December 28, 2010
Tight end a big weapon for Arkansas
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COLUMBUS, Ohio - Just when you think Arkansas couldn't have any more balance offensively, you look a little closer and find the nation's best tight end.
Arkansas' offensive prowess is due in large part to having one of the most effective quarterbacks in college football in Ryan Mallett, who has been blessed with a balanced receiving corps to deliver his perfectly placed passes to.
But perhaps the weapon that keeps opposing defenses most off balance is Arkansas tight end D.J. Williams, this year's recipient of the Mackey Award, given annually to the nation's top tight end.
"That guy is probably the most athletic tight end I've seen," senior linebacker Brian Rolle said. "I didn't know about him until I looked at film. It's going to be a tremendous challenge."
Williams isn't Arkansas' leading receiver - in fact there are four receivers that have more receiving yards than the tight end - but he has become one of the most utilized weapons in the Razorbacks offense.
Though not the leading receiver in terms of yardage, Williams emerged in his senior season as Mallett's favorite target. This season, Williams caught 49 passes from Mallett, more than any other player on the team.
With the 49 receptions, Williams got results. He had 589 receiving yards (12 yards per catch) and four touchdowns. Only two Ohio State receivers - Dane Sanzenbacher and DeVier Posey - had more yards receiving than Williams did for Arkansas.
"He does a very good job for them," said senior safety Jermale Hines. "He is nimble, he gets open, and he takes advantage of linebackers on him and things like that. We need to do a good job of keeping our eyes on him also.
"(Arkansas) tends to create mismatches that sometimes they're too fast for the linebackers or too big for the safeties, so it is a position that varies. We need to do a good job of getting them different looks."
Offenses that utilize a dynamic tight end happen to be more fluid on offense and the Buckeyes have had tough times covering the position in bowl games in the recent past.
Most recently was against LSU in the national title game in New Orleans in 2007, where Tigers tight end Richard Dickson caught two touchdown passes from quarterback Matt Flynn.
This season, though, the Buckeyes held perhaps the best tight end they've faced all season in Wisconsin's Lance Kendricks to no receptions. However, the Badgers spent a large portion of the game running the football before handing Ohio State its lone loss of the season.
Eastern Michigan had the most successful production out of its tight end against the Buckeyes, as Ben Thayer caught five passes for 75 yards, including long receptions down the middle of the field that gashed the Buckeye secondary.
"There's a big difference," Hines said when asked about the difference in opposing offenses that employ a standout tight end. "With just (an average) tight end, when he run-blocks for a second, you automatically get your eyes in the backfield. With a tight end like this, if he gives a little block, you have to keep your eyes on him and slow your reads."
The Buckeyes will have athletic linebackers in the game that have showed the ability to cover well when needed in Rolle and senior Ross Homan, but as the team's nickel back, Hines may be the primary man for the job to keep Williams in check.
"That's my type of challenge," Hines said. "Right up my alley."
Ari Wasserman is a staff writer for BuckeyeGrove.com. He can be reached at Ari@BuckeyeGrove.com.
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