State of the Hogs: Defense
ARLINGTON, Texas - When Cobi Hamilton waltzed into the end zone to finish a 71-yard touchdown pass in the fourth quarter, there was a chuckle in the press box when an old scribe whispered, "And this one will end 14-7."
It was a tongue-and-cheek reference that hinted that it was going to be a shootout and the last team with the ball would win.
Oh, there were a few more points scored, but not many. None were scored in the fourth quarter when the Hogs won with great punting from Dylan Breeding, wonderful coverage in the secondary and sure tackling everywhere you looked.
No, I didn't see this coming. Not early, not late.
Arkansas defensive coordinator Willy Robinson saw it coming -- last spring when he noted the maturity of the front and the secondary. He said there wasn't a need for magical calls or new blitzes, just fundamental football.
"They did a very nice job today," Robinson said. "When you look at what this offense of A&M had done in previous games, they were averaging 530 yards a game and 112 plays per game. I think we kept it to a minimum and just did a nice job of executing the plan."
Like I said, I didn't see the Hogs holding these Aggies to 17 points, 324 yards and only 74 snaps. I didn't think they would force nine A&M punts, either.
A&M quarterback Jerrod Johnson was 15 of 40 for just 212 yards. He was sacked only twice, but as Jake Bequette said, "He threw a bunch of them away to keep from giving up sacks. He had to throw them quick a bunch today."
New blitzes? "Nope, same blitzes, nothing new, just faster and better," Robinson said. "I think the difference you see in this defense is that we are more experienced, more mature. We understand. We know it better.
"We made some adjustments at halftime to take some things away they were doing. We eliminate mistakes. We worked well as a team. I think our defensive front controlled things as the game progressed. We just got better as we went.
"That quarterback is a fine player. We didn't want him to get out and run like that. We wanted to contain him and he did get out a few times. But I guess we kept it to a minimum. I think it was a nice job overall."
Bequette didn't know Johnson's numbers until he was almost out of the media room. When they were read to him, "Awesome. That's what we were going for, to limit him to 15 completions is pretty awesome. It was frustrating not to get him on the ground more, but I think he knew we were right there a bunch."
There were others frustrated after this one and some of them were on the Arkansas sideline. Quarterback Ryan Mallett's numbers fell below his season averages. He was JUST 27 of 38 for 310 yards.
"You look at what it says right here," offensive coordinator Garrick McGee pointed to the stat sheet, "and you think it wasn't a good day. Those are not good numbers for him. But that tells you what kind of player he is. That's 310 yards and three touchdowns. For most, that would be pretty good numbers, but we have very high standards.
"No, I don't think he played well, but we are very fortunate to have him. When you don't play well and still have those kinds of numbers, that says something about his ability.
"A&M did some things to try to confuse Ryan. They brought some blitzes a little different and they made it hard on him.
"But we made some good checks in the running game. We didn't get them all right, but we did some better things in the run game. I think our backs did enough and were definitely better."
The defense is getting higher standards within the team.
"We know what we've got on defense," tight end D. J. Williams said. "We see them in practice. They are playing hard and we owe them a lot. They had the rope for us."
McGee said Williams held the rope, too. He was a key protector in some of the blitz pickups.
"On the touchdown pass to Cobi, they brought the cornerback and a linebacker," McGee said. "D. J. came across and got the cornerback, turned him in. That gave Ryan a chance to step outside and get a little time to get it to Cobi.
"They did some things we expected and some we hadn't seen, some new spins. But we did pick them up some and D. J. got that one."
Williams said, "I was on the other side, then saw them switch sides with the blitz, so I came underneath Ryan all the way across to get the corner. The end came free, too. I figured the corner was going to get there quicker and took him. Ryan made the other guy miss, so it worked great."
Not everything worked great. The Hogs had 13 penalties, 10 in the first half when they might have put up two more scores.
"I got two of the false starts and there's no excuse," Williams said. "It was loud, but that's not an excuse. I think we just didn't do a good job of sitting down in our stance and let Ryan make the checks. You have to sit there and let him go through it. We didn't.
"It was loud in here. But this was just split 50-50 in this stadium. Next week at Auburn it will be even louder. So we'll have to get that worked out.
"Our defense got us some field position. We didn't take advantage of that."
Cornerback Ramon Broadway was smiling afterwards. He said the Aggies did a nice job of acting on the pass interference penalty that gave them a chance in the final minute.
"I think everyone saw it on the big screen, the guy had my jersey and pulled me into him," he said. "They were doing that some.
"You can't worry about it. You have to just keep playing, keep trying. We did play until the end. We know that it's a game that will last four quarters and we did a good job of playing all the way until the end.
"I think you see a great quarterback on the A&M side. But we made it hard on him. We gave him some things that frustrated him. We swarmed to the ball. We tackled. We contained him pretty good. And we played the fourth quarter pretty good today."
Johnson said the same thing, congratulating the Arkansas defense.
"The constant movement of their defense made it hard," the Aggie quarterback said. "They show you one thing and then give you something else.
"They throw the kitchen sink at you and at the same time they are sound in their coverage. My hat is off to their defense.
"They had our number today. We knew their defensive ends were the strength of their team. We had a lot of second and 12s, third and 16s."
And a zero in the fourth quarter.
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