Breaking Down The Breakdowns

FAYETTEVILLE -- Arkansas defensive coordinator Dave Wommack pulled plenty of positives from last Saturday's 27-10 win against Alabama.

The Razorbacks collected two first-half turnovers. The defensive line, led by nose guard Jeremy Harrell, turned in its best performance. He also mentioned that the Hogs surrendered only one touchdown and held Alabama scoreless in the second half.

But Wommack also noticed a few alarming problems. The most glaring was the Crimson Tide's 271 rushing yards.

"I don't think, week-in and week-out, if you give up that many yards rushing you're going to win," Wommack said. "The only thing that helps is if your offense is good enough, and we've got a good offense that can move the ball.

"But as a defense, we're giving up too many rushing yards to win games, games like (Alabama) even."

Arkansas (3-1, 1-0 in the Southeastern Conference) must improve this weekend when it faces No. 16 Florida and tailback Ciatrick Fason, a 6-foot, 212-pounder who leads the SEC in rushing with a 132-yard average. Fason ran for a career-high 210 yards, added 43 receiving and scored two touchdowns in the Gators' 20-3 home win against Kentucky last Saturday.

The junior is a key cog of Florida's balanced offense, which rushed 40 times for 261 yards and threw 43 passes for 262 against the Wildcats.

Florida (2-1, 0-1) also is led by quarterback Chris Leak, who leads the SEC's top passing attack (265.7 yards per game). But Arkansas defensive line coach Tracy Rocker said the Hogs must focus on Fason and the Gators' ground game.

"It all goes back to everybody wants to run the ball," Rocker said. "You only throw the ball if you have to. You want to run the ball first."

The Hogs struggled against teams that stuck to that philosophy, surrendering huge chunks of rushing yardage to Alabama and No. 5 Texas (259) in two of the past three weeks. Arkansas is eighth in the SEC and 76th in the nation in rushing defense (169.5 yards) after four games and those numbers add up to trouble for Wommack.

Some of the struggles are products of a young and inexperienced unit. Wommack figures Arkansas is running roughly 1/3 of the defenses it used last season, when seniors Tony Bua and Caleb Miller led the Hogs.

"That's OK," said Wommack, who estimated missed tackles accounted for 100 yards of Alabama rushing. "The kids are really trying and learning. Maybe some people are getting frustrated with them, but I don't get frustrated with them. I think they've got a passion. I like coaching them and they're trying to get better.

"I think they're going to be a special group in the future."

Right now, Arkansas is seventh in the SEC in total defense (337.3 ypg), scoring defense (16.2 points per game) and is fifth against the pass (167.8 ypg). But the young Hogs have done a solid job in the fourth quarter, allowing just 27.5 yards in four games.

The Hogs will be busy chasing Fason on Saturday, but also will get another test through the air after surrendering 278 passing yards in the first half against Louisiana-Monroe on Sept. 18.

Leak, who threw for 269 yards against Arkansas in 2003, has completed 63 of 99 passes for 791 yards and 7 touchdowns with 4 interceptions this season. O.J. Small leads Florida with 18 catches, 204 yards and 2 touchdowns. Fason also is a big part of the passing game, catching 11 passes for 93 yards and a touchdown.

"The thing about their offense, they can effectively run and pass," said Arkansas defensive end Jeb Huckeba. "They can do so many things just because they've got a great running back, good offensive line, great quarterback and good receivers.

"It's kind of like they're the total package, which most teams are in the (SEC)."

But Wommack reiterated the first step will be slowing Florida's ground game. He said Arkansas' defensive statistics have been marred by big plays, like Texas tailback Cedric Benson's 60-yard first-quarter run and Ray Hudson's 63-yard touchdown sprint for Alabama. Fason, who ran for 98 yards in Fayetteville last season, scored on a 75-yard TD run in the third quarter against Arkansas.

That sort of breakdown is something Wommack and the Hogs want desperately to avoid.

"I don't care who you are," Wommack said, "if you can't stop the run, you basically have no chance. We've got to do that first.

"It's going to be a long season for us if we don't start stopping the run."

Hawgs Daily Top Stories