It may sound unusual for a team on a long SEC losing streak, but Arkansas assistant head coach Randy Shannon said the mindset at practice this week in preparation for Georgia is to push through any possible complacency.
Shannon, who coaches the linebackers, said that head coach Bret Bielema is pushing coaches and the assistants are pushing players as hard as possible.
Defensively, that comes after the Hogs allowed just 227 total yards against Alabama, only 66 on the ground. There's been praise for defensive improvement, but Shannon said there is more work to be done. And, there is talk that Georgia is a ground-oriented offense similar to Alabama. Carryover or not, it won't be easy to stop the Bulldogs, with or without running back Todd Gurley.
“Like anything, there’s a lot of carryover," Shannon said. "But you don’t let them stay happy about it. You either go up or down. You never stay the same. We keep … as a defensive staff, we keep pushing to be better than what they were last year. Never get satisfied in anything. And I think the more we don’t get satisfied as a football team, and as a coaching staff, then the better off we’ll be as a team.”
"We are pushing the players. Coach Bielema is pushing the staff."
But there is more confidence among the players. Safety Rohan Gaines sees it everywhere he looks with this defense.
“We get a lot of confidence, you know?" Gaines said. "We held probably the top rushing team to 66 yards. We held their top player to two catches for 22 yards. It gives us a lot of confidence in what we’re doing.”
Indeed, Alabama wideout Amari Cooper entered the game with 52 catches, but had only two against the Hogs. The Hogs have had few performances like that on defense in recent years.
"Definitely not since I’ve been here," Gaines said. "I don’t know about the past. But it’s a confidence builder. Definitely.”
So what lead to the improvement?
“I mean, we’re finally learning that we have to go out and play," Gaines said. "We have great coaches. We have coaches with great history. But we can’t rely on the coaches. At the end of the day, they can only give us the scheme. We have to go out and play.”
The question remains, can the Hogs duplicate that effort against Georgia, another strong running team?
"Yeah, we definitely feel like we can do it again," Gaines said. "We feel like, I don’t know, it’s just a different feeling out there right now. There’s a lot of confidence. We see people smiling because we know what we’re doing. We’re able to have fun because we know what we’re doing.”
Gaines sees an emerging cover man in Toliver, the freshman cornerback assigned to Cooper.
“I mean, he’s outstanding," Gaines said. "As a freshman, our coaches and our team has confidence in you to put you on the best player on the field. Amari cooper, he’s probably going in the first or second round. We have confidence in you to put you on the best player. So that should tell you a lot. He’s really growing.”
Specifically, Gaines knows what Toliver brings to the defense.
“I mean, big body," Gaines said. "Physical. Can move. Move his feet, shoot his hands. He can cover. He can basically do it all. He can shut down a side of the field if he wants to.”
There have been no sign of nerves from the freshman.
“No, he’s a real humble guy," Gaines said. "Real humble. He can learn. He likes to learn. He soaks it all up. I feel like during his tenure at the university of Arkansas he’s going to be one of the best ever to come through here.”
Toliver was expecting to get the assignment of covering the Alabama standout. He had to leave the Texas A&M game after a pass struck him in the eye on the sideline.
"I was surprised, me a freshman?" Toliver said. "I just got back in the mix, why me? But it was fun. I really had fun."
Were there any conversations with Cooper?
"He didn't say a word," Toliver said, "not one word all night."
The defense executed the plan of forcing the Alabama running backs wide, never letting them get north and south.
"I don't know how it was before I got here, but it has been just amazing," Toliver said. "What we did in our last game, we got Alabama's running backs running from sideline to sideline."
What is the team's mindset?
"We are so tired of losing," Toliver said. "We need them umph of winning. We need to stop the losing and push to give us that extra that you get from winning. We are right there. Of course, we are tired of losing, so tired of losing. Our first SEC win should be Georgia. All these losses we beat ourselves and that's what it tough."
Secondary coach Clay Jennings knows the assignment this week is just as tough.
“We get out of the West and draw the top dog in the East," Jennings said. "I think our guys are excited about the challenge. I think we are fired up about it. We are in the best conference in football so we have to go prove ourselves.
“We are enthusiastic. They are fired up about playing the game. I think they are challenging one another as far as being good; it doesn’t have to come from us as much. The way they are handling their business, we are just guiding them, they are the ones driving us as far as getting prepared for each Saturday."
Wednesday Grid Update, 10/15
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