Tackling The Problem

FAYETTEVILLE -- Another game, another frustrating and glaring problem for Arkansas' defense.

That has been the disheartening saga of the season for the Razorbacks, who enter Saturday's home game against Ole Miss surrendering 25.4 points and 399.2 yards a game. For the first time in a long while, Arkansas didn't surrender several big plays, performed better in the secondary and made improvements during its 35-32 loss at South Carolina.

But the Hogs were crippled by poor tackling against the Gamecocks.

"It seemed like that was the one thing that showed up that was the most glaring," Allen said. "But up to this point in the season, our overall tackling has been pretty good. It hasn't been an issue.

"But Saturday we got in situations where we were one-on-one in space and we got in poor fundamental positions at times and we didn't get them on the ground."

The obvious example came during South Carolina's game-winning touchdown drive, when free safety Vickiel Vaughn couldn't wrap up Gamecocks receiver Troy Williamson deep in Arkansas territory. Williamson shook out of Vaughn's grasp and sprinted into the end zone for a 14-yard score that gave South Carolina its go-ahead touchdown with 1 minute, 8 seconds left.

Wommack wouldn't provide specifics, but said "there were way too many" missed tackles against the Gamecocks. He said the biggest problem is players haven't reacted quick enough, gotten in poor position and taken bad angles on ball carriers.

"It's disappointing," Wommack said. "Part of it is you're not getting there. This is the ninth game of the season coming up and we shouldn't be missing tackles like we did. I hate to keep saying it because I keep repeating the same things, but it's really not that they can't make the tackle.

"It's more, you've got to get your eyes in the right place so you're in position to do that and not a step or two off."

Wommack also said players haven't wrapped up properly and have failed to be physical. On one play Saturday, Wommack said South Carolina quarterback Dondrial Pinkins simply stuck out his arm and knocked an Arkansas linebacker on the ground.

"This game has got to be played physical," Wommack said. "Some of the guys were catching stuff instead of running through. You can't do that. You can't do it anymore. You've got to play the game physical."

The coaching staff has exhausted most personnel changes and combinations this season, but added two players coach Houston Nutt said "show up" when Arkansas runs through tackling drills.

Sophomore Randy Kelly worked at first-team safety Tuesday in place of junior Lerinezo Robinson, who has started eight games and leads the Hogs in tackles (51). Arkansas also plugged sophomore John Johnson in at the husky position, where junior John Jackson had earned eight starts and has collected 28 stops.

Arkansas worked through an open-space tackling drill during the early portion of Tuesday's practice. Vaughn said it's important that the Hogs take the little things seriously if they hope to snap a four-game losing streak.

"When it's the little things that beat you, we've got to go back and work to help your team out," Vaughn said. "It's something you wish didn't bite you, the small things that you might forget or might not work on as much this late in the season.

"It's just something that we've got to improve on and make sure we do the little things. If we do the little things, big things take care of themselves."

The Hogs need every bit of help they can get because they're sitting near the bottom of every statistical category in the Southeastern Conference. Arkansas is eighth in scoring defense, ninth in rushing defense (170.4 yards a game), 11th in passing defense (228.9) and 10th in total defense (399.2).

Those numbers also rank 60th, 77th, 79th and 79th out of 119 Division I teams, respectively.

Wommack and Nutt said it was difficult to watch the Hogs struggle during South Carolina's last drive, allowing the Gamecocks to move 62 yards on 8 plays and earn the game-winning touchdown.

The Razorbacks missed at least two tackles on the decisive drive, something the Hogs plan to improve on before facing Ole Miss in Saturday's must-win game.

"Like I told the group, I think everything's magnified a little bit when you lose," Allen said. "You're always looking and searching. It seemed like this week, the tackling was something that was noticeable.

"Obviously, after you've had a poor day of tackling like we did, it's another area that you overly stress. But I think we're going to respond Saturday and tackle well."

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