Robinson, Defense Continue To Build

FAYETTEVILLE — Arkansas defensive coordinator Willy Robinson is hoping the turning point came Saturday, when his young group got itself out of a tight spot in the fourth quarter against Tulsa.

The Razorbacks were clinging to a lead. Tulsa's high-powered offense was on the doorstep of the goal line, threatening to tie the game in the final minute. But Arkansas didn't break and was rewarded with a win.

"It probably needed to be done," Robinson said Wednesday of the stand. "As much as you don't wish for it, it probably needed to be done.

"We put ourselves in good position, we gave ourselves a chance and we did a great job."

It was a memorable moment in a season that hadn't produced many for Arkansas' defense.

The Razorbacks are last in the SEC in scoring defense (31 points a game), total defense (378 yards) and rushing (170). They were blitzed in losses to Alabama, Texas and Florida. And they failed to make key stops in the fourth quarter in losses to Kentucky and Ole Miss.

But there has been progress. And Robinson, whose defense is preparing for another test against South Carolina on Saturday, said it was obvious against Tulsa.

"They weren't going to be denied," Robinson said. "They were going to make sure they won that football game. The ups and downs of this group lies with the maturity and the leadership that we are trying to establish. It feels like it's getting there, but it's still not where it needs to be. It just doesn't happen overnight."

The Razorbacks have learned that the hard way. Big plays and easy scores were common early on.

Robinson said one important key to the defensive improvement has taken place at practice, where players have experienced "angst." Arkansas has been asked to respond to a quicker pace on the practice field, which has helped them remain more calm on gameday.

Defensive tackle Malcolm Sheppard said they've been much better with their assignments and responsibilities. It was a problem earlier this season, but the junior said Arkansas has been determined to improve.

"We want to work hard for (Robinson)," Sheppard said. "You probably couldn't count the hours that he and our staff spend in the film room. They put that much effort in it and we feel like it's our duty to play harder. He's in there breaking down film and calling the right plays for us to make plays. It's a motivation."

Arkansas allowed 38 points a game after five games, but has cut that to 22.3 the past four. Opponents are averaging fewer total yards (388 to 365.5) during the stretch. Arkansas also forced three turnovers in the first five games but have collected 11 in the past four.

Safety Matt Harris said Arkansas has gained confidence despite the lulls. And he said Robinson deserves credit for helping the Razorbacks keep a level head through both the blowouts and big wins.

"He's coached longer than any of us have been alive," Harris said. "He's been through the ups and downs."

Arkansas coach Bobby Petrino credited Robinson, too, for his game plan against Tulsa.

The Golden Hurricane led the nation in yards and points a game. They hadn't been shut out in any quarter. But Arkansas attacked them from the start and didn't allow a touchdown in the second half.

"Our guys were really flying around and playing hard," Petrino said. "We had a good plan and we weren't passive. I really like the way Willy went after their offense and their protections."

But Robinson said it was far from perfect.

He held himself responsible for a bad call that resulted in a touchdown in the first half Saturday. He bounced back from the mistake, though. When a similar situation popped up in the second half, he made a different call and the play went Arkansas' way in the big win.

Like Arkansas, Robinson said he's continuing to learn and improve every week in the difficult SEC.

"This conference is challenging," Robinson said. "Every week it's something different. It's unlike anything I've ever experienced."

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