D-Line Looking To 'Take Over The Game'

FAYETTEVILLE -- Junior Keith Jackson Jr. said Arkansas' defensive line was embarrassed by the second-half collapse against Auburn on Oct. 15.

Sophomore teammate Marcus Harrison said the game film depicted a front four that chose to lay down instead of fight.

It was a humbling experience for a unit that thought it had taken strides since Arkansas' disastrous loss at top-ranked Southern California in September. Trailing 10-6 at halftime, Auburn leaned on its offensive line to run over Jackson, Harrison and the Razorbacks, gashing Arkansas for 233 rushing yards in a 34-17 win.

"We couldn't believe we fell off that bad in the second half," Jackson said. "We didn't know what happened or what went on. But the D-line really fell off and basically lost the game. We let the whole team down and it was on our heads."

But Jackson believes the poor performance is responsible for the group's improved play the past two weeks in losses to Georgia (23-20) and South Carolina (14-10).

It was evident last Saturday, when the starting four of Jackson, Harrison, junior Desmond Sims and sophomore Jamaal Anderson combined for 33 tackles, 7 1/2 tackles for losses, 3 sacks, 1 forced fumble and 1 fumble recovery.

Sims led the way with career highs in tackles (12), tackles for losses (4 1/2) and sacks (2 1/2). But Jackson (10 tackles, 1/2 sack, 1 fumble recovery), Anderson (6 tackles, 1/2 for a loss) and Harrison (5 tackles, 2 for losses) turned in big plays, helping Arkansas hold South Carolina to a season-low 187 yards.

And the Razorbacks are hoping the big plays will continue Saturday at Ole Miss.

"We just said, 'We can take over the game,' and that's what we were trying to do," Jackson said. "All four of us just take over the whole game. Everything starts with us first, why can't we just change the whole game and control the game?

"If we could've covered a man out there, we would've covered one."

The unit came close to making a few more plays against the Gamecocks.

Sims nearly came up with a bad snap that flew over quarterback Blake Mitchell's head in the first half. He tried pushing Mitchell away from the ball, but the sophomore hit the ground, rolled over and landed on top of it for a 31-yard loss.

"If we were able to get it, it would've changed the game," Sims said. "But the ball just bounced that way at that time and he just fell right on it."

Anderson slipped back into coverage in the second quarter, intercepted a pass and returned it for a touchdown that would've given the Hogs a 14-7 lead. But safety Randy Kelly was penalized for holding, nullifying the play.

"That's something (Anderson) worked on in practice all week," defensive line coach Tracy Rocker said. "It looked natural. It didn't look like, all of a sudden, 'Surprise!'"

Rocker had been looking for big plays since the second half against Auburn. That's why he encouraged his group to step on the practice field 30 minutes early the week after the game. They also stayed later than usual.

Rocker ran his troops through extra work on fundamentals, techniques and other skills that were lacking against the Tigers. Harrison said no one took the added time as punishment, instead believing it was a chance for much-needed improvement.

"We just looked like we didn't want it anymore (against Auburn)," Harrison said. "It was a little embarrassing. Coach Rock, he seemed like he wasn't going to have it so the whole mind frame was to get us more work.

"We're good. We've just got to believe in ourselves."

Rocker said there's no coincidence the extra work has helped Arkansas turn in, statistically speaking, its best defensive outings the past two weeks.

The Hogs combined to allow 404 yards against South Carolina and Georgia. They had allowed an average of 405.3 yards in their first six games.

"You feel good about the fact they're making plays and I think they see it," Rocker said. "The thing goes back to how they're practicing. When they go out there all week and they practice on what they're going to do on Saturday, the game and the flow to it all comes easy. That makes you feel proud as a coach when that happens.

"But it only looks good when all four are playing together. That's what I'm striving for. When all four are a synchronized, well-oiled machine against five (linemen)."

Rocker said Sims is finally "putting everything together" on game day, showing off the speed and tenacity that excited Arkansas last spring. Harrison, who started at defensive end in 2004, is slowly learning how to fight through double teams on the interior. Jackson has been Arkansas' most consistent contributor, while Anderson has 16 tackles in two starts since replacing injured junior Anthony Brown.

The Razorbacks won't be playing in a bowl game, but Rocker believes the next three weeks are big for his group. So does Harrison, who said they want to continue turning in big plays and leave a strong impression in preparation for next season.

"We want to end on a good note," Harrison said. "Eventually, when the season is over, we'll break down everything and say, 'Hey the first half of the season wasn't great, but the second half, we came back and played a lot better.'"

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