Jim Harris: Why Is Everyone on Robb Smith’s Ass?


Little did anyone realize last year how important tackle Demarcus Hodge and safety Rohan Gaines were to the Arkansas Razorback defense.

Yes, the Arkansas run defense gave up a terrible 6.1 yards per carry (even in these days of wide-open offense, good defenses don’t give up 6 or more yards a carry). But that figure was overshadowed by a pass defense than ranked 116th in the country.

Hodge and Gaines were the only graduating losses off the starting unit. And in the preseason prognostication about Arkansas’s 2016 fortunes, no one was lamenting the absence of those two players. Now, people still were fretting that Arkansas hadn’t replaced Trey Flowers, Darius Philon and Martrell Speight from the 2014 defense, but no one was wondering: “How will Arkansas replace Hodge and Gaines?”

So, in their defense, the book on Arkansas’s defense this year has been to hammer the middle (where the 320-pounds-and-more Hodge was) and attack the safeties (where the good tackling, hard-hitting Gaines was).

Arkansas, meanwhile, attempted to DOWNSIZE its middle, taking weight off of Taiwan Johnson and moving quicker, lighter ends to inside, to the tackles – all in the desire to fix that abominable pass defense from last year.

Robb Smith, the UA defensive coordinator, has done that – the pass defense is much better. Auburn passed for less than 90 yards two weeks ago. Arkansas has moved into the middle of the pack nationally in pass defense rankings. When the Hogs keep one senior defensive back off the field, they seem to defend pretty well on the long ball. The other senior, Jared Collins, has been the steadiest in pass coverage.

Now, tackling big ball carries like Alabama and Auburn foisted on them isn’t this secondary’s strong suit, but Hog followers have to be happy with the overall play of Ryan Pulley at corner, of all the underclassmen back there. Safety Santos Ramirez had some big hits to help save a home win at Ole Miss against the Rebs running quarterback Chad Kelly.

So, with pass defense much better, why is everyone on Robb Smith’s case?

OK, if you haven’t read all of the preceding paragraphs as dripping with sarcasm, let me make sure you understand now: This was sarcasm.

Arkansas fixed the passing game somewhat (Auburn didn’t have to throw, of course, all of you said back in the aforementioned less-than-90-yards passing for the Tigers two weeks ago in a 56-3 win). But they did it at the expense of a running game that ALSO HAD TO BE FIXED.

Why head coach Bret Bielema missed that, he of great defensive background as coordinator at Kansas State and Wisconsin, is the million-dollar-question of the season. Why he didn’t see this four years ago, upon arrival, that the defense HAD to be fixed with a serious upgrade in talent, is the next million-dollar question. Eventually, we can come up with $4 million a year in questions.

Robb Smith, despite what Hog fans apparently have decided, is considered a great defensive coordinator. I just finished hearing one of his former bosses, Kurt Flood, formerly the head coach at Rutgers say as much. He described how the 2012 Rutgers team devised a terrific defense when it didn’t necessarily have playmakers on the front seven with a variety of blitzing up front to stop the run. We’ve seen none of that this season. That has to be because of two reasons (1) the players are not capable of pulling off the blitzes required or (2) the head coach, who has professed long before he hired Smith, to not be a fan of blitzing.

So, you’re getting what you are getting, which is a run defense now giving up 6.9 yards per carry, and that includes games where the talent overwhelmed Texas State and, for the most part, Alcorn State.

Now, with these next three teams being mostly power running teams, and with Arkansas having a week off to prepare for Florida today in Fayetteville, there seems to be no excuse for Bielema to fail to let his coordinator call every run-stopping blitz up front he needs to dial up, and for Arkansas to not be loaded up to stop a running attack. No more 78-yard runs, 50-yard keepers by average quarterbacks, etc. This all needs to stop now.

Get beat by the pass if you have to, but first Arkansas must stop the run. That is true not just in the SEC but anywhere. Run the football, which also must be improved by Dan Enos and his offense, but most importantly, for the next two weeks at home and then at Starkville, stop the opponent’s running game.

If you don’t have the players to do it, then look at what was recruited. That’s not Robb Smith’s fault.

If Arkansas can slow Florida’s running game, forcing Luke Del Rio to have to throw, Arkansas pulls this out 19-17 and starts another November to remember. If Arkansas wilts under Florida’s power game, fails to fight off blocks and generally fails to flight period, Florida rolls 27-10 and the rumblings about the program’s direction grow louder.

robb smith


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