FAYETTEVILLE — Isaiah Nichols is a redshirt sophomore defensive tackle for Arkansas and part of a defense that has caught the attention of the nation, not just the SEC.
Nichols has played in all four games this season with two starts. He has seven tackles, 0.5 tackle for loss, 0.5 sack and a quarterback hurry. He started the Georgia and Auburn games and those were statistically his two best games as well.
The linebackers and defensive backs are getting all the awards handed out, but those two units are quick to credit the defensive line for the job its doing.
“Oh, definitely,” Nichols said. “We talk to them before every period and practice starts. I go say what’s up to Joe (Foucha), Grant (Morgan), Bumper (Pool), just anybody back there. Just letting them know, like, ‘We’re here working for y’all.’ I feel like D-line, especially defensive tackle, it’s a real selfless job. You have to put yourself in the situation so that others can have success, and that’s what I believe success on the D-line is a lot of the time. So, it may be me taking a double-team and holding the guard so that the linebacker can come through and get a tackle. So, I feel like just as a whole, defensive football you’ve got to rely on each other. The DBs, they hold the receivers so we get time to get to the quarterback and vice versa. So, I feel like there’s credit on both sides. We’re playing real sound defensive football, and we’re having success, you know.”
Nichols talked about how the team has transitioned from the bye week to game week now.
“The bye week definitely helped us,” Nichols said. “We got our bodies back feeling good. We know they have bye week, too, so they probably got a jump on things. But I feel like we had a good chance to get a head start and get a good jump on things last week. We’ve been stringing some good practices together, but we just focus on the next practice we’re going to go to. We’re just try to string together, have a successful weekend.”
Arkansas hasn’t beaten the Aggies since they joined the SEC. The last Razorback win in this series was in 2011 when Bobby Petrino was still coaching the Hogs. How nice would it be to end that streak on Saturday?
“I think it would be good for this state to see, but at the same time we still have the whole rest of the season to play, so I’m focused on this weekend trying to win, but we can’t dwell on it too long,” Nichols said. “We’ve got to be able to move past it, be able to handle success well. And so, hopefully that’s what we have this weekend. We prepare, go in with the right game plan, execute and do our thing.”
Texas A&M has an outstanding offensive line. They start four seniors and a sophomore.
“Watching the film, they do a lot of good, you know, and we’re trying to plan and just make sure we’re assignment sound and technique sound, play good defensive football so we can go in there and get the job done,” Nichols said. “They have some guys like the running back, the quarterback. They’re pretty good guys too. We just have to make sure up from that we’re playing well, playing fundamental good D-line and, you know, getting the job done.”
Kellen Mond is the most experienced quarterback in the SEC. Nichols knows the Hogs have got to contain him.
“I think it’s very important,” Nichols said. “You know he has been there for past four years I think. He has been there for a long time so he’s a real experienced quarterback and obviously very mobile. So we have to do a good job on defense collapsing the pocket and not letting him escape. Not just letting him getting anything free. We want to make them work for everything they get. We want to be able to limit the things they can do as much as possible. So I think it’s very important if we can make them one dimensional in any phase of the game I think we’ve got a good game.”
Running back Isaiah Spiller is another threat for the Aggies. Nichols had high praise for him too.
“He’s a real dynamic back you know,” Nichols said. “We’ve just to be really sound up front. Like I’ve been saying we’ve got be really sound, make sure we’re in our right gaps and we can’t keep peeking in the opposite gap and getting washed. We’ve got to be really sound and play a technique we know. I feel like we can do really good against them.”
The winner of this game will get the Southwest Classic Trophy. What would it mean to the Hogs to bring that home with them?
“I feel like trophy is always extra incentive, but our desire to win is limited for every game,” Nichols said. “We go it and we want to have the same success and more so week to week. Having the trophy that is cool after the game, but before the game we’re focused on the task at hand and the job that needs to get done. That’s my personal mentality and I know a lot of the guys on the team that’s their mentality. We want to win every game trophy or not.”
Nichols also praised young defensive tackles Marcus Miller, Enoch Jackson and Andy Boykin.
“You can tell,”Nichols said. “I was just talking about it today, week by week, day by day, in the whole defensive line group everybody is getting better. I was talking to Dorian (Gerald) and we were saying, ‘man they’re looking a lot faster.’ I think that speaks to them very much so, but as well to the whole defensive line group. We’ve been getting better as the week goes on. Coach (Derrick) LeBlanc is doing a great job preparing us and teaching us fundamental technique. You can see on film the things we work on individually are showing up when we’re doing team sessions. They have definitely started coming along.”
Arkansas and Texas A&M will kickoff at 6:30 p.m. Saturday night in College Station. The game will be televised on the SEC Network.