Getting Defensive

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — After a summer filled with hope and talk of change, the tough questions are again being asked and critics have taken to the Internet to express their frustration.

As much as Arkansas' defense struggled a week ago on national TV, defensive coordinator Willy Robinson insisted it's too early to panic in the wake of a 52-41 loss to No. 21 Georgia. And his players sound tired of rehashing what went wrong a week ago.

"Last week was last week. I really don't remember much. I'm a defensive back; I have to have short-term memory," Arkansas cornerback Ramon Broadway said. "I really don't remember a lot of stuff about what happened last week.

"All I remember was a loss and it hurt real bad, and I'm looking for revenge."

In a perfect world, Arkansas' defense would follow up last Saturday's loss to Georgia — in which the Bulldogs scored all six of their touchdowns from 21 yards or more — by facing a weak offense it could easily push around.

The Razorbacks (1-1, 0-1 Southeastern Conference) aren't so lucky, though.

They'll instead look to redeem themselves and show they're capable of making some big defensive stops at 2:30 p.m. today when they face third-ranked Alabama (3-0), which has an offense that's even more explosive than Georgia's.

"The defense is going to be fine. I think Georgia executed real well. The defense knows that they got to come along, and we got to keep coming along, too," Arkansas quarterback Ryan Mallett said. "It's a team sport. It's not offense versus offense.

"There's three phases to the game, and to win the ballgame you got to win three of ‘em."

If things don't go well for Robinson's unit, the winner of today's game could come down to whether Arkansas' high-scoring offense can keep up its pace against Alabama's top defense.

But Arkansas coach Bobby Petrino insisted that, while nearly every starter from last year's defense is back, this isn't the same group that accepted much of the blame for a 5-7 in 2008.

"We still feel like we're a better defensive football team than we were a year ago," Petrino said. "But we have to go out and prove it."

While putting up numbers comparable to Mallett and Company, the Crimson Tide have outscored their first three opponents by a 127-45 margin. Alabama ranks fifth nationally in rushing offense (267.7 yards per game), 11th in scoring offense (42.3 points per game) and ninth in total offense (512.2 ypg).

Arkansas' defense will have its hands full trying to slow Nick Saban's power running game. And to make matters worse, Crimson Tide wide receiver Julio Jones is expected to return today from a badly bruised knee and provide quarterback Greg McElroy with a big-play target.

"Arkansas has a good defense, they really do," McElroy said. "(The Bulldogs) were just able to emphasize making big plays on them, and that's what we've got to do as well."

It's easy to see why Broadway might want to block out all memories of last week's nearly 4-hour shootout with Georgia. After opening the season with a promising showing in a 48-10 rout of Missouri State, the Razorbacks reverted to their old selves on defense.

Georgia quarterback Joe Cox stood in the pocket and passed for 375 yards with five touchdowns and one interception. The continuity of Arkansas' defense suffered when outside linebacker Jerry Franklin was ejected in the second quarter for committing two unsportsmanlike conduct penalties after the same play.

And after surrendering 530 yards of total offense, Arkansas defensive players hope to show today that last week's loss was simply a bad night and not an indication of what's to come this season.

"For the two quarters, we were showing that we were a different defense. We did pretty good against the run and we were getting three-and-outs," Arkansas defensive tackle Malcolm Sheppard said. "And then the thing with Jerry leaving the game and some of the other guys leaving (to injuries), our defense felt victim.

"So we get another shot this weekend to go out and prove this defense is changing. We are a better defense this year."

Now it's time, as Petrino said, to prove it.

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