The Arkansas defense is "still a work in progress," but Chris Ash saw progress in the 31-21 victory over Samford after grading tape on Sunday.
"We still don't have the details right and that's consistent effort, alignment, along with communication," said Ash, the new defensive coordinator. "I like the fact we didn't give up a lot of yards, just 233. But 21 points is too much.
"The good part is that we finished strong, just 11 yards in the fourth quarter."
Asked to give his defense a greade, Ash simply replied, "We are a work in progress and, I know you guys are tired of hearing me say it, but we have so far to go."
The defense had to absorb three absent starters, all thought to be among that side's best playmakers. Captain Trey Flowers (knee), strong safety Rohan Gaines (knee) and outside linebacker Jarrett Lake (one-game disciplinary suspension) did not play. Brandon Lewis (end), Alan Turner (safety), Braylon Mitchell (linebacker) and Martrell Spaight (linebacker) all got their first starts.
Ash was pleased with the play of the new starters.
"Braylon, he did a nice job," Ash said. "He wasn't perfect, but he played with great effort and was around the ball. Martrell, we saw the same thing, effort. He ran to the ball and was a physical tackler. It bodes well for us because we are building depth at that position.
"Brandon Lewis didn't make many mistakes. He needs to play with a better pass rush, but his containment was good."
Defensive line coach Charlie Partridge was more specific on the play of Lewis.
"He was solid," Partridge said. "It's exciting. He was assignment sound. There were a couple of rush lane situations where he took unnecessary risks, came across the other side of the quarterback."
Partridge said the front grew at defensive tackle.
"I saw some nice things from our tackles," he said. "Robert Thomas was more productive. Sometimes it's difficult at that position because of double teams with both of our defensive tackles. They played well."
Ash said Flowers was missed.
"He's been hurt for awhile and he makes a difference when he's in there," Ash said. "The good thing is that we will have him back and we built some depth there with Lewis."
Ash has not used a lot of calls in the first two games, but he said that's not unusual.
"I'm not a heavy volume call guy," he said. "I believe in getting a few things down very well first. I don't ever believe in carrying 40 calls.
"We are still learning. It's also still early as far as knowing what the other team is going to do. We saw some things from Samford, some tricks, we hadn't seen. The trap play on our three technique hurt us twice, but we got that stopped in the fourth quarter. They did hurt us with 19 and 16 on the same play.
"We had a good day as far as third down, three of 11. I just wish we had not given up 21 points."
Offensive coordinator Jim Chaney was unhappy with key penalties, but saw some corrections from the first week.
"We wanted to see improvement in the way we got to the line of scrimmage," he said. "We got that. We wanted to be cleaner in our substitutions, and we got that. So maybe there were some nuances that were not apparent to the naked eye that were better."
The running game was still solid, the major point of emphasis.
"That helps everything, we you run it like that," he said. "We have a long way to go in some areas, but the running game helps the play action and we were able to do some things early there."
The bread and butter has been the toss sweep with Alex Collins and Jonathan Williams. How often has Chaney called it?
"I don't know, maybe 10 or 12 times each game," he said, noting that doesn't account for checks in and out of it. "That's a pretty good play because we have the backs and our guys up front can get out in front. You have Travis Swanson at center, and he can pull like that, I probably can call it a little more.
"I'd like to keep him for the rest of my career. That's how good Swanson is. I guess that's not what you do in college. That's more the NFL. If you tell him I get him for the rest of my coaching, I might call it a bunch more."
Line coach Sam Pittman said Swanson had 10 knockdowns blocks against Samford to go with 16 in the opener.
"He had a nice game," Pittman said of the senior captain. "He was at 85 percent. David Hurd had a good game. The tackles, overall, graded well. Our guards didn't pull as well as we'd like and we have to work on that."
Pittman said Swanson got two defenders on the edge on a 55-yard toss sweep by Collins.
"He's pretty good for a center," Pittman said. "If there is one better, he's really good.
"Swanson is doing a nice job, but we've got good backs. He looks good out there when the backs make those cuts."
Running backs coach Joel Thomas said, "We ran the ball well, but you'd like to be more consistent. We did show that we can be explosive."
Collins did get an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty after scoring the clinching touchdown.
"We addressed it," Thomas said. "I don't think you'll see it again."
After the game, head coach Bret Bielema said Thomas gave Collins "an ear full." Thomas said, "Oh, it was just a light ear full. It was a nice run. It was nice to see him provide the spark. We had needed something to happen, the front did a nice job and Alex stayed true to his reads."
Thomas said there are several factors in deciding the rotation between the backs.
"Little bit of everything," Thomas said. "We'll typically start a game off, we'll start off with two (series) for Jonathan and then Alex will get in. This last week, I wanted to get Alex in sooner because of the heat. We knew it was going to be hot. We really want to be fresh when we get into that fourth quarter. Third and fourth quarter we start to kind of pound the rock a little bit. And have some fresh legs back there."
There's also a role for Kiero Small.
"He had a nice game," Thomas said, adding, "With Kiero, the whole deal is, people don't always see the dirty work that he does. It's obvious when he gets on the perimeter and knocks a guy down or his touchdown that he had here.
"But he did some nice things where he's peeling back and maybe getting a backside pursuit defender that might make a play. He was really nice there fourth-and-2 at the end of the game. He's very reliable, very hard to bring down. He takes care of the ball. That's something we kind of experimented with and get him in some critical situations there."
Defense Work in Progress
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