While defensive coordinator Willy Robinson talked about rebuilding his depleted secondary and young linebacker corps, the defensive linemen exuded confidence.
This had the potential to be a breakout season for defensive end Adrian Davis and defensive tackle Malcolm Sheppard, and a chance for redemption for defensive end Antwain Robinson and nose tackle Ernest Mitchell. But none of them proved to be much of a factor in last Saturday's 28-24 win over Western Illinois.
Arkansas' defensive line had trouble stopping the run and failed to record a single sack, causing coach Bobby Petrino to say afterward that he overestimated how good the unit actually is.
"It was very disappointing. The first game of the season you want to start out on fire and I don't think we did that," Sheppard said. "So we'll try to improve on it and come out with even more pressure this week."
To avoid making the same mistakes in Saturday's game against Louisiana-Monroe in War Memorial Stadium, Arkansas' coaches have gone back to the basics. The defensive linemen have spent a significant amount of time in practice working on fundamentals, something that Petrino said was a glaring problem in the season opener.
The linemen didn't use their hands to shed Western Illinois' blockers. Arkansas' front line also had a tendency to get out of position, making things even tougher on the linebackers and safeties.
"It's so big just the little things — your alignment, your stance, your technique, where your eyes are and defense is about doing your job," Arkansas defensive ends coach Kirk Botkin said. "If 11 guys are doing their job, then we'll win."
Mitchell said the defensive linemen have worked more than usual this week in one-on-one drills, evaluating film and trying to improve their hand and feet placement.
He added that he and his teammates were bothered that they went entire game without recording a sack.
"The whole thing is, if we work on our fundamentals and technique, all those things will come easy," Mitchell said. "So that's what we're doing, getting ready for the next game. Just more sacks and more tackles for loss, things we were doing in the past."
Surprisingly, Arkansas' defensive linemen seemed to spend more time last Saturday on the ground than in Western Illinois' backfield.
As a result, Leathernecks quarterback Matt Barr had plenty of time to stand in the pocket and running back Herb Donaldson rushed for 157 yards and one touchdown on 35 carries.
"We abandoned our technique and our execution last week and that's what hurt us the most," Robinson said. "You know, why wait to get hit in the mouth to respond? Why not go ahead and start out there right off the get-go?"
The Razorbacks' only sack against Western Illinois came from freshman Jack linebacker Jerico Nelson. The defensive line combined for only one tackle for loss and four quarterback hurries.
Several Arkansas defensive linemen said they took it as a challenge when Petrino made the remark earlier this week that he learned in the season opener that he "had a higher opinion of our defensive front than I should have."
"I think that's a challenge," Davis said. "I know we're going to be a lot better than we played (last) Saturday. We've got to stop making mistakes and play harder."
By The Numbers
Defensive Line Struggles
Arkansas' defensive line was expected to be one of the team's strengths, but instead the unit struggled to stop the run or put pressure on the quarterback in last Saturday's 28-24 win over Western Illinois.
Here is a breakdown of how Arkansas' starting defensive linemen fared, according to the coaches' postgame statistics:
Name Tackles For Loss Sacks
DE Adrian Davis 8 0 0
NT Ernest Mitchell 7 1 0
DT Malcolm Sheppard 5 0 0
DE Antwain Robinson 3 0 0
Total 23 1 0
Back To Basics For Defensive Line
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