Defense Plans To Fight Through Embarrassment

FAYETTEVILLE -- Alabama coach Mike Shula had an interesting take on Arkansas' 70-17 loss to top-ranked Southern California.

The third-year coach, who worked for 15 years as an assistant in the NFL, said the Trojans resembled a pro team. So, from his perspective, the Crimson Tide should ignore most of the damage USC inflicted on the Razorbacks.

"You've got to look at that game and almost throw it out," Shula said Tuesday.

There's no doubt the Razorbacks wish they could.

Arkansas' battered unit returned to practice Tuesday, three days after turning in one of the worst defensive performances in school history.

By now, the mind-numbing numbers have nearly been memorized: USC scored four touchdowns and compiled 246 yards on eight plays in the first quarter. It only took 1:32. The Trojans averaged 30.8 yards per play in 15 minutes, took a lightning-quick 28-7 lead and didn't let up until their scout-teamers got in the game.

Arkansas surrendered 70 points, second most in school history, and 736 yards, a school record. The Trojans scored touchdowns on 10 of their 13 possessions.

"You really go back and question yourself about where this team really stands as far as, like, how good we really are," said defensive tackle Marcus Harrison. "That right there just took a lot of air out of a lot of players. You're going to have to eventually try to move on and get better and look to change.

"But the hardest part is trying to move on and get it out of your mind."

The defense is doing its best to forget as it prepares for Saturday's game at No. 20 Alabama. The Crimson Tide offense isn't quite the same caliber as USC, which could make a few defenses look just as bad. But Alabama will be a formidable task.

Senior quarterback Brodie Croyle, tailback Kenneth Darby and a young, but developing offensive line piled up 489 yards in its 37-14 win at South Carolina last Saturday. It was their best effort under Shula, leaving no doubt that Alabama players are licking their chops preparing for the Razorbacks.

Herring can't blame them. But he also expects Arkansas to bounce back.

"We're all embarrassed," Herring said. "There's only two things to do in life right now: Fight or quit. We choose to fight. That's what we're going to do regardless of the outcome at the end of the day. If it's not good enough, it's not good enough.

"We're going to lay our guts on the line. We're going to do what we need to do to bring some pride back to this university."

That's why Herring was hired last December after transforming North Carolina State from a down-trodden unit into the nation's top-ranked defense in 2004.

A young and inexperienced defense struggled in 2004 under former coordinator Dave Wommack, finishing 76th in the SEC in total defense (397.2 yards a game), 50th in scoring (24.5 points), 82nd in run defense (180.3 yards) and 65th in pas defense (216.9). Wommack took the blame and was fired after the 5-6 season.

A few days later, Nutt hired Herring and the coach immediately began demanding speed, aggression and accountability. He moved a number of players -- like Anthony Brown (wide receiver to defensive end), Desmond Sims (linebacker to defensive end) and Matterral Richardson (cornerback to free safety) -- to new positions. He inserted a traditional 4-3 defensive scheme and instilled a new attitude in the Razorbacks.

But Herring's approach hasn't had much success in three games.

Statistically speaking, the Hogs are worse. Arkansas enters the Alabama game 108th in the nation in scoring defense (38.3 points a game), 103rd against the pass (294.3 yards), 95th against the run (199.7) and 111th in total defense (494).

"You look at all the preparation that was made with coach Herring coming in and the things we went through this spring and with the summer workouts," Harrison said. "You want to know what are we doing wrong as a team and as a defense.

"It's hard because you feel like you're paying the price during the off-season. Then, when you come out here and play football and something like that happens to you feel like something else has to be wrong."

Said linebacker Sam Olajubutu: "It took us by surprise. You never expect nothing like that to happen. But still know we've got a pretty good defense."

Arkansas didn't make any personnel changes Tuesday in preparation for Alabama because, Herring said, there's no other changes to make with a razor-thin unit. He declined to compare the rebuilding job at N.C. State to the Razorbacks because it would be "negative," but reiterated that Arkansas remains a "work in progress."

But he refused to make any excuses for USC's 70 points.

"I took this job," Herring said. "Nobody twisted my arm. And the easiest thing to do, like I said, would be quit or get fired. That would be doing me a favor. The hard part is, we've got to get this thing turned around and I was hired to do that and we're going to bow up and we're going to get it done. If we don't, don't nobody have to ask me to leave. I'll leave before the words can come out of their mouth.

"I was put here to do a job. These coaches, these players, we're going to see this thing through. We're not going to try and run."

Nutt said the Razorbacks were "shell-shocked" against the Trojans and got in trouble by letting USC get off to a fast start. He said Herring was embarrassed because he "hates losing." But Nutt said he hasn't lost faith in Herring's plans.

"I've never been more confident in him," Nutt said. "I believe that he is the best and not even a game like that can change my mind."

Several players said nothing has changed about Herring's hard-nosed, tough-love coaching style the past few days. But the defense has been trying its best to bury the embarrassment at USC and, Harrison said, "stay positive."

That hard after Arkansas surrendered 916 yards in the past five quarters, dating back to the fourth quarter against Vanderbilt. Opponents have scored touchdowns on 12 of their last 17 possessions. Two of those 17 possessions came at the end of the first half (USC) and the game (Vanderbilt).

Herring said missed assignments killed the Hogs in Los Angeles. He also the Hogs failed to make plays in the fourth quarter against Vanderbilt. Blown coverages, missed tackles and other breakdowns have haunted Arkansas the past two weeks.

"I think we got our players, scheme-wise, where we need to be," Herring said. "We got who we got and they've got to improve. It's as simple as that. The moves have been made since the spring. We've moved and we've moved trying to get the right guys up there. We have who we have and we've got to finish the season with them.

"The bottom line is, we've got to correct mistakes and we've got to get better."

Herring said surrendering 70 points was a first for everyone involved on the Arkansas sideline Saturday night. But he hasn't lost confidence and will continue to stress that the Razorbacks must fight to regain respect this week.

Linebacker Clarke Moore said the loss to USC was frustrating and embarrassing, but believes it will serve as the turning point for the Hogs.

Olajubutu said that, despite the disappointments, Arkansas hasn't lost faith in themselves or Herring.

"We still feel confident as a defense," Olajubutu said. "I don't think we've lost any confidence. We know how good we can be. We know how good our coaches are and we know how good our players are. We just know we have to go out on Saturdays.

"You can't lose confidence. If you do, you can throw the rest of the games away."

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