Clay: Defense Questions

After watching the game Saturday I came away feeling the defensive coaches did not put their players in position to win.
The splitting the safeties wide plan that has been discussed is a perfect example. Knight recognized it and exploited it at least twice and yet it was not changed after the first time it was exposed.
The defense is supposed to be the strength of the team, but still looks suspect. I like coach Smith, but it seems like the defense has been good for one half season since he got here.
Could please offer insight on the following:

  1. With the above terrible plan as an example has it been the athletes or the use of them that has provided us with such shaky safety play over the last few years?
  2. Is our LB game plan so complex that only Ellis and Greenlaw has been able to grasp it? They can say what they want about how much deeper they are at the position, but they seem reluctant to play anyone other than those two. Meanwhile they are getting worn out and start making mistakes. None of these well thought of recruits, Hackett, Graham, Eugene, Williams, Ramsey, Harris, has developed to where they are willing to play them. They have been here through Spring Camp, Fall Camp, some, multiple seasons and they still cannot play? How can that be? It is one of this team’s real mysteries.
  3. Did Randy Ramsey play much Saturday? I hardly remember them mentioning him or seeing him. In the first three games I really thought he looked like a real change of pace weapon and a guy that could have given Knight problems and yet no.
  4. Is Ryan Pulley now a full time starter? On the depth chart he is listed as an “or” with Tolliver. Yet Tolliver seems to play mostly nickle and is playing pretty well. It seems to my eye that Pulley is giving us the best corner play since CBB got here and maybe longer. I am sorry for the veterans, but Pulley looks better than Collins, Dean or Tolliver and should be starting from this day on. Your thoughts?
  5. Was a shadow for Knight any part of the game plan for this game? He was a major concern heading in. His running more than any other item led to A&M’s victory. It seems a plan where Greenlaw did nothing but focus on Knight could have helped keep him from running wild like he did.
    Thanks Clay.

Great questions. I have one more: Why were we playing press coverage on Reynolds at their 8 yard line? With DJ Dean no less who has been struggling with hamstring issues? I’ve been calling for more aggressive play by DBs on line of scrimmage but this would seem an obvious situation where press coverage was not the right way to go. It was 2nd and 8.

You guys made excellent comments. Please allow me to add a few observations.

Here is a list of Texas A&M’s offensive possessions.

Begin aTm 42, end Ark 18 - 7 plays, 40 yards - missed FG
Begin aTm 32, end aTm 35 - 3 plays, 3 yards - punt
Begin aTm 49, end TD - 3 plays, 51 yards
Begin aTm 5, end aTm 5 - 3 plays, 0 yards - punt
Begin aTm 1, end Ark 30 - 7 plays, 69 yards - FG
Begin aTm 26, end TD - 6 plays, 74 yards

That was the first half. The possession at the 5 happened because Arkansas scored, kicked off and made a great stop in kickoff coverage, with an added bonus of a holding penalty on the Aggies. Their punt set up Arkansas at midfield. That was when RWIII fumbled near the goal line. Seven UA points turned into 3 for aTm.

Begin aTm 14, end Ark 2 - 10 plays, 81 yards - fumble lost by Knight
Begin aTm 6, end TD - 2 plays, 94 yards
Begin aTm 15, end TD - 7 plays, 85 yards
Begin Ark 15, end TD - 3 plays, 15 yards
Begin aTm 48, end TD - 3 plays, 52 yards
Begin aTm 9, end Ark 34 - 5 plays, 57 yards - including two kneel-downs

Arkansas’s ball-control strategy left the Texas Aggies with 49 offensive plays and 12 possessions, far below what they usually get. But the Razorback defense was rarely in control. A&M had been bad on third downs in previous games; they converted 8-12 against the Hogs. The Aggies scored most of their points from outside the red zone, with TD-scoring plays of 92, 48, 42, 33 and 22 yards.

Arkansas’s defense gave up a school-record number of rushing touchdowns in 2015, and that trend continues. Texas A&M scored four more. The Hogs have allowed 10 in four games, worse than last season’s all-time worst rate.

It appears that the Hogs depend so much on complex assignments that they can’t play less-experienced linebackers and defensive backs. We are in this Groundhog Day loop, watching the Arkansas defense depend on starters at most positions until they are worn out. This is an unsustainable system in my view. It does not do any good to play half a game of good defense, if that’s all you are going to get. As it was, Arkansas didn’t even get half a game. Gave up two long runs that undid everything.

This should give you an idea of how bad things were - aTm began the game with a drive for a missed field goal, opened the second half with an unforced fumble by the QB near Arkansas’s goal line. Still scored 45 and finished the game within reach of more.

Arkansas’s offensive possessions:

Begin Ark 25, end Ark 31 - 3 plays, 6 yards - punt
Begin aTm 16, end TD - 2 plays, 16 yards
Begin Ark 20, end Ark 22 - 6 plays, 2 yards - punt
Begin Ark 14, end aTm 46 - 7 plays, 37 yards - fumble lost
Begin Ark 25, end aTm 7 - 8 plays, 68 yards - FG
Begin Ark 50, end aTm 1 - 3 plays, 49 yards - fumble lost
Begin Ark 25, end TD - 5 plays, 75 yards

In the first half, Arkansas moved the ball well in five of seven possessions, wasting two with turnovers.

