Hogs slow down Tigers

Arkansas handles Auburn offense in three of four quarters in 44-23 victory. D. J. Williams finds open spaces.

For your consideration, three scores from the last 12 months:

Arkansas 25, Auburn 22, at Auburn, Ala., Oct. 11, 2008.

Arkansas 30, Tulsa, 23, at Fayetteville, Nov. 1, 2008.

Arkansas 44, Auburn 23, at Fayetteville, Oct. 10, 2009.

What do they mean? Arkansas is going forward under Bobby Petrino, especially if Gus Malzahn is as good as advertised. Malzahn's offensive units have put up tremendous points and victories. That will probably continue, too.

But it appeared Willy Robinson, much maligned as Arkansas defensive coordinator, had Malzahn's number in three of the four quarters Saturday in Reynolds Razorback Stadium.

"I've got tons of respect for what Coach Malzahn's done, what he's accomplished," Robinson said. "To go in there and change that offense and do what they've done, to take those road graders, mudders, that offensive line and do that with that running game is amazing."

Then, just a bit later, Robinson delivered some advice for Auburn's new offensive coordinator: Check your tendencies.

"We took the Tulsa game and what they'd done this year," Robinson said. "They probably need to go back and look at some things we saw from the Tulsa preparation. It helped that we played him again because he stays true to what he believes. We had a good plan for them in the first half.

"They changed things up in the third quarter and went to their weakside a little more, but we had some stuff ready for them in the fourth quarter, some pressures they couldn't handle.

"I can't emphasize the preparation we did as a staff, what Bobby Allen and Kirk Botkin did to help us up front. They helped with the adjustments we made in the fourth quarter, the pressures we brought against their protections. We took advantage of some of them."

Just as key, Auburn could not avoid shooting itself, too. The Tigers lost three fumbles and were penalized eight times. The only Arkansas turnover gave the Tigers the ball 98 yards away.

Another key was the play of Arkansas tight end D. J. Williams, perhaps the best player on the field. He had six catches for 57 yards, a week after blocking the Hogs to some big plays against Texas A&M. He blocked well against the Tigers, too, as the Hogs sealed the perimeter on the zone play for Michael Smith's tough, fast runs.

"We did some good things on the edge," said Arkansas head coach Bobby Petrino, noting the fine play of both the tight ends and the offensive tackles. "We blocked the defensive end and we picked up the outside linebacker. We removed the line of scrimmage. I think when we watch video it's going to look good."

Offensive coordinator Paul Petrino said Williams has been solid all season.

"I think when people who know football watch D. J. Williams play, they know what kind of player he's become. He's become a much better player. He's become a very good blocker.

"Our tight ends blocked well today, but so did our wide receivers. We were good on the edge today."

Quarterback Ryan Mallett gets some of the credit.

"We had some good checks today," Paul Petrino said. "They were giving us some hitches, some underneath things and Ryan did a nice job of taking them. We know they do some things in their defense that you have to take underneath, but then they will walk up into press. When they did that, Ryan checked out of some runs and took that, some matchups with Greg Childs and Cobi Hamilton."

Williams didn't rate this game as any better than his performance against A&M when he had zero catches.

"I thought the last one was pretty good," he said. "But I have to admit that I've been sitting in the locker rooms at time wondering when my number would come up. I've thought that.

"I do know that in this offense there are times that you are going to be a blocker and when you are going to be in matchups. I think it was a case today where they didn't cover me and that's why I had more catches.

"I have to admit it's nice to get some catches. I think the defense forgot about me today. I understand that we have talent on this offense. If you try to stop one thing, we can do something else."

Did the Hogs get juiced because of all the publicity the Auburn offense received this week?

"We were aware of it," defensive end Jake Bequette said. "We knew the defensive line had to step up. The last two weeks, we rushed four and dropped seven. If you can get pressure doing that, it's going to help your defense. Auburn got a lot of pub, a lot of hype. We knew we had to respond to that."

And, a lot of it had to do with Malzahn.

"We faced him last year with Tulsa and found a way to stop him then," Bequette said. "He has more weapons now that he's at Auburn, but no matter what offensive scheme a team runs, if you come out and hit them hard in the mouth, they can be stopped."

Defensive tackle Malcolm Sheppard said, "We knew about Coach Malzahn and his offense. We respect it. But if you are a competitor, you don't shy away. What this game does for us, it builds our confidence. If we can play like this today against their offense, we should never shy away or fear anything. We stepped up to the hype."

The Hogs heard the hype -- and the radio interview former Auburn coach Tommy Tuberville did in midweek picking the Tigers by three touchdowns.

"He's an Auburn guy," Mallett said. "But it went the other way — we won by three touchdowns. Sorry, coach Tub."

Tuberville probably didn't figure on the Arkansas defense playing so well.

"We are getting better," Robinson said. "We got Dede Jones in at tackle, starting this week. He's helping us. He makes us better.

"Andru Stewart is playing better at cornerback. Elton Ford and Jerico Nelson are tackling better. We are flying to the ball better each week. We are getting more hats there and that has helped our tackling.

"It's a matter of trusting each other and playing more together. When there's a trust in the guy beside you, knowing he's doing his job, things start happening better.

"There are still some times we don't do all things right. We had a long run in the third quarter where we had the three points covered on that play, and don't get him down. That's frustrating, but it's happening less and less."

Is it just a matter of the defense still being a work in progress?

"Not so much that," Robinson said. "Not a work in progress. Just a matter of keep making improvement. We've got some guys out there that have now been there for a few games. We are just getting better."

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