OXFORD, Miss. – A few weeks ago, Arkansas' cornerbacks didn't hear many compliments. They had given up too many big plays. Often, they had decent coverage only to lose sight of the football.
Slowly, things have changed. They are not ready to replace Darren McFadden and Felix Jones as the strength of the Arkansas football team, but they are making enough plays that the defense has given up but one touchdown against Auburn and Ole Miss in the last two weeks.
"It's a situation where we are growing and maturing," defensive coordinator Reggie Herring said after a 44-8 victory over Ole Miss. "They are understanding the film they see during the week and what we are trying to accomplish in our scheme. They are focused and giving great effort.
"The last four games, we've given up very little that is cheap. They are buying into what we are doing, taking ownership."
In the secondary, the Hogs appear to be confusing the quarterback more often than not. Ole Miss' Seth Adams threw into coverage to the tune of four pass interceptions. He was sacked four times, often the result of solid coverage.
Arkansas cornerback Matterral Richardson had two interceptions, outfighting the Ole Miss wide receiver both times.
"What we saw on film on Sunday was that these three Ole Miss receivers were probably the best we'd seen as a group all year," UA cornerback coach Bobby Allen said. "We saw that they would throw to them even when they were covered because they would outwork their man for the ball. We knew they were fighters. We challenged our guys to compete for the ball, that the play wasn't over just because the coverage was good."
It wasn't that simple. Richardson said the scouting report featuring the Ole Miss plays on DVD produced some "great tendencies." He said he felt some of the throws coming his way before the snap.
"What we knew was with some of their formations, they would do certain things," Richardson said. "That is just the way it happened. We stayed in the film room, saw those things and then read them in the game."
Herring said the cover schemes have remained similar, but perhaps not to those trying to read them.
"We aren't in tight press, but we are still mostly in man," Herring said. "You just can't always tell it. We are off sometimes at corner, but we step up into man and we've tackled the catch very well. And, we've played enough zone to keep (the quarterback) guessing. He isn't sure now and that's helped us."
The Hogs reacted to tendencies on the other side of the ball, too.
"Scheme wise, Ole Miss didn't cover the tight end in some situations," said offensive coordinator David Lee. "We took that. We had the tight end open today. There was one more time we could have had a tight end touchdown and Casey Dick missed that one. But he got the others and had a good day."
Tight end Andrew Davie caught two TD passes. Peyton Hillis, working free from the H-back spot, caught another TD pass.
"That was fun today," Hillis said. "We had fun in practice and we took that into the game."
The touchdown passes jump off the statistic sheet, but it was more a case of getting the running game jump started than finding the tight end.
"The goal today was to get our backs to the second level of the defense," center Jonathan Luigs said. "We didn't do that last week. The Ole Miss front four is very good, but we thought if we took care of those guys that our backs would be able to do some good against the guys behind them. It turned out that way."
Offensive tackle Nate Garner said it was a matter of containing Ole Miss defensive ends Greg Hardy and Marcus Tillman.
"We had to do a job on those two guys," Garner said. "Hardy is really good. He's one of the best in the SEC. Both me and Jose (Valdez) got a shot at him today since he flips from side to side. That was a big part of what we had to get done today."
Lee said, "Hardy has a lot of sacks and what Ole Miss likes to do is rush the passer. So we ran right at them and gave them some draws. That worked for us today. Last week we were trying to go wide and it didn't go very well. We went back to the inside stuff today and that helped us."
Offensive guard Robert Felton called it "a return to Arkansas football. That's what we do best, run straight ahead. If we can do that, some other things open up. But if you can't run it inside, nothing else is going to matter. That's our tradition. You can't back off of that and we didn't. It's what we do."
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