Nate Allen is a columnist for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. A graduate of the University of Missouri, Allen is a member of the Football Writers Association of America and voter for the Heisman Trophy. He has authored three books about the Razorbacks.
New defense impressing UA veterans
Arkansas defender Deatrich Wise Jr. puts the pressure on quarterback Austin Allen during the Red-White game Saturday afternoon at Razorback Stadium in Fayetteville.
FAYETTEVILLE - Arkansas fifth-year seniors Braylon Mitchell and Alan Turner like the sound of this Razorbacks defense better than any they have been associated with.
Mitchell, a linebacker from Heber Springs, and Turner, a safety from Junction City, redshirted together as freshmen in 2010.
They have evolved together from scout-teamers to special-teamers and finally last year to starters, becoming the team’s leading tacklers.
During the Bobby Petrino era they saw great Arkansas offenses carry mostly average to below average defenses to 10-3 and 11-2 marks in 2010 and 2011. With defensive stalwarts like end Jake Bequette and linebacker Jerry Franklin that Petrino inherited in 2008 leaving for the NFL after the 2011 season, everything often collapsed together during the 4-8 2012 season under John L. Smith and last year’s 3-9 mark under now second-year Coach Bret Bielema.
Mitchell and Turner play now for their fourth defensive coordinator in five years.
It’s only been the spring practices, but Mitchell and Turner assert the progress registered under new coordinator Robb Smith could be seen and especially heard with hits during Saturday’s Red-White game at Reynolds Razorback Stadium that concluded spring drills.
“It definitely is the most physical defense I have been a part of,” Mitchell said. “Coach Smith preaches physicality day in and day out. This is what he expects of us and we go out there and do it.”
It’s expected throughout, Turner said.
“I feel like the defense has become way more physical from the D-line to the linebackers to the DBs,” Turner said. ” I feel we have become more physical from point of attack and getting hands on the receivers as a whole and are playing faster.”
Netting three interceptions, one returned for a 31-yard touchdown by strong safety Rohan Gaines for the first-team Red, and a fumble caused by Red defensive end Deatrich Wise and returned for a 19-yard touchdown by Red defensive tackle Darius Philon, the defense practiced “the physicality and takeaways,” that Smith preaches, both said.
Mitchell remarked it was second-team safety D’Andre Coley’s interception of Red quarterback Brandon Allen’s pass that set the defensive trend also featuring a second-team defense vs. first-team offense takeaway by safety Davyon “Sleepy” McKinney.
“Today our second-team defense started it off and we were able to finish it off with the ones,” Mitchell said.
Especially with the turnovers for touchdowns registered on successive plays.
“That was pretty nice other than having to go right back out there again,” Mitchell said, laughing.
Of course at halftime the first defense wished it could be on the field instead of sitting.
The last play before intermission, second-team quarterback Austin Allen and second-team receiver Eric Hawkins beat a first team coverage bust and missed tackle with a 45-yard touchdown pass.
“Oh, yeah, it was a long halftime,” Mitchell said. “Coach Smith came in and his hair was on fire. But I think we definitely made the adjustments we needed to and got what we needed to get done.”
Sports, Pages 18 on 04/28/2014