Pre-Season Q&A With SB Nation Arkansas Fight Contributor Josh Goforth


We have been talking a lot about Arkansas in recent weeks, and for good reason. The Auburn Tigers will host the Razorbacks at Jordan-Hare Stadium on August 30. As we look ahead to the 2014 football season, and particularly the season opener, we sat down for a pre-season Q&A with Josh Goforth (@joshgoforth) of Arkansas Fight, which is part of SB Nation.

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Fly War Eagle: The last couple of years have been tough for Arkansas fans, but the team really impressed me towards the end of last season. What were the biggest improvements you noticed last year from October to November?


Josh Goforth: Just the fact that they stayed in games until the fourth quarter. After that stretch of being blown out early in games by Florida, South Carolina, and Alabama they could have just folded. Against Mississippi State and LSU there was a sense that this team was right on the edge of putting it all together. That edge in many cases collapsed, but there were some bright spots. The defense was woefully inconsistent from start to finish including the LSU game, but guys like Darius Philon really picked it up toward the end. 

FWE: Of course, 2014 is a new season. Looking at the current roster, what players are fans most excited to see on the field this season? Are there any under the radar players you expect to make a big impact this year?

JG: Korliss Marshall at the running back position is one that everyone is excited to see. In the return game he has the potential to be a big play threat as well. One of the new wide receivers will be a breakout player this year that are flying under the radar. Cody Hollister, Jojo Robinson, Kendrick Edwards: one of those guys will make a huge impact in the wide receiver corps this fall. Cody Hollister has been getting a lot of work in these first few weeks of fall camp, and would be a great target for Brandon Allen. Hollister has the size and speed to get open and improve the passing game. 

FWE: You’ve done some great work at Arkansas Fight, particularly when it comes to X’s and O’s. What are the most important schematic matchups you will be watching on August 30?

Nov 2, 2013; Fayetteville, AR, USA; Arkansas Razorbacks quarterback Brandon Allen (10) looks to pass against the Auburn Tigers during the first quarter at Donald W. Reynolds Razorback Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Nelson Chenault-USA TODAY Sports

JG: It will be interesting to see how defensive coordinator Robb Smith plays Auburn. He does not have a wealth of experience defending either the Spread play-action style, or the HUNH that Auburn runs. While he was at Rutgers they played a few teams that ran various versions but not much up-tempo stuff like Malzahn. The most important matchups schematically will involve containing the Inside Zone.

Will he do it with outside pressure like FSU was able to do in the National Championship game? Also what will be Malzahns response to some safety and corner blitzes off the edge early? I am of the opinion that he knows Smith will be calling a lot of Fire Zone blitzes from the field on first downs early in the game, and will have several tunnel screen/bubble screen plays ready. If Arkansas is able to play tight coverage and send pressure then Smith will have success, but if they have to back off and give up those easier 5-8 yard gains then it will be tough for the Arkansas secondary. 

 If he mirrors what FSU did last season I’m not sure Arkansas has the same athletes that can contain Marshall or Johnson on the outside when they call the Inside Zone Read. The other area to watch is the one-on-one coverage against Sammie Coates, and D’haquille Williams in passing situations where Smith favors playing tight in your face press coverage.

In 2012 when he was the DC at Rutgers and they played in Fayetteville, Cobi Hamilton had a huge game in similar situations. He was able to beat press coverage on inside routes and Tyler Wilson was able to hit him to pick up big chunks of yardage. I look for Auburn to run a lot of four verticals, and shallow crossers early to beat that press coverage, we will see if Johnson and Marshall can stand in and complete those throws.     

FWE: As you mentioned, the Razorbacks have brought in Robb Smith as the new defensive coordinator this year after Chris Ash left for Ohio State. What does that mean for the Arkansas defense this season?

Sep 14, 2013; Fayetteville, AR, USA; Arkansas Razorbacks cornerback Will Hines (9) after an interception during the second quarter against the Southern Miss Golden Eagles at Donald W. Reynolds Razorback Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Nelson Chenault-USA TODAY Sports


JG: He has repeated two main points throughout spring and into fall camp. A more aggressive defense, and simpler calls and responsibilities for his players. Jamming wideouts at the line, playing tight coverage, and bringing pressure in both run and pass downs is a big part of his philosophy. His roots go back to the Greg Schiano 4-3 system that focuses on stopping the run first and foremost.

This will probably be the area that the 2014 Hogs defense improves first, then as the season progresses the DBs will come along. Again I’m a little hesitant to buy in to the idea that a young, undersized group of Corners and Safeties will be able to play up close jam and redirect coverage against guys like Sammie Coates, Amari Cooper, etc. 


FWE: Speaking of coaches, Bret Bielema has gotten a bit of a bad rap since coming to Arkansas. What do fans think of Bielema entering his second year in Fayetteville?


JG: Most are on board with his plan to rebuild this team. One of his five edges to win is to be both tough mentally and physically. That is one area that progress has been made, and hey we made it to August without any players in the arrest report!

Obviously there are some who have a problem with certain remarks where he seems to have foot in mouth disease, but after the debacle of Petrino this fan base has witnessed it all. A few ill-advised comments here and there can be overlooked as long as the product on the field improves.  

FWE: We recently ran a five part series discussing reasons that Auburn fans should worry about the week one matchup with the Razorbacks. In your opinion, what does Arkansas need to do to win this game?

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  • JG: The number one factor for Arkansas is to not turn the ball over. It may be another case of just not having the players to stop the rushing attack of Grant, Artis-Payne, and Marshall but by not turning the ball over they can have a chance. The usual factors are important as well, be successful on first down, be able to throw the ball some on first down also, and to convert manageable third downs at a high rate.

    If Arkansas can do those things and catch Auburn out of sync, as they have been prone to in early season games (see Wash St. 2013) then they will have an opportunity to pull the upset.  

    FWE: And finally, looking ahead to the rest of the season, what are fans predicting as far as a won-loss record in 2014? Do you have a prediction?


     For the most part, Arkansas fans have reasonable expectations for the 2014 season. They understand where things are headed, and the timeframe that rebuilding must follow.

    That being said, losing to Texas Tech or Northern Illinois would not go over well. Most fans have been predicting 4-5 wins and I’m a little bit more optimistic. It is just difficult to see more than five wins. The stretch at the end of the season of LSU, Ole Miss and Missouri is tough and coming out of that 1-2 would be a success.  

    I think they can get to six wins in a few ways: upsetting Auburn, or losing the opener and winning the next four, UAB, and one of those last three previously mentioned. Its not going to be easy, but winning a couple close games at the end of the season would be monumental for the Arkansas program.