FAYETTEVILLE — Before trying to tackle the LSU Tigers Saturday night in Baton Rouge, La., the Arkansas Razorbacks commenced their game week practices Tuesday trying to tackle each other.
Poor tackling dogged the Razorbacks last Saturday in Oxford, Miss., though Arkansas survived a 53-52, overtime SEC shootout over the Ole Miss Rebels.
Especially against LSU Heisman Trophy candidate running back Leonard Fournette — already with 1,383 yards and 16 touchdowns on 195 carries going into Saturday’s 6:15 p.m. ESPN-televised game at Tiger Stadium — the Hogs (5-4, 3-2) surely must tackle better than they did against Ole Miss to beat the AP ninth-ranked Tigers (7-1, 4-1), who were ranked second in last week’s College Playoff list before falling 30-16 to Alabama last Saturday in Tuscaloosa, Ala.
Rebels running backs Jaylen Walton, Jordan Wilkins and Akeem Judd — a combined 21 carries for 112 yards and a touchdown — hurt the Hogs and until Arkansas’ miracles to achieve overtime and win overtime, Rebels quarterback Chad Kelly had the Hogs beat not only completing 24 of 34 passes for 368 yards three touchdowns, but running a game-leading 110 yards with three touchdowns on 11 carries.
“He had a bunch of big throws and things when we didn’t get communicated.” Arkansas coach Bret Bielema said at his Monday press conference. “But the killer for us to be quite honest was six missed sack opportunities. I believe four or five of those were on third down. It changes the course of the game. It’s hard to say in a game when you score as many points as that, but if you just make half of those sacks and stop half of those points from being on the board, we don’t even get to the situation we were in at the end of the game.”
So this week’s defensive agenda is pretty clear.
“Some really basic element things to work on,” Bielema said. “Just tackling, communications to make sure we are all on the same page and being efficient on third down.”
Tackling requires contact, and tired beat up football teams in mid-November don’t have the game week time to scrimmage like they do in the August preseason and spring practices.
“We have a tackle circuit that we do,” Bielema said. “Last week, just because we were trying to minimize our time on the field, we cut it down to one day. Obviously, in retrospect, we should have done it two days.”
They not only will tackle more but talk more about tackling.
“I wanted each one of the coaches to individually talk to their group (D-linemen, linebackers and secondary) with the door shut,” Bielema said. “What can we do to help you become better tacklers? What do you feel you need? Sometimes you get in a big room and a dominant voice will come out, and nobody else will say anything. So it was really cool. We had three different coaches all come back with different thoughts, which we’ll implement.”
Look for the Razorbacks to modify their rush Saturday on LSU quarterback Brandon Harris from their approach rushing Kelly last week.
“One of the things that was really apparent, we got so much outside pressure on Kelly that he flashed up the middle real quick on a couple of those missed tackles,” Bielema said. “Guys just weren’t ready for it. So we’ve got to simulate that.”
No way to simulate stopping Fournette unless you are Alabama, it seems.
Alabama held Fournette to 31 yards on 19 carries.
LSU’s other seven opponents have been Fournette flogged from 150 to 244 yards rushing.
Arkansas defensive coordinator Robb Smith was asked about game-planning vs. Fournette.
“The No.1 thing we got to do is make sure we have enough people down in the box to stop their run game,” Smith said. “I think he’s a tremendous running back. He’s got excellent vision. He’s got excellent power. He accounts for 40 percent of their total offense in terms of yardage. So we got to have people in the box to make plays and when we get there we got to do a much better job of tackling.”
Smith also was asked his strategy about measuring the Hogs need to improve tackling without literally injuring their chances before Saturday..
“At any point there’s only so many reps you can take,” Smith said. “So we got to be smart about how we appropriate those. We just have got to work smart this week to find time where we do tackle and get the job done because that’s obviously a place where we got to improve.”
Junior receiver Cody Hollister, who practiced last week but did not play against Ole Miss, practiced Tuesday with Bielema anticipating him part of the LSU game plan. Hollister has not played since breaking his foot in the first practice following the Razorbacks’ Sept. 12 loss to Toledo.