Arkansas defense struggling to pressure opposing QBs
FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. (AP) Robb Smith wanted no part of rehashing Arkansas' defensive performance two days following a 63-28 win over Tennessee-Martin, hardly surprising after his unit allowed 519 yards in the win.
The Arkansas defensive coordinator has bigger issues at the moment than a lackluster performance against an FCS opponent - primarily how to right a defense that's gone from one of the best in the country a year ago to middle of the road this season.
When Arkansas (4-4, 2-2 Southeastern Conference) faces No. 19 Mississippi on Saturday, it will do so with a vastly different defense than the one that shut out the Rebels (7-2, 4-1) 30-0 a year ago in Fayetteville.
After finishing last season 10th in the country in total defense, the Razorbacks enter this week struggling mightily with an SEC-worst pass rush that's garnered only seven sacks through eight games. As a direct result, the lack of pressure has allowed opposing quarterbacks to pick apart the Arkansas secondary to the tune of an average of 273 yards through the air per game.
''We know we've got to get better in certain areas, and that's our primary focus,'' Smith said. ''We certainly have to play very good pass defense this week, if we want to be successful against Ole Miss.''
While Arkansas coach Bret Bielema said he's more concerned with points allowed than what he believes are statistics skewered by the play of backups in the second half against Tennessee-Martin, that category is equally disconcerting with four SEC games remaining.
A year following a defensive renaissance of sorts in Fayetteville, the Razorbacks are allowing 26.6 points per game this year compared to 19.2 a year ago.
The Razorbacks began this season missing four key players from last year's defense, all who were drafted into the NFL. Two of those players, Trey Flowers and Darius Philon, were Arkansas' best pass rushers - combining for 10 1/2 sacks last season.
And while Bielema and Smith have lauded the team's improved depth on the defensive line, the play of the top-end talent simply hasn't lived up to last year - with Tevin Beanum and Mitchell Loewen leading the team with a paltry 1 1/2 sacks each on the season.
The team's seven overall sacks are five behind the next-worst team in the SEC, with Auburn having 12, and its average of less than a sack per game is 123rd out of 127 teams in the country.
Bielema said Arkansas is playing between 8-10 defensive linemen per game this season, compared to six a year ago, and he said that's partly the reason for no player having more sacks.
Still, the Razorbacks are well off their pace of 24 sacks in 13 games last season - something they must correct with games against the Rebels, No. 4 LSU and No. 24 Mississippi State over the next three weeks.