- Associated Press - Wednesday, August 17, 2011

FAYETTEVILLE, ARK. (AP) - The Arkansas Razorbacks are still waiting for the defense to catch up to the team’s standout offenses in three seasons under Bobby Petrino.

The Razorbacks coach has reason to believe that might change in his fourth season.

Arkansas, which ranked last in the Southeastern Conference in total defense in 2009, jumped to fifth last season behind a talented and deep defensive front.

Seven starters return on defense this season for the Razorbacks, who believe they are on the way to becoming one of the top defenses in the SEC.

If that happens, Arkansas could reach its goal of contending for its first SEC championship and a return trip to a BCS bowl game.

“We have to go prove it, but I’m very encouraged coming in,” Petrino said. “We took a huge step from Year 2 to Year 3 defensively. We just need to do that again.”

The Razorbacks made a dramatic jump in offensive production in Petrino’s second season in 2009, improving from 21.9 points per game to 36.

However, the team’s defense fell from 72nd in the country to 89th allowing more than 400 yards per game.

Arkansas junior D.D. Jones played in 12 games as a freshman that season, including a 52-41 home loss to Georgia during which the Bulldogs gained 530 yards.

“When I first got here, it was tough,” Jones said. “Our defense just wasn’t that good, but we kept working to make the best of everything.”

That work and experience paid off last season for the Razorbacks, who jumped to 36th in total defense and lowered their average yards allowed to 348 per game.

Arkansas finished second in the SEC with 37 sacks, led by seven from defensive end Jake Bequette.

Bequette skipped the NFL draft after last season to return for his senior year, and his past performance along with other veterans such as Jones, junior Tenarius Wright and senior Zach Stadther has Razorbacks linebackers coach Reggie Johnson eager for the season.

“We’re excited because of the experience we have coming back, the front guys, the big bodies that can move,” Johnson said. “There’s a big upside, so the excitement level for me and the defensive coaching staff is huge.”

Johnson is far from the only one at Arkansas sharing in the excitement.

Story Continues →