Posted by Jerry Hinnen
Over the summer we named Arkansas senior defensive end Jake Bequette to our CBSSports.com CFB 100, a list of the 100 most influential players, coaches, etc. of the 2011 season. Why? Because Bequette appeared to be the star player that could take the Razorback defense from "decent" to "potentially SEC-championship caliber."
But if the Hogs are going to take that step Saturday in their potentially season-defining showdown at Alabama, they'll have to do so without Bequette. Per Arkansas RapidReporter Jimmy Carter, Bobby Petrino announced Thursday that Bequette's nagging hamstring injury will prevent him from taking the field against the Tide.
“It’s really hard for him,” Petrino said. “He made huge improvement throughout the week, but didn’t quite get ready to practice. Hopefully he’ll be back next week.”
Starting in Bequette's place will be sophomore Chris Smith. The good news is that Smith has been one of the few bright spots for what's been a surprisingly tame Hog pass rush to date, having collected two of the team's three sacks and tying for the team lead in tackles-for-loss as well. Petrino expressed confidence in Smith's ability, lauding his "athleticism" and change-of-direction skills.
But that doesn't mean there's not plenty of bad news, too. The veteran Bequette would have likely been better-prepared for the raucous environment the Hogs are certain to face in Tuscaloosa; his strength and experience would have been a substantial boost against the Tide's powerful ground game; and no other lineman on the Razorback roster (Smith included) has Bequette's potential for a two-sack, four-TFL game-changing performance.
The news is, in short, a big blow. It doesn't doom the Hogs, either as an entire team or even just as a defense -- with Jerico Nelson and Jerry Franklin two of the SEC's better linebackers, the front seven still has some bite -- but winning on the road at Alabama is the sort of victory that doesn't usually happen without a good bit of good luck. Losing Bequette is entirely the opposite.