Wednesday Grid Update, 11/20
Arkansas hasn't stopped the pass much in SEC play and there has been mention of juggling the lineup at cornerback during an open date. But there were no mention of the starters after Wednesday's practice.
Defensive coordinator Chris Ash would not tip his hand on the battle for playing time at cornerback, but he was careful to commit to Tevin Mitchel, a starter all season, after seeing improvement in practice.
Ash said practice performances have never been an issue with Mitchel. It's game performance. Carroll Washington, slowed by injury last week, is rounding into form. He's got an issue with a heel injury, but was able to practice Wednesday afternoon. Ash said Will Hines is in the game plan at cornerback, too.
"To be honest, it's the same everywhere on defense," Ash said. "Like for Tevin, it's about consistency throughout our defense. We'll do well for 53 plays, but it's the other six or seven where there are issues. We just don't have consistency for 60 plays. That's where we have to improve.
"I hope that's where all of us get better, not just Tevin. We have to do a better job of making the tackle and being more aggressive."
The passing game issues on defense came up in the media session Wednesday night. Ash was asked specifically about cornerback coverage and possibly the lack of press coverage.
"We have to do a better job of showing in practice that we can play tighter coverage," Ash said. "If you struggle during a practice week, that might lead to what we do during a game."
Ash said Mississippi State's offense is one of the toughest they've faced as far as schematic issues.
"They have a lot of formations, a lot of plays and new wrinkles every week," Ash said of the Bulldogs. "They do a good job avoiding tendencies and they've got good players. Their coaches call a good game. They can rush the ball and they can pass the ball.
"They've been competitive, in every game except maybe LSU. They haven't been able to get over the hump. Hopefully, we prevent them from doing that this week."
State's offense changes slightly as it moves through three quarterbacks, generally because of injuries. Tyler Russell is listed first on the depth chart. But, shoulder injuries have plagued both Russell and backup Dak Prescott. Damien Williams, a true freshman, also has played.
"They are all different and because of that the game plan changes a little bit with each of their quarterbacks," Ash said. "So you better have three game plans and adjust. One thing you know, they are going to do a nice job in their rushing game and in play-action. We will have to adjust to what they do on game day, but we expect their top quarterbacks to be out there."
Defensive line coach Charlie Partridge said, "It's a combination of things and it changes a little for each of them from what we see. But our keys stay the same up front. It's the way they block things that are a little different. They present some challenges for our ends because sometimes their guards are going to kick out and sometimes they come across your face and keep going. It's interference as far as your eyes."
Defensive end Chris Smith said the quarterback isn't the issue.
"It's the way they play in the offensive line," Smith said. "They are very good up front. I think with any of the three quarterbacks, Mississippi State is still going to be Mississippi State, very physical and with a strong running game. We have to stop that run and make them one-dimensional so we can rush the passer.
"I think they've been in all of their games. They are a strong SEC team. Everybody is good from one week to the next. They were two or three plays away from knocking off Alabama last week. We all saw that and know what they have done. They have a very good team.
"We know it's another great SEC team waiting on us in Little Rock. But this could be the icing on the cake to go to Little Rock and end that (losing) streak. We aren't counting numbers, but we know it's time to get a victory. Under coach (Bret) Bielema, it's a 1-0 mentality. It's one play at a time. We aren't thinking about anything other than getting this win this week."
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