Offense nice but defense still rules SEC

By: Nate Allen
Published: Wednesday, December 11, 2013
Arkansas tight end Hunter Henry catches a pass during a Sept. 28, 2013 game against Texas A&M at Razorback Stadium in Fayetteville.
Arkansas tight end Hunter Henry catches a pass during a Sept. 28, 2013 game against Texas A&M at Razorback Stadium in Fayetteville.

FAYETTEVILLE - Monday’s release of The Associated Press All-SEC football teams revealed the Razorbacks’ brightest hopes for the future, strongest links to the most recent past and the Achilles heel of the recent past, present and the future until proven otherwise.

Graduating seniors and four year starters Travis Swanson, Arkansas’ starting center over the past 50 games, and place-kicker Zach Hocker, bow out fondly remembered by the AP voters. Both were integral parts of 10-3 and 11-2 Arkansas teams and remained prominent while the Razorbacks slipped to 4-8 and 3-9.

Even after Arkansas went 0-8 in the SEC, Swanson was voted first team All-SEC while Hocker was voted second-team All-SEC.

Boding exceptional in the present for the future, Arkansas freshman tight end Hunter Henry was voted second-team All-SEC and 1,000-yard running back Alex Collins was voted the SEC Freshman of the Year.

The fact that Bret Bielema recruited Collins and touted offensive guards Denver Kirkland and Dan Skipper in his first season as Arkansas’ coach, cemented the prior commitment of Henry and further developed outstanding sophomore running back Jonathan Williams is a beacon of hope shining out of the 2013 darkness.

Unfortunately for Arkansas, the All-SEC defensive teams still didn’t reflect any light on Arkansas’ defense.

Houston Nutt remains the last Arkansas coach to recruit defenders who were recognized as All-SEC. Defensive end Jake Bequette, a first-team All-SEC player for Bobby Petrino’s Razorbacks in 2011, and linebacker Jerry Franklin, second-team All-SEC in 2011, were redshirt freshmen under Nutt in 2008 who were inherited by Petrino in 2009.

Eleven Petrino recruits, including Swanson and Hocker, earned All-SEC offensive or kicker/punter honors, but only one defensively.

Petrino recruited safety Tramain Thomas, who was second-team All-SEC in 2010.

Senior-to-be defensive end Trey Flowers, assuming he doesn’t declare early for the NFL, likely has the best shot in 2014 at snapping Arkansas’ two-year All-SEC defensive drought.

It’s a streak nearly imperative to break for a team to succeed in the defensive-oriented SEC.

In the 2006-2012 string of national champions sprouted from the SEC, defense was the trademark of all except the 2010 Auburn Tigers.

But even as 2010 Auburn quarterback Cam Newton was winning the Heisman Trophy, Auburn defensive tackle Nick Fairley was winning the Lombardi Award and leading the Tigers to make defensive plays when they just had to make them.

The 2013 SEC champion Auburn Tigers again are best known for Gus Malzahn’s offense, but it’s no coincidence they won the league with defensive end Dee Ford named first-team All-SEC and cornerback Chris Davis a member of the All-SEC second team.

And while Petrino’s teams primarily won with offense, it’s no coincidence they won biggest with Thomas in 2010 and Bequette and Franklin in both 2010 and 2011 being recognized as All-SEC players.

So while Arkansas’ eyes turn hopefully to Collins, Henry, Williams, Kirkland and Skipper, Bielema’s biggest task remains building a defense with some All-SEC stars to shine the way.

Sports, Pages 16 on 12/11/2013