Defense Endures Tough Season

FAYETTEVILLE -- Arkansas defensive coordinator Dave Wommack used the words "stressful" and "difficult" to describe his feelings minutes after the season came to an end Friday afternoon in War Memorial Stadium in Little Rock.

The Razorbacks' fourth-year assistant coach stood in the quiet locker room and shook his head after the 43-14 loss to No. 14 LSU. His battered unit suffered another knockout blow in a painful season after the Tigers piled up 468 yards and their second-best effort in Southeastern Conference play.

"It's hard," Wommack said. "I've got a real passion and love for the game. It hurts. I think it does any competitor when you lose. I haven't had a losing season in a long time. I know coach (Houston) Nutt hasn't.

"I think God puts adversity in your life for a reason. You just have to step up to it, learn from it and get better from it.

"It's been a tough year."

Arkansas' defense proved to be the Achilles' heel for a program that fell short of postseason play for the first time since 1997, when then-coach Danny Ford led the Hogs to a 4-7 record. The Razorbacks' struggles against LSU were visible Friday, but served as nothing more than a microcosm of the myriad of problems Arkansas faced all season.

Statistically, Arkansas wrapped up its worst defensive season since finishing 3-8 under then-coach Jack Crowe in 1990.

The Hogs surrendered 181.5 rushing yards, 402.4 yards and allowed quarterbacks to complete 66.4 percent of their passes that season. Arkansas gave up 180.1 rushing yards, 397.2 yards and quarterbacks completed 59.9 percent in 2004.

"We had our ups and downs this year," said senior defensive tackle Arrion Dixon, who finished with 4 tackles and 1/2 a sack in his final game Friday. "There was a lot of guys that had never played, a lot of switches, a lot of things going on as a defense. We had our chances and we did good things at times.

"We just, dropped the stick at times and gave up the big play, missed tackles."

Arkansas couldn't effectively replace departed starters like free safety Tony Bua, linebacker Caleb Miller, strong safety Jimmy Beasley and cornerbacks Ahmad Carroll and Lawrence Richardson. Undersized linebackers were exploited all season while defensive backs struggled to stick to coverages.

Wommack said the Razorbacks ran only one-third of the defensive schemes they have in the past because of inexperience and a lack of depth. Opponents found Arkansas' schemes easier to prepare for, dissected the Razorbacks' weaknesses and exploited them on the ground or through the air.

In fact, LSU quarterback Marcus Randall said Arkansas' defense was "pretty simple" after Friday's game. The senior wasn't the only player or coach that felt that way about the Razorbacks.

"It has been a very stressful, difficult season," Wommack said. "We kind of knew coming in. I think these kids, especially these young kids, have got some real talent.

"They just aren't ready to play with some of the big boys yet."

The Hogs were 0-5 against ranked opponents and surrendered more than 300 yards of offense in the first half of four of those games (Florida, Auburn, Georgia and LSU). The other team, Texas, rumbled for 169 yards in the first quarter and finished with 409 in its 22-20 win Sept. 11.

Arkansas held Georgia to two touchdowns, one of which was set up by a fumble, during its 20-14 loss. It kept Ole Miss out of the end zone during a 35-3 win on Nov. 13. The Hogs turned in a critical goal line stand at the end of the first half en route to a 24-21 win at Mississippi State last Saturday.

"In the SEC, most everybody has the same talent level. It's the ones that can be consistent," said defensive end Jeb Huckeba. "To be really good, to be great, you have to get it done every day and you have to do it every day. You saw flashes and signs of us being a great defense this year, But you didn't see it enough.

"You didn't see it consistently enough to win every game."

The Razorbacks will have to replace Huckeba, Dixon, defensive end Elliott Harris, defensive tackle Titus Peebles and linebacker Marcus Whitmore, but return nine starters. Nutt said Wommack did a good job with "the things he did and the things that he had," but finding impact newcomers and developing returning players will be critical if Arkansas plans on returning to postseason play next winter.

Wommack said any competitor is going to "sit down and re-evaluate what needs to happen, where the program needs to go" after the disappointing season. But defensive tackle Keith Jackson is confident it'll be in a positive direction.

"We're going to be a wrecking crew next year and everybody watch out because we've got everybody coming back basically," said Jackson, who recorded 9 tackles and a sack against the Tigers. "We've got a couple of shoes to fill where we had some big players, but I feel like we can get them filled easily.

"We have so many young guys get their feet wet this year that we're just going to ride next year. It's going to be fun."

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