FAYETTEVILLE — Arkansas defensive coordinator Chris Ash believes his unit put together another solid week of practice in preparation for eighth-ranked Auburn.
Ash said that’s been the case throughout the 2013 season.
He’s just wondering what they’ll actually look like on Saturday.
“I like our plan, I like what we’ve got in place,” Ash said. “I like how we’ve practiced it. But it’s got to show up on Saturday.”
That has been a big problem for Arkansas’ defense in conference play. The Razorbacks offensive struggles have earned most of the headlines, but the defense is struggling as well. Arkansas is allowing an SEC-high 44.8 points and is 12th in yards allowed (486.8 a game) against conference opponents entering Saturday’s game.
The Razorbacks won’t get a break in any way against Auburn’s hurry-up, no-huddle offense. The Tigers have topped the 600-yard mark in each of the past three games, doing most of the damage with the SEC’s top ground game (315.4 yards).
But Ash is hopeful his group will stand up to the challenge.
“You’ve got to have guys in the right spots,” Ash said. “You’ve got to have guys that can get off blocks. You’ve got to have guys that can pursue the football. You’ve got to have guys that can tackle and finish in the open field. If you can get aligned, get off blocks and run but you can’t tackle in the open field scheme doesn’t matter. So those are the challenges you have to face against an offense like this.”
Tackling has been one of Arkansas’ biggest issues the past several week.
Opponents have turned minimal gains into big plays because of the Razorbacks’ tackling troubles. Ash said it’s not all about players in one-on-one situations. Pursuit to the ball has been lacking as well, allowing one mistake to turn into a touchdown.
Arkansas safety Alan Turner said the Razorbacks worked hard the past two weeks to correct the mistakes and turn in a better defensive effort.
“I feel like it is kind of a fresh start,” Turner said. “As the bye week went on, we went to fundamentals and working technique-wise so we could get better as a whole.”
Defensive end Chris Smith said the defense feels prepared as it tries to bounce back from its disappointing performances in conference games against Auburn.
“You’ve got to embrace it, first of all,” Smith said. “We know they’re going to run the ball, so we’ve just got to stop the run and make them one-dimensional. That’s one of our keys to success is to make them one-dimensional and make them pass.”
Ash hinted at some personnel changes in hopes of strengthening the defense, but wouldn’t divulge specifics saying “some things are still undecided.”
He did mention last week the Razorbacks wanted to get freshman linebacker Brooks Ellis and defensive back D.J. Dean more involved. It’s not clear what role those two will play when Arkansas returns to action against Auburn.
Either way, Ash is hoping his group’s practice work will finally show on the field.
“Auburn is obviously a good offense right now,” Ash said. “They’re putting up a lot of yards, putting up a lot of points and running their offense well. So it’s a great challenge, a great opportunity for us to come out and continue to show we are trying to improve.”