Dog Defense Prepping For Big-Hog Football

For weeks now Geoff Collins and the Bulldog defensive staff have had to change just about every page in the gameplan book for a new contest. Spread-running one week, the nation's most unpredictable offense the next, and more pro-style approach the last time out. Now, however? "A little more carry-over this week," says Collins. "It's big-boy football, they want to run the football."

They being Arkansas, and the boys or Hogs rather are indeed big. First-year coach Brett Bielema has brought to the SEC the sort of offense which gives the ‘Big Ten' label real luster. The results aren't showing on the record yet as the Razorbacks continue a complete transition in style and substance. But on the scoreboard, Collins says, the progress is proven. The run still can be fun.

"They do a great job with it," said Mississippi State's defensive coordinator. "The young tailback they have is putting up a lot of yards, a lot of numbers. Their offensive line is gigantic, they do a great job moving people off the ball. The tight ends do a good job blocking and then they'll spread them out and distribute the ball really well to them. A talented group of receivers, and it's kind of like last week; where they distribute the ball, there's not one guy that's getting all the catches. They distribute the ball around really well."

In all your coaching stops is there anyone you compare Chris Jones to in his level of maturity? "He's one of the biggest, most physical kids, just naturally-gifted kids I've ever been around. I was going to say Calvin Johnson, I was with him at Georgia Tech; completely different dynamic but that same kind of physical presence at his position. So he's the ‘Megatron' I guess!"

Is he a natural leader? "He is. A great personality, he's a kid that just walks into the room and you can feel the energy of the room change a little bit. We're starting to see that out on the football team, too, his personality is starting to come out when he's out there playing. I think that's a positive quality."

Do you tell him to do that? "A little bit. Coach (David) Turner is with him most of the time and does a great job. One of the big thing is just managing the expectations. When he first got here and was such a highly-recruited kid the expectations were through the roof. And I think Coach Turner did a great job of making sure he understood that he had to get technique, his fundamentals down before all the those things could start happening for him. And not to get frustrated, not to get down on himself, and it didn't happen. And we're starting to see the rewards of that right now."

How would you evaluate the performance against Alabama? "There were a lot of good things. The big thing we talked about going into the game was just having the right mindset. It was going to be a physical ball game, a 60-minute ball game, and it was going to be man-on-man, let's see who is tougher. And I thought our kids rose to that challenge. They played a physical ball game and other than two busted run-fits I thought we played the run game pretty well the whole game."

Talk about the game Beniquez Brown had? "It hurts losing (Deontae) Skinner for the last two weeks because we all feel so strongly about Deontae. But Beniquez had been playing a lot. Coach Mullen's big emphasis the whole time is make sure the young guys are playing and playing early in games and we've done that all year long for Beniquez. He got his chance to get in there and play and he's done a really nice job for us."

When Jones gets that sack do you have to hold-back how excited you are? "Well, I mean it was a nice play. And what people don't recognize is Preston Smith created it for him. It kind of goes back to how unselfish the guys are on this team. Preston is the one that actually created the pick for Chris, Chris ran the stunt really well and got the sack. We have to work on his celebration a little bit! But other than that it was a good play."

Consecutive weeks and three times this season a defensive back has two interceptions in a game, they're making big plays there? "Yeah, and the thing we talk about is there were two games where we got zero. And the big emphasis all spring and pre-season was getting the ball, creating turnovers, it's all about the ball. We hit that little dry spell. We just stuck with the same message, and turnovers kind of come in waves. We said once it happens there'll be a flood of them. I think that happened the last two games, hopefully we don't hit another dry spell any time soon."

When did you start that of the guy getting the turnover bringing you the ball? "I think probably Western Carolina. I don't know if y'all have been back in the hallway, outside the defensive meeting rooms we have a ‘get the ball wall'. When I was at Western Carolina we started that, because guys want to see their picture. So every time they get a turnover we put their picture up and usually with as good a job as you guys do with the photos we usually have a picture of them actually with the turnover. That goes up on the wall for them. So they take pride in it."

"And as you go down through the season there's week-one Oklahoma State there were two; then there were six, then there were five, whatever it was. And then there's a blank space and then another blank space, you're kind of reminded how important it is to get turnovers."

Talk about having Christian Holmes back at linebacker? "The great thing about Christian is even though whenever he went to the other side of the ball we kept a great relationship with him, and what a great kid. Tuesday at practice we found out Deontae wasn't going to be able to play, let's get Christian over there and let him play. He did a fantastic job for us. And to his credit when we played Texas A&M and had a pretty extensive gameplan getting ready for Johnny Football (Manziel), whenever he was in the game we never had to change the gameplan. So all of the defenses, all of the different packages we had in, Christian learned them, he studied them. That says a lot about who he is as a player and as a person."

Since his two-quarter ejection Nickoe Whitley has come back and played his best pass defense? "Yeah he really has. I don't know what happened but I think him and Tony Hughes handled that situation and the way he has practiced is really a testament to him and what kind of character he has."

"And one of the biggest plays in the game Saturday was on that busted run T.J. (Yeldon) had right before halftime. We had Nickoe on a deep-half on the other side of the field, and ran down one of the fastest kids in the SEC out in the open field, made a great play to almost save the drive for us. So I just think the world of him, he's a great player and a great person."

Saturday you had six freshmen starting or rotating, what is the difference coaching them compared to older players? "What I've done today is we had all the young guys come in and see us. Because Mondays we have some time during their classwork where they come up and just send about five, ten minutes just talking about their roles, their development. Because you'll turn on the film and they'll be eleven guys that are all going to be back here for the next year, for two years, some of them three years. And just coaching that youth, there's some situations you know it's brand new for them…but then you look for the future and how bright the future is around here, especially defensively."

Saturday the Alabama quarterback bought some time but still had to dump the ball off, your guys stayed with their assignments? "And I think the experience the week before, the little experiences you have all add up week-in and week-out. And throughout a season John Banks and some of those guys that played four years you see the rewards of that. I think Coach (Deshea) Townsend and Coach Hughes have done a great job with those young DBs."

Is Preston Smith one of the most underrated defensive linemen in the SEC? "Yeah. He had such a great game against LSU and then gets banged-up, he's out. So it's kind of been a story of injuries at certain spots at certain times. But when Preston Smith is on, he's one of the best defensive ends in the SEC I believe."

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