Hop's Defensive Analysis - Arkansas

The Texas Aggie football team continued its road winning streak that extends back to 2011 with a hard-fought and rain-soaked 45-33 win. Aggie Websider's David Sandhop looks at the defensive performance and takes a deeper look at the numbers and grades each position.

We were told earlier in the week that the defense was starting to communicate on the field and were "getting it." 483 yards later, I think it's safe to say that didn't happen. Arkansas isn't what we'd call an offensive juggernaut by any measure. I watched the replay and it's hard to pinpoint one specific issue that causing the boat to leak on the defensive side. There are several smaller leaks leading to the crew trying to bail the water out of a sinking vessel.

First and foremost, there just aren't any experienced, dynamic athletes on the defensive front right now that are strong and quick enough to shed their man and either put pressure on the QB or fill the gaps on run plays. The defensive ends aren't quick enough to pressure the QB. Thus, the unit simply doesn't put stress on the QB to force bad plays. Brandon Allen had all day long in the pocket. The few times that token pressure was applied came on corner/safety blitzes, Allen had enough time to hit his safety valve or throw it away to live for another play. As I've said before, if a QB in this era of football isn't worried about pressure in the pocket and has time to survey the field, they will make plays in the passing game, including a "run-based" offense like Arkansas.

Second, the linebackers simply aren't holding their assignments and out of position on many occasions. To some degree, you can explain Darian Claiborne's hiccups because he's a true freshman. You can explain Nate Askew's missed assignments to the fact that he has played the position for six months. But for the life of me I'm trying to understand why Steven Jenkins is late to his spot and the overall uninspired play he's shown since coming back two weeks ago. Even Donnie Baggs appears to find his mark from time-to-time, although his issue is finishing a play. On misdirection runs or play action passes, the A&M defense is getting exposed because the linebackers are slow to react and many times miss their assignments. The result is the long run at the end of the half by Alex Collins and the long pass to the Arkansas freshman tight end for 52 yards.

Third, the ability to finish plays and tackle has been a huge issue. Plays that look to be stopped for no gain eventually pick up 3-4 yards. Jenkins decides to hit Jonathan Williams with a shoulder instead of form tackling him and he goes for a touchdown instead of forcing a fourth down in a 38-27 game. Now, part of that has to do with cornerbacks forced to make one-on-one tackles in the secondary because the linebackers weren't in position to make the initial stop, but you can look at the defensive front, linebackers, and secondary and see poor tackling across the board that's hurting this unit.

With all that said, the defense did rise up and make some big plays when they had to. On four occasions, the Arkansas offense started a drive trailing by less than a touchdown. Not only did the defense stymie all four drives to retain the lead each time, but they also dialed up a pick six by Deshazor Everett to completely change the momentum of the game. So you have to give the unit SOME credit, especially the defensive secondary. I thought they played a good game under the circumstances. But we must put this game into perspective. The Razorback offense was not a formidable unit coming into the game, but the A&M defense made them look formidable.

And now that we're just about done with September and 40% of the season, it's hard to say the young guys will grow up and the unit will get better without seeing some tangible evidence of improvement on the field. Frankly, the improvement so far has been marginal. Will the light bulb ever turn on this season as we are nearing the season's halfway point? Can a bye week help? Like I said, until I see improvement on the field…

Defensive Line D

I know Coach Snyder spent a lot of time complimenting senior Kirby Ennis, but even before he injured his knee in Saturday's game he was getting moved out of his gaps by the Arkansas OL. Isaiah Golden has a ton of potential and explodes off the ball, but many times he leaves his gap responsibility out of not knowing where to be versus getting pushed around by the opposition. Either way, the middle of the DL is being exposed. Alonzo Williams made a few nice plays and is probably playing as well as anybody along the front seven, but his performance has been inconsistent at times. But what this defense needs more than anything is a playmaking rush end, and that's where A&M has no answers. Julien Obioha and Gavin Stansbury simply don't provide that pass-rushing skill set. Freshman Daveon Hall can only be used in certain passing situations, as he is too small for other packages. Late in the game, an Arkansas tackle pushed him to the ground with his outside arm. He's going to need a productive offseason with Larry Jackson before he'll be a factor on the field who can play all four downs. The current situation should be a strong selling point to Myles Garrett.

Linebacker D-

I was told a couple of days before the game that Steven Jenkins practiced well and would have a good game. Well, that didn't happen. Of all the issues that have arisen with the defense this season, the uninspired play of Steven Jenkins is at the top of the list. He seems slow to recognize plays. He finds himself in the wrong spot at times, but the biggest concern is his poor tackling. The missed tackle with his shoulder on Jonathan Williams on a critical 3rd down play that resulted in a touchdown allowed Arkansas back in the game in the fourth quarter. A clean tackle by Jenkins, and this game isn't close the final 10 minutes. Darian Claiborne is a gamer and certainly will be a very good player in time, but he still suffers from being in the wrong spot and he gave up a couple of big plays. Nate Askew made a couple of nice plays, but he also missed several assignments and lost his man in the flats on more than one occasion and that got him a seat on the bench in favor of Baggs for most of the second half. I thought he actually put himself in position to make a few plays, but he continues to struggle tackling and taking the ball carrier to the ground. Overall, I think the linebacker corps is the biggest concern moving forward.

Defensive Backs B+

Deshazor Everett made the biggest play of the game with the pick six, and that topped off what was a pretty good performance for the secondary. I thought the coverage was excellent. Most of the big pass plays came from the tight end spot where the coverage responsibility fell to the linebackers. Not only did Everett have the defensive touchdown, but both Devante Harris and Tremaine Jacobs had two pass break-ups near the goal line in the fourth quarter that preserve the precarious 12-point lead. Arkansas took other shots down the field off of play action, but the secondary held strong. Everett had some struggles in run support as did Howard Matthews when he let Alex Collins get outside and run for about 40 yards at the end of the first half that set-up a field goal as time expired. Otherwise, the coverage performance was as good as could be expected given the amount of time Allen had in the pocket.

Defensive Coaching C-

I'm not sure what Coach Snyder could have done differently. He went with a 4-3 scheme for much of the game, and he also brought the safeties into the box to stop the run…and the unit still struggled on counters and change of direction plays. I thought a lot of the problem in previous weeks was a result of not having enough bodies in the box and playing five defensive backs most of the time. That wasn't the case on Saturday. The team didn't get the job done, both physically (tackling) and mentally (keeping assignments). You can only do so much with the horses you have, and until some of these players start to make plays and be where they are supposed to be, I'm not sure how you can correct that with schemes. Then again, the issues can and should be addressed in practice. Coaching isn't all about schemes. Can they get things straight during the bye week? We'll see.


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