Arkansas defensive coordinator Robb Smith notes his group has to get offenses off field on 3rd and 4th downs

Arkansas defensive coordinator Robb Smith's defense may be ranked second in the SEC right now, but the inability to get foes off the field on third and fourth downs has become a big concern heading into this Saturday's home game with Texas Tech.

While a lot of of focus in Arkansas’ 16-12 loss to Toledo was on the offense not scoring, there was also plenty of concerns about the defense.

The Rockets were able to covert 7 of their 17 third down attempts and two of the three times they went for it on fourth time.

Toledo was out gained 515-318 in total offense, but converted 2-of-3 chances in the red zone while Arkansas had just three points while scoring just once in the five times it made it to the 20 or beyond.

“We have got to do better,” Smith said. “That’s a critical area for us and that is one of our five edges. You have got to win critical downs and anytime that you have an opportunity to get off the field and you don’t do it, it just opens yourself up to more plays to defend, more problems to occur.

“So we have got to, it’s a never-ending goal for us. We have got to continue to get better in that category, especially against a team like we are playing this week. It will be paramount to our success.”

That team is Texas Tech (2-0), who will battle  Arkansas (1-1) Saturday night at 6 p.m. inside Reynolds Razorback Stadium in Fayetteville.

The Red Raiders are averaging 64 points and 642.5 yards total offense per game after a 59-45 win over Sam Houston State in their season opener and a 69-20 win over UTEP last Saturday.

“We have got to do things better,” Smith said. “We have got to do some technique things better.  We have to do some things schematically better and we have got to continue to improve. 

“We have got to flip the page pretty quickly here. We are on to a different opponent, a different style offense. But there will still be some carryover from last week and we have got to improve in those areas and am looking forward to improving on those areas tomorrow.”

Texas Tech is led by quarterback Patrick Mahomes, who was not the starter last season when the Razorbacks routed the Red Raiders, 49-28 in Lubbock last season.

The Razorbacks rushed for 438 yards and six touchdowns in the game.

Mahomes is 51-of-76 passing for 786 yards and eight touchdowns with one interception and has also rushed 11 times for 71 yards.

 “I think he brings a dynamic element to their offense,” Smith said. “He runs the ball a little bit. They have got a little bit more in the run game from what I have seen from the end of last season and early this season that is going to make us account for what they are going to do with their running backs as well.  

“…I think their quarterback does a really good job of making decisions. They do some things on the field where they call a lot of plays. As we start to peel away at it today and tomorrow we have to do some things that disrupt him whether it's decision making process in the pocket or taking away throwing lanes.”

Smith hopes his defense can not let Mahomes use his mobility.

“I think the biggest thing is that you have got to keep him in the pocket,” Smith said. “If you can keep him in the pocket and you can keep pushing the middle of the pocket and eliminate those escape lines, that gives you an opportunity to sack him, obviously not guaranteed.

“As soon as you have a breakdown in a lane or you lose contain or you lose a edge, that is when it becomes a problem for you and he can make it a tough day for you when he is running around out there.”

The Red Raiders have also rushed for 403 yards in the two games so far. 

“They have showed some more two true running backs in the game this year as opposed to last year when they played with more of true fullback type,” Smith said. “I think that their personality, at least to this time of the year, they are not afraid of things in the run game, especially when those two guys are on the field.

“But it always starts up front, right? We have got to be able to put great pressure on the quarterback, got to be able to dictate daylight and stop the run. Our mindset won’t change there.

“We have got to find a way to control the line of scrimmage whether it is the run game or the pass game this week.”

Texas Tech will likely use short quick passes to attack Arkansas as Toledo did last Saturday.

“A lot of quick passing seems to be the way people are attacking us right now,” Smith said. “A lot of quick passing game and things of that nature. We have got to do a great job up front of mirroring the throwing hand and taking away some throwing lanes and tightening up our coverage in certain aspects. 

“But I think our guys responded well to the film yesterday.  There are obvious areas we have got to improve upon and I think our guys are committed to do that.”

Arkansas also has to get better up front on defense.

“You can't play defensive football without being a physical football team,” Smith said. “ We recognize that on defense. Our No. 1 goal is to be mentally and physically tough and that's where it starts for us each and every week. That will continue to be the case moving forward.

“We just have to continue to tighten things up and improve. I think we have to mix our coverages a little bit and i think we did that on Saturday. We just have to continue to get better.  

“When we have opportunities and we are in man we have got to deny our man the ball. When we have opportunities in zone we have to understand the zones we are in and how we react with our fellow teammates.  If we can do that and keep improving in that area I think we will obviously have good results.”

Smith put the blame for the Saturday defense squarely on himself, but noted that the defense getting better would be a group effort.

“It’s collectively as a group and it starts with this guy right here,” Smith said of himself. “We can put our guys in a little bit better position at times and will work to do that.

“If I can do that, then I think our guys will respond and make plays.”

Arkansas head coach Bret Bielema mentioned that sophomore defensive tackle Bijohn Jackson was dinged up and didn’t play as much as the coaches would have liked on Saturday.

“ He actually - I don't know if it was Tuesday or Wednesday - was taken out of practice with a, he had kind of landed on his shoulder wrong,” Bielema said. “Nothing long term, but it was very tender. Didn't get a lot of practice time. 

"So it was kind of why we went more with Taiwan (Johnson), DeMarcus (Hodge) and then inside now a nice addition has been Mitch Loewen. Hjalte (Froholdt) actually played a little better in this game than he did last game. That was a positive stride in the right direction. 

“Also at nose, we moved Armon Watts in there and we think he and his athletic ability can bring some good things.”

He lauded Henre’ Toliver for his play.

“ Henre' Toliver needs to play as much as we can play him,” Bielema said. “He's a very talented player. He got beat on an inside route early on that kind of set up that first touchdown. Henre's a very, very good player.

“ D.J. Dean is locked into it very well. Jared Collins, who has been absolutely awesome for us, he unfortunately dislocated his thumb as well. So he eventually came back in the game. He played like five or six snaps after he did it, which shows how tough he is.

“Even though you're a corner you're not necessarily catching the ball with that hand and involvement with jams and disruption, I give a lot of credit to him. He might have to wear some type of cast here for the next four to six weeks as well.”

Smith noted that Toliver has watched film of former Razorback Tevin Mitchell to learn how to play the nickel corner.

“I think just the fact that he has been in the system for a year and that he has had a chance to study Tevin on film from last year playing in that slot corner, the nickel position,” Smith said, “and he is a naturally-gifted athlete with very good man skills.

“The ball comes to the nickel quicker, that’s a closer throw in a lot of instances and I think his reaction time and foot quickness have really been a positive for him.”

Smith notes that Toliver is a big key for the defense.

“He is vital to our success,” Smith said. “All those guys in the back end have to communicate well and have to read and understand splits and make sure we are getting our calls and our checks carried out throughout the defense.

“I think for that whole group back there this week that it is a great challenge for us and we are certainly looking forward to it.”

Cornerback Cornelius Floyd, who has been hurt, will try to go this week.

“We will wait and see where he is, but we are trying to get him healthy and get on the move, but he is certainly a guy that when healthy can be a factor for us in our game plan,” Smith said.

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