Arkansas defensive coordinator Willy Robinson had a plan last Saturday to help end to the slow starts: Blitz, turn the Razorbacks loose, “let those guys go hunt.”
Junior linebacker Alonzo Highsmith (45) had a sack and interception last week against South Carolina.
“And that’s what we did,” Robinson said Wednesday.
“Yeah, there’s no doubt, we were much more aggressive. The kids were sold on it.”
The Hogs responded with a season-high five sacks, including three by senior defensive end Jake Bequette, in a 44-28 victory over South Carolina at Razorback Stadium.
And now, as Arkansas (8-1, 4-1 SEC) continues preparations for Saturday night’s game against Tennessee (4-5, 0-5) at Razorback Stadium, the defense has gotten a much-needed boost of confidence following several sub-par outings.
The more aggressive Hogs held South Carolina, which committed four turnovers, to 207 yards of total offense. Gamecocks running back Brandon Wilds followed up a 137-yard performance against Tennessee with 21 yards on 10 carries vs. the Hogs.
In addition to more blitzing, Robinson said he changed up the way he called the game.
“I think probably the thing that we talked about more than anything else was, ‘Let’s not worry about who’s on the field. Let’s call the game,'" Robinson said. "So when you’re sitting down there and you’re trying to figure out who your rotations are and stuff like that, I pretty much threw that out with the wash and said I’m going to call it the way I feel comfortable instead of waiting for those kids to pick it up.”
Arkansas’ players knew at the beginning of the week that more blitzing was going to be part of the game plan, according to junior weakside linebacker Alonzo Highsmith, who had one of those sacks and made the interception.
Willy Robinson says defensive end Tenarius Wright has looked fresh and fast in practice.
“Me personally, I love the blitz,” said Highsmith, who leads the Hogs with 10 tackles for loss this season. “Any time you blitz and you get some success with it it fires you up even more. It just makes you want to keep going …
“We’re confident right now. We know we can play fast. We know we can be physical.”
There’s always talk in sports about confidence levels impacting performance, but what does boosted confidence actually mean to a football team’s defense?
“When your confidence is boosted, it shows on the field,” Highsmith said. “The game speeds up. We’re flying around, having fun. When you feel invincible it makes for a better game. So confidence is a lot.”
Barring a setback, it sounds almost certain that Arkansas junior defensive end Tenarius Wright will play Saturday against Tennessee.
Wright, who broke his arm and hasn’t played since Week 4, continues to practice with the team, and Robinson said he’s looked good.
“It’s nice having Tank back now,” Robinson said. “He’s fresh. He’s not probably quite in game shape yet. So we’ll keep rolling those guys. But he’s a blur when he comes off the ball and he does a great job in the run game for us as well.”
Highsmith said having Wright back is a big boost for the defense.
“He’s vocal. When he plays, he shows with his talent. He shows what he can do,” Highsmith said. “He makes plays. On top of the vocal (stuff), he leads by example.”
Covering their bases
Arkansas has heard Tennessee sophomore quarterback Tyler Bray got his cast off his right throwing arm recently, and the Razorbacks haven’t taken any chances.
The Hogs have prepared as if Bray, who’s been out with a broken thumb, will play Saturday, Robinson said.
Tennessee Coach Derek Dooley said Wednesday that Bray has been ruled out, making it likely that true freshman Justin Worley will get the start.
Of course, Arkansas has prepared for Worley, too.
“We feel like we’ve got a pretty good handle on what he does and how he manages a game,” Robinson said. “We’ve got a couple more days of practice, so we’ll (get a) better idea.”
Tennessee unveiled the Wildcat formation last week in a 24-0 victory over Middle Tennessee, and defending that has been part of the Razorbacks’ preparation.
“We found a couple of the snaps last week (in the Wildcat) and they’re looking and they’re searching. … We’re preparing for all of it," Robinson said. "The thing about it is all the formations that people give us we’ve seen at some time or another. So our kids are very astute on how to make quick adjustments.”
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