Chris Bahn: Arkansas Razorback Defense Not Content to Wait

There are — if you’re being generous and polite in how you total it — eight starters returning from the 2012 Arkansas Razorback defense.

Ordinarily that might seem like a strong group for a first-year coordinator to inherit, but when you look at how the defense has performed over the last few years, specifically last season, the prospect of having a lot of bodies back might not inspire confidence.

We are talking, after all, about a group that allowed 409.9 yards per game (nearly 500 ypg on the road). Arkansas ranked No. 12 in the Southeastern Conference in scoring defense and No. 14 in pass defense.

Defensive coordinator Chris Ash would seem to have his work cut out for him.

If you’re looking for some optimism, though, you might start with Ash’s track record. Based on the overall numbers, his work at Wisconsin was mostly impressive.

During his three years on the staff the Badgers went to three consecutive Rose Bowls. Last season his defense ranked No. 3 nationally with a 41.72 three-and-out percentage, plus Top 25 in scoring defense, rush defense, pass defense and pass efficiency defense.

Then there’s Ash’s first year as defensive coordinator. Wisconsin ranked No. 13 overall in scoring defense and No. 15 in total defense as the Badgers allowed fewer than 20 points per game. Opponents failed to score more than 17 points in 10 of Wisconsin’s 14 games.

Granted, it is hard to make the comparison between the SEC and the Big 10.  Wisconsin didn’t play much in the way of a non-conference schedule (who does, really?), but did hold Oregon State to 10 points over two years when the Beavers averaged 26.6 points per game. So there’s that.

Where Ash is likely winning folks over is with his attitude. His thoughts mirror those of coach Bret Bielema, who is not shy about declaring he didn’t come to Arkansas to win two or three years from now.

Coachspeak? Sure. But after such a huge fall for Arkansas football from 2011 to 2012, these players need all the encouragement they can get. That is especially true for the defense, which gave up more plays of 10-plus yards than anybody in the SEC last year. Included in those 195 gimme first downs were 60 plays of 20-plus yards and 19 plays of 30-plus.


Ash has apparently worked slowly to implement the defensive game plan. He’s not trying to overwhelm opponents (or his own players) with some complicated game plan. You get the sense from Ash when listening to his visits with media and in a recent chat with UA’s RazorVision that there is a lot of room for improvement.

It is entirely possible Ash and the Razorbacks don’t have the pieces to make the strides needed. But the staff isn’t giving the current players any room to use the past or a perceived lack of talent as an excuse.

“We’re not coming here with a two or three year plan, saying, ‘let’s just get through this year,’” Ash recently told Bo Mattingly. “… We’re coming in to compete and win games now.

“Year 2. Will things be easier? I don’t’ know,” Ash added. “There’s a lot of things that go into that. But we want to win now.”

You have to like hearing that. Here’s another quote from Ash that gives some insight into how these guys think (and it will make anybody that lived through Pelphrey-era basketball at Arkansas applaud):

“I don’t believe in the word overachieve, the term overachieve. Everybody has a certain level of potential they can reach. It’s our job as coaches to get everybody to their potential.”

What exactly is the potential for the Arkansas Razorback defense under Ash and this staff? Ordinarily, taking a wait-and-see attitude would be the prudent approach under these circumstances.

Ash, though, doesn’t seem all that content to wait.


Kickoff Football Luncheon

The only real remedy for getting over the withdrawal symptoms that come from an offseason spent without college football is a real, live college football game.

But here’s something that might take the edge off for a couple hours between now and kickoff:

Arkansas hosts its annual Football Kickoff Luncheon on Aug. 23. Doors open at 11:15 and the noon luncheon at the Northwest Arkansas Convention Center in Springdale will feature Bielema, athletic director Jeff Long and members of the team.

Tickets are $25 each and can be ordered by clicking here.

Arkansas Razorback defense - Kickoff Luncheon 2013

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