FAYETTEVILLE — Travis Williams has Arkansas playing good defense this season and one of the reasons is the play of Cincinnati transfer Jaheim Thomas along with Chris “Pooh” Paul Jr. at linebacker.
The two have combined for 133 tackles. Thomas, in nine games, leads the Razorbacks with 79 tackles, 35 solo, 6.5 for loss, 3.5 sacks, 2 pass breakups and 5 quarterback hurries. Paul has played eight games. He has 54 tackles, 21 solo, 5.5 for loss, 2 sacks, 1 pass breakup and a quarterback hurry.
Williams has extensive ties to Auburn having both played and coached there. Paul was asked if that makes Saturday’s Auburn game a little more special?
“Oh yeah, it is,” Paul said. “Like Coach T-Will is, he’s a more energetic guy in general. He’s just emphasizing on going 1-0 this week and playing the Arkansas brand of football.”
Thomas agreed with Paul.
“I would say most definitely,” Thomas said. “Just focusing, like Pooh said, on going 1-0 and bringing that energy and passion every practice and every week so we’re ready for the game.”
What has led to the success under Williams?
“Just going out there and putting our best foot forward,” Paul said. “If you mess up, go 100%. That’s all he’s looking for, just effort plays, things like that. Always having in the back of your mind why, why you do the things that you do and why you play the game, why you have so much love for the game and that driving force that keeps you pushing the next play and things like that. He’s a very passionate guy about the game, and that type of energy rolls off on the players.”
Sam Pittman showed a lot of respect for Auburn on Monday and talked about Hugh Freeze’s team loving to run the football.
“Excited to get back home against a team in Auburn that is playing really well and has won two SEC games in a row,” Pittman said. “They want to run the football, very powerful football team. Quarterback can run. They’ve got a couple of running backs. (Jarquez) Hunter is really good. Good offensive line. We are looking forward to coming home. I think we’re close to capacity, and we’re awfully appreciative to the fans of Arkansas for continuing to support us.”
Hunter has carried 108 times for 636 yards and seven touchdowns. He has 11 receptions for 94 yards. Paul talked about what he has seen from Hunter.
“I feel like Jarquez Hunter is a pretty decent back,” Paul said. “He has that balance of power and elusiveness. As well they have a great quarterback rotation going on as well. No. 1, he’s a transfer that came in but he’s a pretty decent quarterback. He’s got great speed and a great arm and he has great vision going down the field and things like that, and Robby Ashford who’s a speedy type guy. So we have to get around the ball, gang tackle and everybody’s got to be around.”
Thomas also is impressed with Hunter.
“I would say he runs the ball pretty hard,” Thomas said. “He’s pretty shifty. We’ve just got to be able to fill our gaps and just gang tackle every play and just bring it every week.”
Paul is very familiar with Freeze. He brought his Liberty team to Fayetteville last season and upset the Hogs. Any similarities between Auburn and Liberty?
“Watching the films, they had very similarities, because it’s Coach Freeze’s offense, but just watching them, he’s in a better conference obviously with the SEC,” Paul said. “So he has better players and things like that. Just to stop him, like I said, we’ve got to fly around and we’ve got to communicate a lot. Stop that run game for sure.”
As one would expect from a Freeze team they have a big offensive line that helps them get the running game going.
“Pretty big group, very physical,” Thomas said. “Our D-Line, they’ve got to bring it and we’ve got to bring it also, so just being able to use our hands and get off blocks and hit the running back when he’s in the hole.”
Auburn quarterback Payton Thorne has completed 117-of-183 passes for 1,269 yards, 10 touchdowns and six interceptions. He also has rushed 81 times for 337 yards and two touchdowns.
“I would say he has a pretty good arm, he also has the ability to run, so we’ve got to be able to get in those windows,” Thomas said. “They like to run a lot of big X and over routes, so just being able to get in those windows and when they run the QB draw being there for the run.”
Auburn tight end Rivaldo Fairweather has grabbed 27 passes for 277 yards and three touchdowns. ‘
“He’s a pretty big guy, real shifty guy for his size and things like that,” Paul said. “He has very decent route running and he’s a very decent blocker as well, so just keeping our eyes on him and communicating to the back end, ‘Is he inside the court, outside the court?’ Things like that play a huge factor in what play we may get, as well as what is his role in that play and things like that. Communication and flying around should help us out.”
Arkansas has played five of its last six games away from home. They get the final three at home. Paul likes that.
“Rolling off the momentum, that was a huge win for us,” Paul said. “That the first time an Arkansas team had ever went to The Swamp and won. Just rolling off that momentum and bringing that momentum to the fans at home, that should be a great thing for us to go out and roll off our momentum and well as the fans, and let’s have a great game.”
Arkansas and Auburn will kickoff at 3 p.m. on the SEC Network.