Improved Arkansas defense prepares for Pryor
Arkansas has faced more than its share of mobile quarterbacks this season - with varying degrees of success.
Ohio State's Terrelle Pryor is next on that list for the eighth-ranked Razorbacks (10-2), who conclude their on-campus preparations Thursday for the Jan. 4 Sugar Bowl.
Arkansas' defensive improvement this season was one of the keys to reaching its first BCS bowl game. The Razorbacks were 33rd in the country in total defense, allowing an average of 340 yards per game. That's up from last season when they were 89th in the country, allowing 401 yards per game.
The improvement came despite facing some of the best dual-threat quarterbacks in the country, including Auburn's Cam Newton. While Newton ran wild on the Arkansas defense, accounting for 328 total yards in a 65-43 Tigers' win, the Razorbacks fared well against the rest in winning six straight games to finish the regular season.
Among the other mobile quarterbacks Arkansas faced this season were Mississippi's Jeremiah Masoli, Texas A&M's Jerrod Johnson, Mississippi State's Chris Relf and LSU's Jordan Jefferson. The Razorbacks won each of those games, and they plan to use a similar approach in readying themselves for Pryor.
''We've faced a lot of mobile quarterbacks this year, so it's basically the same preparation,'' senior linebacker Anthony Leon said. ''He's a real good athlete, he's fast. So, we're preparing like we've prepared for the other mobile quarterbacks like Cam Newton and players like that.''
Ohio State was 14th nationally in rushing this season, averaging 219.7 yards per game on the ground. Junior Dan Herron led the Buckeyes (11-1) with an 1,068 yards rushing and 15 touchdowns, but Arkansas defensive coordinator Willy Robinson said stopping Pryor is the key to stopping the Ohio State running attack.
''The guy you still have to defend is the quarterback, and that's the guy you usually don't account for,'' Robinson said. ''You're taking care of their tailback and playing to their power game, and the next thing you know, he's the guy that's got the ball in his hand.
''He's not unlike the other quarterbacks we've faced. He's very dynamic and they do a lot of different things with him He's the guy you have to take away first.''
Pryor was fourth in the Big Ten in total offense this season with an average of 265.8 yards per game, 212.6 passing and 53.2 rushing. Ohio State coach Jim Tressel said it's that balance that makes Pryor so difficult to defend, and he complimented the quarterback's growth since taking over as a freshman.
The Sugar Bowl is the Buckeyes' sixth straight BCS bowl game, their third straight with Pryor under center.
''We always mark the progress of a quarterback by how the team does, and he's done a great job leading the team,'' Tressel said. ''(In) his three years, we've won one outright championship and shared two others. He's given us a chance to compete in now our third BCS bowl game.''
Arkansas was second in the Southeastern Conference this season with 37 quarterback sacks, but Pryor's scrambling ability could slow down its pass rush. The Razorbacks also struggled at times against the run, allowing 157.4 yards per game on the ground and finishing 10th in the SEC.
In order for the Razorbacks to get pressure on Pryor, they'll first have to keep him in the pocket.
''That's going to be the key, make sure we take care of their running game first and then pressure the quarterback,'' Arkansas coach Bobby Petrino said. ''It would be good if we got a lead. That would help us.''