Bret Bielema’s Razorbacks have an established pattern. From 2014 to date, they have scored 20 points per game in the first half, 12 in the second. They score 18% of their points (excluding overtimes) in the fourth quarter, while opponents score 30% of theirs in the final period.

In other words, if Arkansas doesn’t do it in the first half, it’s usually in trouble. The tie score at half was not the good news it appeared to be.

Second half:
Begin Ark 5, end aTm 6 - 19 plays, 89 yards - turnover on downs
Begin Ark 25, end aTm 48 - 5 plays, 27 yards - punt
Begin Ark 25, end Ark 19 - 2 plays, -10 yards - fumble lost
Begin Ark 8, end TD - 13 plays, 92 yards
Begin Ark 25, end aTm 9 - 9 plays, 66 yards - turnover on downs

Nothing is gained from mere ball control. The failure to score makes the whole plan fall apart. The Hogs had the football for almost 20 minutes in the second half, and that did not keep Texas A&M from outscoring them 28-7.

We can pick on the defense, but the offense can’t afford to fail on its first three possessions of the second half. That is what opened the floodgates.

Randy, you seem to be down on the Hogs defense, and I can understand why. Would love your opinions on the coaching related to defense.

Is this a Robb Smith thing? A Bielma thing? I am wondering if Paul Rhoads is in line for the Defensive Coordinator spot if our defense continues to operate at this level.

To me, it looks like a great hire as turned mediocre at best. I don’t know if it’s the scheme or just talent, but something needs to change. The preseason hype about the defense has gone sour.

Honestly I thought for the most part the defense played pretty well but just gave up the big plays. I went back and looked at play-by-play and 70% of Aggies O production came on 10 plays!!! That’s crazy. Not sure I’ve ever seen a stat like that before. Quite a few of those yards were throw away yard in 4th quarter. My beef is that once Knight took off on that first TD run it was obvious that something should be done to make sure that it didn’t happen again where there was not a soul in the middle of the field. I don’t know if it was blown assignments but sure hoping it was and not a reoccuring schematic issue. And then again the thing about Hamstring DJ Dean playing press on Reynolds at their 8 yard line on a 2nd and 8. What was that about? Just hating another game we should have won let slip through our fingertips when played really well for the most part. Hoping these coaches/young men are ready Saturday and especially the following Saturday. GO HOGS!!!

All I have are observations. Arkansas cannot find a way to get backups into the game at linebacker, even when the starters are wilting. The scheme asks a ton of the starters, in terms of knowledge of assignments and how to adjust. I doubt there’s enough practice time to get more than a few players ready to play, in this system. Last year, the Hogs wanted desperately to play backups but could not get them ready.

Not all defensive systems have this problem.

Relying so much on Brooks Ellis at middle linebacker is a serious problem. When fresh, he is up to the task. In the second and fourth quarters, he is not.

I think the lack of production at rush end and safety is a recruiting problem not a coaching problem. Would like to know why they wouldn’t/couldn’t trust Ramsey to play more in the A&M game. In this defense he seems like a man without a position, and that is a waste.

Just my 2 cents.

What I do not understand is why when they rushed the QB the D line pretty much all 4 went wide instead of straight. This made the problem worse in the middle when Ellis covered the back that was in motion. Why not hand the back over to the DB IDK. This play did not just happen last Sat, it has happened even last year. Kelly from Ole Miss did it pretty well also, along with the QB from LA Tech and TCU.
Once last thing, it seems that our DL never raise their hands to knock down pass. if they can’t reach the QB on the rush then help knock it down

This thread has gotten away from my original questions. Could you please address them? In particular the LB question.

From the OP, when you’re playing so many spread teams (and I think every team left on our schedule will show some spread, if you believe what Ed Orgeron is spouting in Baton Rouge), you have five DBs playing most of the downs, if not starting. Toliver shifts to nickel and Pulley slides in at the second corner spot.

I’m glad Coley didn’t get suspended for the targeting call. I thought our defense was demonstrably worse after he was tossed. Was it worse because he got tossed? That, I don’t know, but that play made a big difference in several ways (one of which that it wiped out what would have been a three-and-out).

This also relates to your linebacker question. Josh Williams is still listed as the starter at SLB. But he’s the one who comes out when we go to the nickel package. Ramsey is getting some time at DE to rush the passer; I don’t recall seeing him play much at LB, but I could have missed it.

But my main point was why so few LBs have learned the system enough to get on the field? Is the system so difficult to learn that only Ellis and Greenlaw have been able to learn it? They rarely leave the field and that is not a good thing late in games. I just think it is strange. Are they signing LBs tht just don’t work out?
TCU was able to put a a new set of LBs against us to match our size. There is no way we could do that to say match the speed of a speedy team. I thought we would see a lot of Harris based solely on what the coaches said throughout the summer and fall.
There has to be a reason that this goes on year after year.

There may be a problem with DC Smith’s system and he may have a problem with game planning; I don’t know. Coaching is likely a part of it, but I do know that he is playing with a short stick when it comes to talent and depth.

He has a few nice pieces but he is far from having a complete team of SEC starters (much less depth) to compete with the top level offensive teams in the West. He doesn’t have nearly the depth that was floated in the spring and again when fall practices began, which was duly noted earlier in this thread. Warm bodies and numbers do not comprise depth.

I think A&M proved that going forward Smith and his D will have their hands full with Bama, Ole Miss, and likely Fla and LSU if they each can solve their QB issues.

Still a 4 quarter game.