Tom Murphy is a reporter for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. A graduate of Louisiana Tech University, he is a member of the Football Writers Association of America, and voter for the Heisman Trophy and AP Top 25 football poll. Murphy was the 2017 Arkansas Sportswriter of the Year.
LBs bring top effort for Hogs
Arkansas linebacker Dre Greenlaw (23) intercepts a pass from Texas A&M quarterback Kellen Mond during the second quarter of an NCAA college football game, Saturday, Sept. 29, 2018, in Arlington, Texas. (AP Photo/Jeffrey McWhorter)
FAYETTEVILLE -- University of Arkansas linebacker De'Jon Harris moved to the top of the SEC tackle chart after posting 16 stops in last week's 24-17 loss to Texas A&M.
Harris has 53 tackles, an average of 10.6 per game. The Harvey, La., native ranks seventh among Power 5 players. Harris also had a sack against the Aggies and his tackle count was the most for Arkansas since Dre Greenlaw had 17 tackles against TCU last season.
Harris leads fellow Louisiana native Devin White of LSU, who has 44 tackles through five games.
Greenlaw added 13 tackles and two interceptions against Texas A&M, giving Arkansas a standout tandem linebacker performance.
"I don't think there's any question it's the best productivity I've been around," said defensive coordinator John Chavis, who is in his 35th year as a coordinator and his 24th in the SEC. "I've been around some really good players, some great players.
"And I said back in the spring, I felt those two guys were really special players. They played that way Saturday. We've got to continue to get better. Neither of them played perfect, but they laid it on the line and they're fun to coach, fun to be around."
Chavis noted that both of the linebackers volunteered for and played special teams last week as well.
"They're amazing," Arkansas cornerback Ryan Pulley said. "Those two guys ... I think they're the best duo I've been around. I think they are the best linebacker duo in the country."
Arkansas defensive coordinator John Chavis defended the Razorbacks offense this week, adding he's on board with whatever moves the program forward.
"It's a lot easier, and let me say this because it's the absolute truth, to install a defense and get it going a lot quicker than an offense," Chavis said. "There may be exceptions, but we want to play this style of defense that will take some pressure off the offense and help.
"Are we getting there? We're not there, but we need to have more takeaways. In terms of the quarterback, I take my hat off to that young man [Ty Storey]. He shows heart, and he's going to continue to get better, there's no question about that. We're a family and we support each other. When we're in the middle of a storm like we are right now, you better be locked up."
Forecasters have been calling for a decent chance of rain for Saturday's 11 a.m. Alabama-Arkansas game at Reynolds Razorback Stadium. The chance for rain stood at about 40 percent by mid-day Thursday, with humidity around 79 percent and falling. The temperature expected to top out at around 80 degrees.
Alabama has won 11 consecutive games against Arkansas and holds an 18-8 edge in the series when the Crimson Tide's vacated victories and forfeits are counted.
On the field, Alabama leads by a 20-7 count, with all but two of the games coming since Arkansas joined the SEC in 1992. Alabama won each of the first two meetings in the Sugar Bowl, a 10-3 decision on Jan. 1, 1962, and a 24-9 victory on Jan. 1, 1980.
Built for cover
Arkansas cornerback Ryan Pulley said he's prepared if Alabama quarterback Tua Tagovailoa bides time in the pocket with his legs looking for receivers on scramble plays.
"I'm built for that," Pulley said. "I can cover forever. Just like the guys in front, we have to keep contain and he's going to do what he does. We just have to keep him contained."
Next man up
Ole Miss quarterback Jordan Ta'amu connected with D.K. Metcalf for a 75-yard touchdown on the first snap of the game against Alabama on Sept. 15.
Metcalf got past cornerback Saivion Smith, a junior who was at IMG Academy, Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College and LSU before transferring to Alabama. On the next defensive snap, true freshman Patrick Surtain, one of the gems of Alabama's signing class, was in for Smith at cornerback.
"You see a guy in the Ole Miss game get beat on the first play and they just replace him with another good player. So they're very talented," Arkansas offensive coordinator Joe Craddock said.
Alabama scored the next 62 points and won 62-7 at Oxford, Miss. Smith and Surtain continue to rotate for Alabama opposite cornerback Trevon Diggs.
Alabama ranks first in the FBS in kickoff returns with an average of 42.4 yards per return.
The Crimson Tide have just five returns, but they've gone for 212 yards -- including Josh Jacobs' 77-yarder for a touchdown against Louisville.
"There's not a lot of deficiencies when you look at them all across the board," Arkansas Coach Chad Morris said. "They're sound. They're extremely well coached. It's kickoff return, it's kickoff coverage, it's a lot of things and they do it very well."
Arkansas has allowed 30.1 yards per kickoff return to rank 125th nationally. Opponents have returned 13 kickoffs for 391 yards, including a 96-yard touchdown by Auburn and a 100-yard touchdown by Texas A&M.
Arkansas and Georgia Tech are the only teams to allow two kickoff returns for touchdowns this season.
"We have to address the issues that caused us to have some mistakes, and we've got to be able to make plays when we get out there," Morris said.
The Razorbacks will face back-to-back SEC opponents led by Hawaiian-born quarterbacks. After playing Tua Tagovailoa and the No. 1 Alabama Crimson Tide on Saturday, Arkansas will travel to Little Rock the following week to take on Jordan Ta'amu and Ole Miss at 6:30 p.m. at War Memorial Stadium.
Both quarterbacks are from the island of Oahu. Tagovailoa, from Ewa Beach, played at football power St. Louis High School, while Ta'amu hails from Pearl City and played at Pearl City High School.
Chad Morris said Ty Clary at center is part of the Razorbacks' best five-man combination of offensive linemen and work will continue on Clary's Shotgun snaps.
Clary sent back a few bouncers and fired a high snap to Cole Kelley, which the 6-7 quarterback was able to bring down before he bulled into the end zone for a 1-yard touchdown in the second quarter last week against Texas A&M.
"I said it last week and I firmly believe that's our best lineup," Morris said. "That's our best lineup up front. Ty, the week before everything was great with snaps. ... It was not an issue during the course of practice last week."
Offensive coordinator Joe Craddock said he grabbed a dummy with a hand shield Sunday "and made him come off the ball and give him a little pressure and he got 40 snaps right there to me pre-practice. He got a little sweat in before practice trying to get in extra reps."
Alabama has five starters from the state of Alabama, two on offense, including left guard Lester Cotton from Tuscaloosa, and three on defense.
The Tide's other 17 starters on offense and defense hail from 12 states: California, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Iowa, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Mississippi, Missouri, South Carolina and Texas.
Alabama's recruiting prowess has allowed Nick Saban and his staff to pluck players right from the hotbeds of rivals. Weak side linebacker Dylan Moses is from Baton Rouge, and Christian Miller on the strong side is from Columbia, S.C. Starting right tackle Jedrick Willis is from Lexington, Ky., and tight end Hale Hentges is from Jefferson City, Mo., not far from the Missouri campus.
Sports on 10/05/2018
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