to bring in a handful of players that can hopefully become stars in their own right.
With that in mind, here are 7 way-way-way-too-early predictions for the Razorbacks’ defense in 2022.
1. Razorbacks allow more points this year
Arkansas ranked 6th in the SEC in scoring defense last year, allowing just 22.9 points per game. That was the best since the 2014 Hogs yielded only 19.2 points per contest.
I think just too much production has to be made up with the new group of players coming in to maintain what the team did last season.
However, the schedule is a tad easier this year. Cincinnati is starting anew at QB, where it must replace Desmond Ridder. And while rotating cross-over opponent South Carolina should be better with transfer QB Spencer Rattler, it’s difficult to envision the Gamecocks matching Georgia’s 37 points from a year ago.
2. Pass defense will be improved
The Razorbacks’ pass defense was pretty good last season, ranking 6th in the SEC, allowing 213.8 yards passing per game. Only 2 teams topped 300 yards passing, and the Hogs nearly intercepted as many passes (13) as they allowed TD throws (16).
Turnovers aren’t predictable, but this year’s group could challenge that yards allowed number and don’t be surprised if it gives up closer to 200 per game if the additions of Georgia transfer Latavious Brini and LSU transfer Dwight McGlothern come through like Pittman expects them to. We already know what to expect from Jalen Catalon.
3. Run defense won’t be as good
This is the big question mark for the 2022 defense. Can the Razorbacks stop the run? They did an OK job of it last year but still only ranked 9th in the conference, giving up 153.85 yards per game. Look for that number to rise in 2022.
Hopefully it won’t be a significant rise, but it could be if LSU transfer Landon Jackson and Alabama transfer Drew Sanders don’t have big years. And even if they do, Arkansas still has to get supreme production out of Eric Gregory and Isaiah Nichols along the line to even have a chance at duplicating last year’s numbers.
4. Red-zone defense won’t be as good
Arkansas excelled in the red zone last season. The Razorbacks ranked 3rd in the SEC with a score percentage of 72.97%. Division rivals South Carolina, Kentucky, Tennessee and Missouri gave up points on red-zone trips at least 89% of the time.
The Razorbacks yielded just 18 touchdowns on red-zone trips, which tied for 3rd-fewest in the league, and only 9 field goals, tied for 2nd-fewest. While it still should be formidable in 2022, I can’t see it being as good, not with all the new faces on that side of the football.
5. Total defense takes a step back
For the same reason, expect the Arkansas defense as a whole to be less intimidating than last year’s when they ranked 7th in the SEC, allowing an average of 367.6 yards per game. While the pass defense looks to be improved, it’s the run defense that makes me more than a little nervous. And combined, it should lead to the Razorbacks yielding more total yardage in 2022.
6. Turnovers come at a premium
The Razorbacks were pretty good at forcing turnovers last season. They ranked 5th in the SEC with 16 takeaways. I don’t see as many this season for the simple reason that more teams will be testing the Arkansas defensive front and that should offer fewer opportunities for turnovers, particularly interceptions.
7. Defense cuts down on big plays
If there was one criticism of the Hogs’ defense last season, it was the fact they gave up big plays.
The Hogs finished in the bottom 5 in allowing plays of 40+ yards (14, 11th-place) and 50+ plus yards (8, T11th-place). Only Missouri gave up more 60+ yard plays than Arkansas (6) or 70+ yards plays (3).
But look for that to change, hopefully drastically, as the new faces get comfortable with the defense. The secondary has a chance to be pretty good if those new faces mesh as expected.