State of the Hogs: Falling Forward
FAYETTEVILLE - There were pats on the back for everyone on the Arkansas defense after a suffocating performance over the last three quarters in a 49-14 victory over Vanderbilt on Saturday night.
The numbers were impressive. The Hogs scored nine points on defense. They held Vandy to eight first downs, just 1 of 11 on third downs.
Middle linebacker Jerry Franklin acknowledged the praise. But he didn't get carried away. He had watched South Carolina outlast Tennessee on television that afternoon. He saw Marcus Lattimore. He knows that's what awaits him this week in Columbia.
"He's big and he always falls forward," Franklin said of Carolina's freshman beast of a runner. "He's really strong for a young player. I watched him from my hotel room today. Basically, he does a great job every week. He's physical. Like I said, you hit him and he falls forward every time.
"We will need everyone playing together against him. It'll take all of us staying after him and playing our assignments."
That's what Franklin said the Hogs did after Vandy scored twice in the first quarter.
"We weren't communicating," Franklin said. "They hit the reverse and a draw play. It was a case on us making a call and everyone not playing their assignment. When we do that, it's a lot better.
"I think after we started playing our assignments, getting the calls, we stopped them."
Franklin had the sack against Vandy quarterback Larry Smith that resulted in a safety.
"I was trying to knock it away from him and I saw the ball flash under me," he said. "I thought for a second that I could get it for a touchdown, but I couldn't get away from the quarterback. I was going down with him and the ball was just a little bit away from me.
"But that's the kind of plays we've been trying to get, some turnovers, some points for the defense."
Defensive coordinator Willy Robinson liked the first down total best of all the low numbers on the stat sheet.
"You just don't get that much anymore," he said. "That total (under 10) just doesn't happen these days. I think we played well after the first two drives. We just stayed in our base and played."
Robinson said he wasn't sure they could do that against one of Vandy's personnel group.
"They load up on tight ends and we decided we'd leave our base out there and let them play," he said. "It turned out for us. I was a little nervous about that one (personnel) group.
"We just stayed with our base, our speed group and they made plays."
Robinson praised outside linebacker Jerico Nelson. He liked his stop on a fourth-down option play as much as his pick six.
"Vandy ran the speed option on a fourth down and there were offsetting penalties to bring it back," Robinson said. "It was a check to one of our pressures and they tried the same check to the same call. Jerrico is too smart to let them do it again.
"We give him the freedom to pull the trigger and go. He just beat the block and blew it up. That's him knowing the check and seeing it. That's the way he plays. He's a great piece to our puzzle on defense.
"He's just so smart at picking things up. He read the slant and jumped in there for the interception."
Nelson gave credit to Robinson.
"I had bracket coverage on the No. 2 receiver and if he goes inside, I turn him loose and come back for the No. 1 man," Nelson said. "When they went to the slant, it was right to me. That's a great call by Coach Robinson."
Arkansas head coach Bobby Petrino mentioned the same Nelson plays as Robinson, the fourth down hit as well as the interception.
"He's a great player and one of our leaders," Petrino said. "He's one of our smartest players. He recognizes plays. He's a pain to practice against. He knows what is about to happen."
Petrino liked the way quarterback Ryan Mallett performed on the way to breaking his own school record with 409 yards passing.
"He was focused and intense," Petrino said. "He read the defense, went through his progressions and spread the ball around."
Offensive coordinator Garrick McGee said it was the way Mallett practiced all week.
"He prepared very well," McGee said. "That's the way he looked. He had his spirit back. He had his smile back. I thought his shoulder looked okay tonight."
That was in reference to getting knocked out of the game two weeks in a row, with a concussion at Auburn and a bruised shoulder last week against Ole Miss.
"He did a great job of getting us out of bad plays," McGee said. "They gave us some different looks and he made the checks. He played well."
Mallett still had to answer questions about his throwing shoulder after the game. Some had questioned whether he was telling the truth earlier in the week when he pronounced his right shoulder 100 percent. Did throwing 44 passes show that his shoulder was alright?
"I hope so," Mallett said. "Guys, I hadn't ever lied to you, have I?"
Mallett suggested setting the passing record was a little sweeter the second time.
"This was in a victory," Mallett said. "The other time (in a loss to Georgia) doesn't mean so much. I like this a lot better.
"Coach Petrino mentioned it to me (that it was a record) after the game. I thought that was pretty neat."
There won't be anything neat about what's waiting for the Hogs in South Carolina. There's nothing neat about Marcus Lattimore for an opposing defense.
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