NWADG College Football


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6 NWA Democrat-Gazette College Football Preview Sunday, August 27, 2017 F AYETTEVILLE — By Bret Bielema's reckoning, the writing was on the wall early in the 2016 season. The Arkansas Razorbacks were going to switch their base defense to a 3-4 front, Bielema had concluded. Veteran coach Paul Rhoads was going to have a strong hand in designing the new look, almost as soon as the calendar turned to 2017. The impetus to make the switch was overwhelming. The Razorbacks, in their third season under coordinator Robb Smith, struggled to contain running quarterbacks Kenny Hill, Trevor Knight, Jalen Hurts and even Alcorn State's Noah Johnson in the first half of the season. The Hogs had trouble coping with strong edge-rushing teams virtually all year. Smith was out, and Rhoads was in by the third week of January. Rhoads spoke in plain terms about a defense punched in the gut repeatedly last season until it ranked No. 94 against the run (205.5 yards per game) and No. 85 in scoring (31.1 points per game). "It gives a level of intensity that you don't need to address as a coach," Rhoads said. "Our kids, I don't know if embarrassed is the wrong word or the right word. But nonetheless, we gave up too many yards last year, and we gave up too many points. "We gave up too many rush- ing yards to quarterback-running teams. We gave up too many big plays. There were a lot of things that they know they did wrong that created us not playing great defense, and they've had the mindset to improve upon that. I've seen that mindset on a daily basis. They are not pleased when they don't perform well individ- ually and collectively right now." No other off-season develop- ment, with the possible exception of the team's massive overhaul in the receiving corps, will impact the course of the 2017 season for the Uni- versity of Arkansas, Fayetteville, like the move from an even, 4-man front, to the base 3-4. Bielema, asked often about the change during the offseason, distilled his argu- ment for making the move to two essentials: necessity and versatility. The necessity came in the form of recruiting. "The [small] number of top defensive line- men in the country make it probably the hardest position to recruit," Bielema said. "Here at Arkansas the 3-4 allows us to get more of those under-recruited, under-sized speed guys on the field, guys who play well in space." A three-man front helps with depth-chart numbers as well. "You don't have to have eight to have a two-deep; you have to have six to have a two-deep," Rhoads said, referencing the defensive line. "I think we can get to a quality depth position." The versatility comes from the options available for blitzing by a fourth, fifth or even sixth defender, who will be standing up at the snap almost all the time. "We have a lot more options trying to bring pressure from strong, weak, boundary, field formation," Bielema said. "One of the things that was pretty consistent in our play was we didn't vary a lot from where we set the formation. I think that came back to bite us, and we'll do a lot of variation moving forward." That means the Razorbacks' defense will present more movement and adjustments before the snap, hoping to confuse blocking schemes or slow the recognition and reaction by offenses. New Rhoads Ahead For Hogs Rhoads Razorbacks excited to try 3-4 front under new defensive coordinator STORY BY TOM MURPHY NWA Democrat-Gazette/ANDY SHUPE Arkansas defensive coordinator Paul Rhoads (pictured at right) speaks to his players April 1 during a drill at the university practice field in Fayetteville. See RHOADS, Page 10 "There were a lot of things that they know they did wrong that created us not playing great defense, and they've had the mindset to improve upon that." — Arkansas defensive coordinator Paul Rhoads

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