FAYETTEVILLE — Arkansas seems to be losing a veteran on defense every week.
Tenarius Wright went down for the season with a shoulder problem, while Alonzo Highsmith followed with a foot injury. D.D. Jones has missed playing time. Now, Terrell Williams is off the field after being suspended indefinitely for a DWI arrest.
So when Arkansas looks for defensive leadership – especially in the back seven – it’s pretty clear safety Ross Rasner is one of few options remaining. Rasner leads Arkansas in tackles (67) and interceptions (three). He is tied with Tevin Mitchel with a team-high two forced fumbles, playing a hand in half of Arkansas’ takeaways.
Rasner’s leadership will be even more important Saturday, when Razorbacks start two freshmen – A.J. Turner and Otha Peters – at linebacker at South Carolina. Rasner spoke about the freshmen, his responsibilities at South Carolina, and Arkansas’ string of success against the Gamecocks during this week’s Q&A:
Q: What are you expecting from the freshmen linebackers Saturday?
A: “I think all year they’ve really done a great job so far. After losing Tank and Alonzo, they’ve really got some good game reps and some good SEC action. So I’m really excited to see what they can do out there. Especially against an opponent like South Carolina.”
Q: What have you seen from Otha this week as he prepares for his first start?
A: “He’s one of those guys you have to communicate well with him every play. I know what it’s like being a freshman you there. You just have to talk and know your responsibilities. I told him if you don’t know something you have to ask. It might be in the middle of a play, but just let somebody know or ask me and I’ll try to help you out.”
Q: How much more responsibility is on you with so much youth around?
A: “I wouldn’t say I would do anything different than I haven’t done. I’ll obviously try to be a little more vocal out there now that we’ve lost some guys, but I think everybody, all their roles are the same. I’ve just had to try to be a little more vocal. Especially with those freshmen linebackers.”
Q: South Carolina is playing without Marcus Lattimore this week. What are you expecting from the run game?
A: “I think their backup running back is very good. He got some reps against us last year. He’s no. 31. (Kenny) Miles. He’s a little guy that runs really hard. He’s going to do his thing out there so we have to make sure we contain him. (Connor) Shaw, their quarterback, he can do a lot of things with his feet. We’re going to have to make sure he doesn’t just start running around in the pocket. We have to get pressure on him and let him get rid of the ball quick.”
Q: What does your success against South Carolina mean Saturday?
A: “We’ve won three years in a row against them. That’s something to keep in mind. But then again, it’s a whole new year. Any of the plays we made last year against them, those don’t count. So we have to treat this like any other game. But they’re a great opponent and they’ve had a good year so far. So we’re excited to go out there and compete against them. But anything we’ve done in the past, it really doesn’t matter.”
Q: But does the success give you confidence?
A: “That’s always in the back of your head when you’ve had success against a particular team. But it’s nothing really that you can take into the game. It’s not going to make any plays for you or win the game. So you have to prepare like it’s anybody else. But it’s definitely good to know we’ve had success against them.”