Keeping their Heads Up

FAYETTEVILLE -- The numbers are enough to make anyone associated with Arkansas' defense cringe.

In the first half of losses to then-No. 16 Florida and then-No. 4 Auburn, the Razorbacks surrendered 65 points and 649 yards. They allowed opponents to score touchdowns on 9 of 14 possessions and surrendered 11 plays of 20 yards or more.

It's humbling proof Arkansas has performed like one of the worst defenses in the Southeastern Conference. But defensive coordinator Dave Wommack said he's more interested to see what the Hogs intend to do about it this Saturday.

"It comes to a point where, just like winning is contagious, losing is contagious," Wommack said. "If they're sick enough of not listening and doing their responsibilities, doing what you're supposed to do, then you'll start listening.

"How many times does it take?"

Wommack hopes twice was more than enough as Arkansas prepares for another explosive offense when it meets No. 10 Georgia in Reynolds Razorback Stadium. For the third consecutive week, there's potential for disaster because the Bulldogs bring a senior quarterback, talented freshmen tailbacks and explosive receivers to town looking to build momentum for the home stretch.

Georgia (5-1, 3-1 in SEC) has been plagued by inconsistency all season, but put up a season-best 527 yards during its 33-3 win against Vanderbilt last week. And the Bulldogs plan to build on their production against the Hogs (3-3, 1-2).

Arkansas enters Saturday's game ninth in the SEC and 76th in the nation in total defense, surrendering 385.2 yards a game. Even more, the Hogs are eighth in the SEC in scoring defense (24.7 points), ninth in rushing defense (170.2 yards) and ninth against the pass (215).

"We know that we haven't played up to our ability, but we know we've still got a chance and we can still do this," said safety Vickiel Vaughn. "Everybody's head is still up and we've got to come back and do better.

"I think the last two games are over pretty much. You learn from mistakes you have and you go on. Basically, we just have to show up."

That has been a problem in the first half most of the season.

Arkansas knew it would take a few lumps after losing experienced players like linebacker/safety Tony Bua, linebacker Caleb Miller, safety Jimmy Beasley and cornerbacks Ahmad Carroll and Lawrence Richardson. Wommack said younger players have taken longer to decode different looks presented by Florida and Auburn, which explains Arkansas' first-half susceptibility and second-half recovery.

But the early damage has taken Arkansas out of two consecutive games and must be corrected if it hopes to earn a bowl bid this season.

"At some point, it's going to pay benefits because they're going to realize you can't do this and have any chance to play at this level," Wommack said.

"We're so immature in the secondary. It's creating problems for us right now."

In all, Florida and Auburn averaged more than 11 yards on first down in the first half against Arkansas, including four touchdowns of 30 yards or more. Not all of the blame is chalked up to the secondary, which is having to chase receivers longer than usual while quarterbacks have time to pick out open players.

The Razorbacks haven't put much pressure on quarterbacks the past two games, collecting 2 sacks, 5 quarterback hurries and 9 tackles for losses. That total doesn't sound bad, but most of it came in the second half when the Hogs trailed big.

"Each man on this team has to check his character, check what is inside him," defensive end Jeb Huckeba said. "There's going to be times like this in life when you get down and things don't go your way. It may be two times in a row and that's what has happened to us.

"We still can have a really good season and I feel like we're still a really good team."

Wommack said the good news is Arkansas has played with plenty of effort in both games, while coaches and players continue to believe in the Hogs' 4-2-5 scheme. There's little else they can do personnel-wise because almost every player has had ample opportunity to perform on the field.

Wommack believes there will be noticeable differences when players understand they have to be accountable for their own job and not wrapped up in the big picture. He said as soon as the Hogs read offenses earlier, react quicker and put themselves in better positions, there will be an enormous turnaround.

Vaughn said Arkansas isn't embarrassed after surrendering so many yards and points the past two weeks and its confidence remains intact. He said the Razorbacks are holding onto the belief that they're capable of molding into a strong unit soon.

"We know that we're going to stand up to a team," Vaughn said. "We know it's going to be soon. We're gelling together more and more. We come together each and every day.

"Before the season ends, we're going to turn our whole defense around."

Hawgs Daily Top Stories