Razorbacks' Run Defense Needs Improvement

FAYETTEVILLE -- With a large chunk of its defense returning, Arkansas' run-stopping figured to do as good or better than the unit that closed out the season a year ago.

In Reggie Herring's first year as defensive coordinator, the Razorbacks' run defense was solid overall and finished the season spectacularly, allowing none of its final five opponents to have more than 110 rushing yards.

Twice in that span, which included Georgia and LSU, Arkansas' defense allowed less than 50 yards rushing.

A combination of powerful runners, mobile quarterbacks, missed tackles and worn out and inexperienced linebackers, though, has Arkansas struggling in 2006.

There hasn't been much of a sample so far, but through three games, the Razorbacks appear in trouble.

While Arkansas has generally had solid play from its defensive backs, its front seven have struggled.

In last week's 21-19 win over Vanderbilt, Razorback defenders missed 18 tackles. Eight of those misses came from the front four, including a team-high five by junior tackle Marcus Harrison.

"The bottom line is, tackling has not been a problem for us but obviously it was Saturday," Herring said. "We work on tackling every day. ... We will never not work on tackling enough. That's the way it's got to be. That's probably the most disappointing thing about it because we work on tackling more than anybody and it's something that's priority with us."

If Arkansas' defense misses as many tackles as it did last week at Vanderbilt, it figures to be a long day in Fayetteville, especially against Alabama's punishing running attack, led by Kenneth Darby.

"The way their defense is designed is to pound, pound, pound, catch you asleep, play-action, pound, pound," Herring said. "I don't think we'll ever be perfect where we won't (miss tackles) but we've got to be great gang tacklers this week because if somebody misses Darby, their better be another guy.

"It's going to be a game of the weary; who can outlast who."

Arkansas coach Houston Nutt said Saturday's game will come down to whichever team can run the ball and whichever team can stop the run.

"(The Razorbacks) are going to work all week on their tackling," said Alabama coach Mike Shula. "Some of the big plays (Vanderbilt) had against them wasn't because they were out of position; they just missed tackles. So they're going to be working real hard on that.

"Our defense missed tackles last week, too. Hopefully, we've got some guys that have the ability to break tackles and we think do."

Alabama has also had problems of its own in bringing down opponents. Alabama missed 21 tackles in a win over Louisiana-Monroe

The Crimson Tide have spent time early in the week running their first-team offense against the first-team defense.

Arkansas hasn't changed much in practice, other than making things a bit more physical with some open-field tackling drills.

The result, said weakside linebacker Sam Olajubutu, has been better tackling production, at least in practice.

"We've been running to the ball a lot better this week," Olajubutu said. "We've been making more open-field tackles.

"We've just got to improve our tackling, improve our running to the ball every play, improve our assignments and gaps. But the main thing would be tackling."

The Razorbacks' increased concern with Alabama's running game --the Crimson Tide rank fourth in the SEC and 45th nationally in rushing offense --will put more pressure on cornerbacks Matterral Richardson and Chris Houston.

"They are a vertical throwing offense; they do throw the ball down the field off the play-action and they're protection conscious," Herring said. "Our guys, Houston and Matterral Richardson, are going to have to have a great day because we're going to have to be in the box now. They're going to be out there by themselves pretty much all day. We have to defend against the run and therefor, we're going to be a little bit out there on an island with those guys.

"It won't matter what we do there if we can't stop the run. It'll be an early night."


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