Trouble In The Secondary
After surrendering 327 yards and 35 points in the first half against Florida on Saturday, the Razorbacks' defensive backfield was born again.
The Arkansas defense had shown holes in its first four games, but overcame those deficiencies against one-dimensional teams with solid second-half adjustments and focused play.
There was no overcoming the Florida offense for the Razorbacks in the first half and though they fought valiantly in the second, there was also no overcoming the hole Arkansas found itself in a 45-30 loss.
"This was a lesson game," said strong safety Lerienzo Robinson. "We're not going to give up. We just want to take the momentum from our second half into our next game."
This week, Arkansas' halftime adjustment was playing a secondary made up entirely of freshmen Michael Grant and Matterral Richardson at cornerback and freshman Dallas Washington and junior college transfer Randy Kelly at the safety spots.
The result was 10 points and 137 yards for Florida in the second half, but the deep hole theory again held true as Arkansas couldn't claw out of the grave it helped dig.
After sophomore quarterback Chris Leak had a near-perfect line of 14-for-20 for 237 yards at halftime, he was held to just 9 of 18 for 85 in the second.
"There wasn't any big adjustments," said Arkansas coach Houston Nutt. "It was just play as hard as you can like Razorbacks. We're not going to tuck our tails and run. We're going to stand up and fight. It was an awesome effort."
Arkansas actually held Florida in check early, forcing three straight three-and-outs to open the game while holding the Gators to minus-2 yards of offense on its first three drives.
But the Arkansas offense could make no headway, either, and it was only a matter of time before Leak and Company started clicking.
"The defense did a good job getting off the field," Nutt said. "We really needed something to happen there. We didn't make it happen."
Arkansas hurt itself with poor tackling that is becoming more of a norm than a rarity and was hamstrung by a lack of pressure on Leak, who operates frequently out of the shotgun with multiple receivers to negate almost all blitz possibilities.
"We got no pressure on him," Nutt said.
With all afternoon to throw, Leak picked apart the Arkansas secondary to the tune of 23 of 38 for a career high 322 yards and 3 touchdowns.
Florida used Arkansas' commitment to stopping tailback Ceatrick Fason against the Hogs on a perfectly executed reverse to receiver Andre Caldwell for a 61-yard touchdown to open the floodgates on a 28-point second quarter.
From there, it was pass, pass, pass against Arkansas defensive backs who played nearly the entire first half like a pig's tail.
Florida threw on 11 of its next 15 plays with Leak going 7 of 11 to capitalize on a Matt Jones interception for one score and a late three-and-out by Arkansas to set up a 48-yard touchdown from Leak to Jemalle Cornelius against Michael Coe on a drive lasting less than a minute.
The repercussions for Arkansas were immediate and only this week will tell how far they reverberate entering an open date.
Junior free safety Vickiel Vaughn was in position to make the play but didn't lay a finger on Caldwell on his 61-yard touchdown run, then missed a tackle and a chance for a fumble recovery against Caldwell on a 33-yard completion two possessions later.
Vaughn was pulled on the next play and Leak burned his replacement, Kelly, on a 34-yard touchdown to Dallas Baker.
Vaughn and Robinson, who have been hobbled by ankle injuries all season, were benched for the second half and the Arkansas defense did clamp down in the third quarter, as it has done for the most part in all four games this year.
"In their (Vickiel and Lerienzo) defense, they've been limping around for the last two weeks," Nutt said. "They needed this."
Arkansas allowed 80 yards and 3 points in the third quarter while the offense scored with 51 seconds left and again early in the fourth to make it a 38-22 game.
"It wasn't any magic secret," Coe said. "We just did like we should have done the whole game. We were being awfully good to them and when you're good to a team like that, stuff like that happens. In the second half, we decided we weren't going to be good to them anymore."
Robinson appreciated the effort of the backups in the second half.
"They work just as hard as we do in practice and just because we're older and we're starters that doesn't mean that we have to sit back and not encourage them and everything," Robinson said. "They need every bit of encouragement that we need. I think they came out and played well. They got some confidence this week and that will just help us for the remainder of the season.
"They know they can play in The Swamp."
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