Revamped Arkansas defense ready for tough test against LSU
FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. (AP) The season appeared as though it was falling apart for Arkansas following a 56-3 loss to Auburn three weeks ago, particularly for a defense that had just allowed 543 yards rushing to the Tigers.
Fueled by a well-timed bye week and some personnel changes, the Razorbacks (6-3, 2-3 Southeastern Conference) turned around both their defense – and season – with a 31-10 win against Florida last week .
It was a performance Arkansas hopes to carry forward on Saturday when they host No. 19 LSU (5-3, 3-2).
''Winning does a lot of things for the soul,'' Arkansas coach Bret Bielema said.
To get back to winning following the humiliating Auburn loss, Bielema had a part in the defensive changes – most notably increasing playing time for talented freshman defensive tackle McTelvin Agim and moving senior Jeremiah Ledbetter to defensive end.
The result was the most dominant defensive performance of the season, with the Razorbacks holding the Gators to a season-low 12 yards rushing on 14 carries.
It was a improvement of 531 yards from one game to the next by a defense that had to wait two weeks to play Florida after being humbled by Auburn.
''It was tough, going into a bye week after a loss like that,'' defensive end Deatrich Wise said. ''You hear two weeks of that constant reminder of what you did. We just had to get our mind right … It was hard, but we just changed the demeanor of how we do things, made things simpler.''
While the Florida win showed what Arkansas' new-look defense is capable of, it will face an even more difficult test this week against an LSU team that leads the SEC with an average of 6.2 yards per carry.
With junior running back Leonard Fournette leading the way, the Tigers average 214 yards rushing per game – 236.3 yards on the ground in the four games since interim coach Ed Orgeron took over following the firing of Les Miles . And that despite only gaining 33 yards rushing in last week's 10-0 loss to No. 1 Alabama.
Orgeron knows the Razorbacks aren't likely to present the same physical challenge up front defensively, but he's also aware Arkansas' success a week ago could easily carry over to this week.
He also knows how well the Razorbacks have played in defeats of LSU in each of the last two seasons, games in which Arkansas has held the Tigers to a combined 95 yards rushing on 62 carries.
''They got bigger on the front and it worked for them,'' Orgeron said. ''The open date obviously was very beneficial to them … Overall they played better. It seemed like they played as a team.''
AP Sports Writer Brett Martel in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, contributed to this report.
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