OXFORD, Miss. — Arkansas’ defense has been outstanding much of the season, but struggled against Ole Miss in a 52-51 loss on Saturday.
The Arkansas defense gave up 611 yards of total offense to Matt Corral and the Rebels. Corral passed for 287 yards and Ole Miss ran for 324. Sam Pittman talked about the defense following the game and was asked why they had so much success against Arkansas?
“”I really don’t know,” Pittman said. “A bunch of it was early. We didn’t tackle. Any open-field tackle, we couldn’t get the guy on the ground. And that includes Corral. That was by far our poorest day tackling. Then when we had some busts in the secondary, guys were wide-open and we couldn’t fill the gap from the safety area on a simple little stretch play. I’m not positive why, I thought we had a really good, physical week of practice. We went good on good a lot, but the bottom line is we had too many mistakes defensively, and we couldn’t tackle.”
Corral was pump faking and the Arkansas defensive backs started biting on it which resulted in some easy touchdowns for Ole Miss.
“No, we were busting,” Pittman said. “I mean on the wheel we had a safety error, a corner error. They got by us two or three more times just running by us. And then, like I say, and we’ve seen it on tape too, once they get behind you the guy’s going to put it on the money. That’s what happened. I think when they started gashing us in the run game we were trying to … early in the half … in the first half I thought they blocked so well on the perimeter. We were trying to get our corners and our safeties involved in the run game and they must have seen it and started running by us. Which shouldn’t happen but it did.”
In the past four games, Arkansas has a Montaric Brown interception against Ole Miss. That is their only takeaway during that stretch which has Pittman concerned. They created seven turnovers against Ole Miss last year in this game.
“It is a concern,” Pittman said. “I mean, it’s been a concern since the first game we didn’t have a bunch of them. We work on it. We work on trying to strip it and get it out of there and rally to the ball. We pull on it, tug on it, try to hit it and knock it out. They just did a nice job of not throwing picks and hanging on to it. But yeah, certainly it’s a concern.”
Arkansas was considered a good tackling team earlier in the season, but experienced all kinds of issues in that regard on Saturday.
“Well I think we’re beat up a little bit more, I think with bumps and bruises and broken hands and different things of that nature,” Pittman said. “That’s certainly going to play a part of it. But, to answer your question, we can tackle better. We tackle in indy, we tackle – we don’t tackle live bodies, but we form tackle, we tackle on sleds. We do that every Tuesday and Wednesday. But I’m not positive. We’ve got to figure it out. But really, it’s a lot of people. It’s not just one or two guys. We’re banging off of legs, not wrapping up well and getting guys on the ground. We’ll adjust it after we look at film and see what the heck is going on and why we’re not tackling well.”
It wasn’t all bad for the defense on Saturday. They did stop Ole Miss on a fourth-and-one call at the Rebels’33-yard line. However, the Hogs ended up settling for a field goal when KJ Jefferson overthrew an open Warren Thompson that would have been a touchdown.
“Well, they stopped us on third down and we kicked a field goal,” Pittman said. “I don’t know every play of the game. There was 93 plays. All I know it I think we tried to throw it, maybe, early. I remember talking to the guys about they can’t stop us running the football. The way we threw it on first down, we may have thrown it two out of the three and ended up short. I know it was fourth and four or five, and it was just too far to try to go for it. I knew we could tie the game up. Obviously, like you are and everybody else, disappointed we couldn’t convert right there and score a touchdown, but at least we tied it up. We would’ve had a lot more momentum if we scored, but I believe we threw it on that first play and we were running the ball kind of at will.”
Senior linebacker Hayden Henry had 11 tackles including one for a loss. He was asked if Ole Miss did some things the Hogs weren’t expecting?
“They did do a couple of things differently,” Henry said. “They attacked us in the run game with some things we hadn’t seen before with our 3-down front and had some success with it. We made some corrections and were able to defend it better but were still getting gashed a little bit, so we’re going to have to find some corrections and get it fixed.”
Henry also is at a loss for why the Hogs all of a sudden aren’t a very good tackling team.
“It’s hard to point at one particular thing,” Henry said. “We’re just not wrapping up. We’re letting too many 2-3 yard runs turn into 6-yard runs, and I can’t necessarily put my finger directly on what the problem is, but I would assume we’re not wrapping up and not getting guys on the ground. We make tackles, make contact with ball carriers but we’re not pushing people back. People are dragging us for 2-3 yards and putting us in a bad position behind the chains and things like that.”
Henry also noted what Ole Miss was doing when they were beating the Arkansas defense with stretch plays in the run game.
“They were hitting us in a weak spot in our defense,” Henry said. “They were creating an extra gap off the edge and we didn’t have someone there to fill that gap, so it created another gap. There needs to be someone there to fill it. At times they were cutting us off on the backside and we couldn’t get an extra hat to the ball and it was creating some problems for us. We made some corrections to try to get it fixed, but it was great play design. Props to them for that.”
Arkansas now will return home to host Auburn. Henry and the Hogs will enter that game on a two-game losing streak. Will the team be able to bounce back?
“I feel great,” Henry said. “We have a very resilient, tough team and there’s no one on our team that wanted the outcome today, so this is only going to fuel us going into next week. I’m excited that we get to go back home and play in our stadium against another great opponent.”
The kickoff Saturday will be 11 a.m. in Reynolds Razorback Stadium.