Few position groups in modern Razorback football history have been as widely criticized as this season’s secondary, which ranks among the nation’s worst. According to Pro Football Focus, the Hogs’ team coverage grade of 53.1 ranks 122nd out of 131 FBS teams. Sure, things would be better had Jalen Catalon and Myles Slusher never been injured, but with them out much of the year so far, the others, on the whole, just haven’t been up to snuff.
“The problem is Arkansas can’t play man,” sports radio show co-host Tommy Craft said on the “Morning Rush” this week. “There’s just not enough spots that you can go play man on the best wide receiver and shut him down. You don’t have that one guy that can take their one guy and just go in there and break up passes and just wear him like a sweater.”
Yet, within the vast, dark wasteland of the group’s underwhelming performances, a random ray of light occasionally shines through.
Consider cornerback Malik Chavis recently chimed in at No. 2 nationally among all cornerbacks in giving up the fewest passing yards (with a minimum of 150 coverage snaps.) Or that Hudson Clark, after snapping a two-year drought without an interception against BYU, also snagged SEC Defensive Player of the Week honors with his performance of 11 tackles (four solo), one interception and a fumble recovery in the road win.
To help the Hogs in light of the aforementioned injuries, Clark has switched to safety from cornerback and has been pretty good against aerial attacks. The problem, as Craft’s ESPN Arkansas co-host Tye Richardson points out, is run support – something where Catalon and Slusher excelled. “We’ve seen [Clark] get blown up a couple times, but he’s really good at reading what’s going on in the passing situation,” Richardson added.
Unlikely Arkansas Football All-American
From an individual standpoint, however, the defensive backfield’s top honor so far this season belongs to Dwight McGlothern.
Alongside Drew Sanders, the 6-foot-2 junior cornerback recently got chosen as one of two mid-season Razorback All-Americans by The Athletic. That’s second-team All-American, sure, but still ranks as a first-team caliber surprise given McGlothern’s role on the struggling secondary. While yes, the talented LSU transfer is the Razorbacks’ best individual corner defender, that’s not saying too much on a unit that gets shredded so often.
While McGlothern has 20 total tackles, 3 interceptions and 4 pass breakups so far this season, Pro Football Focus’ more comprehensive individual player grades don’t exactly support The Athletic’s choice. The SEC is generally considered home to the nation’s best defensive backs. Currently, the below three take top billing in this department:
- CB Emmanuel Forbes (MSU): 83.3 [a first-team selection by The Athletic]
- CB Brian Branch (ALA): 81.4
- S Christopher Smith (UGA): 80.0 [a second-team selection]
It’s a ways down before happening on Arkansas football players within the SEC players’ ranking, though, and McGlothern isn’t even tops in that bunch:
Razorback Defensive Back Grades (Min. 200 Snaps)
Hudson Clark is rated 10th of 82 (with a grade of 76.2)
Dwight McGlothern is 39th (69.3 grade)
Latavious Brini is 47th
Khari Johnson is 61st
Malik Chavis is 75th
Simeon Blair is 78th
Jayden Johnson is 81st
The Arkansas football camp especially hopes Blair can play better down the line considering he is a team captain. “When I watch games, he’s the one that’s consistently getting beat,” Richardson said. “And I’m not trying to individually [point him out], but I’m just telling you what I see.”
Tommy Craft agreed: “If you’re going to be a senior captain, I think there’s some level of expectation and level of play that goes along with that. This secondary’s just got issues.”
It’s also got talent, especially given Slusher’s apparent return from injury this week and as the McGlothern selection reminds us.
While The Athletic might not be doing a deep dive into his numbers, they are clearly giving the talented transfer the benefit of the doubt. Perhaps it’s residual favoritism from his days at “Defensive Back U,” where McGlothern stood out as one of the most physically gifted corners even among LSU counterparts. His 2022 performance so far has been uneven, but that doesn’t take away from his high potential.
It helped that he racked up an interception in each of his first two games, both wins. “The midseason second-team All-American has allowed 13 catches for 143 yards on 33 targets, per PFF, and has yet to allow a touchdown on his nearly 300 snaps in coverage,” The Athletic’s Max Olson wrote on October 20.
McGlothern makes a strong case for beating out Jordan Domineck as the Hogs’ second-best defensive transfer this season behind Drew Sanders, but it’s a big reach to say he’s worthy of All-American status. He could definitely play his way into deserving the accolade in the coming games, but other top SEC defensive backs have a stronger case so far.
Not that Arkansas football fans should mind too much. In the past, they have seen plenty of Razorbacks seemingly get the shaft when it comes to individual accolades. For once, they get to feel what it’s like when national media bias works in their favor.
Tommy Craft and Tye Richardson talk about the secondary at 31:00 below:
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