Wednesday Grid Update, 10/29

Playing sound defense will be the key to stopping Tulsa's juggernaut offense. That seemed to be the consensus from the Arkansas players.

If it is challenges you like, this is a good week to play defense at Arkansas. That seemed to be the consensus from defensive backs Isaac Madison and Matt Harris after practice Wednesday.

"We are all excited," said Harris, junior safety. "We are defensive backs, so it's good week for us. They talk about this offense putting 50 or 60 passes into the air in a game. That's excitement because it means we'll get our shot at some passes.

"We know they have been very good. But you want to play against this type of team. You want to see what you can do."

Madison, the field corner, had similar thoughts.

"They can run it and throw it, and it's the thought of getting your hands on a pass that makes you excited," he said. "They are going to throw a lot more than most of the teams we face. We are taught that if the ball is in the air, it's as much yours as it belongs to the offense. We hope we get our share of those passes."

First, the Hogs have to figure out how to line up. That's been the battle early this week in practice. Madison said he's tried to get extra film study to learn the various formations, motions and looks presented by Tulsa playcaller Gus Malzahn.

"It's a good offense, you know that," Madison said. "It motivates you to get a little more film study. I've tried to find some extra time to get into the film room and learn everything I can about their offense.

"It's been a rough start to practice because of how fast they get in and out of things. We are getting better. You have to get used to the tempo, the speed from one play to the next. I'd say we are better now than how we started out the week."

In that respect, it's a normal week. Defensive coordinator Willy Robinson said it's always a learning process with a new offense. The early workouts are not as smooth as the workouts late in the week.

"As you see it more, you do better," he said. "I will say it's the same as always in that you worry about being sound in your gap control and getting lined up right. After that, it's the same."

However, there is plenty of variety in a Malzahn scheme.

"Oh, yes, they have plenty," Robinson said. "It's only about six basic formations, but what they do in those six is give you plenty of motion. And, they change their personnel. You have to recognize a lot within those six formations. Alignment is very important."

Asked if he'd played much against no-huddle offenses, Robinson said, "Never anything like this. We'd seen it on film from earlier this season, but you don't get the full idea until you saw it live on TV. That's when you realize how fast they go in (their no-huddle). Film doesn't do it justice.

"The hardest thing is to get a good look from your scout team in practice. They can't simulate it as to what you are going to get. I've read that in the comments from teams they've played. You can't get that look."

The good news is that some of the defenders in the Arkansas varsity have seen it in practice.

"We've got some guys playing who were on scout team here and went against some of the things they do now under (Malzahn)," Robinson said. "They say some of the same ideas are still in this offense that they practiced against. They don't feel like there is a lot of change in the basic sets and plays."

Harris was one of those who worked against Malzahn in practice on the UA scout team.

"I know him," Harris said. "He's got some of the same stuff. He's an offensive mind, no doubt. You saw that when he was here.

"The thing you have to remember, there is no magic to a call. That goes both ways. It goes for offense, goes for defense. There aren't any magical defensive calls. You have to execute them. They execute very well. That's what we have to do, match their execution with solid execution, solid tackling. You have to play fundamental football."

The Hogs are looking at different combinations in the secondary to match Tulsa's different personnel groups. They lost Elton Ford for the season with a neck injury, reducing the safety pool.

"We've got some rotations there," Robinson said. "We've got several people working the different safety spots."

The Hogs have been working Harris along with Rashaad Johnson, Dallas Washington, Jerico Nelson, Tramain Thomas and Walner Leandre at free and strong safety.

"We've got three safety positions and we've all learned each one of them since preseason," Harris said. "We've been teaching Tramain safety this week. We've prepared for this very situation with the learning of the different schemes and the different safety spots. We all knew this could happen and you had to know all of the spots."

Robinson also said the scheme Tulsa presents could put more cornerbacks on the field.

"We are working more corners this week," he said, noting Jamar Love has returned to the rotation after missing several games with a broken thumb. Love has practiced with a soft cast on his thumb.

"That probably bothers him the most when he tries to catch a football, but he's been able to handle it pretty well," Robinson said.

The Hogs didn't have Adrian Davis, the best pass rusher among their defensive ends, in Wednesday's drills. However, Antwain Robinson returned after missing Tuesday's workout.

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