Robb Smith and the Arkansas Defensive Turnaround


Credit defensive coordinator Robb Smith for how fast the Arkansas defense has progressed and how good they’ve been against top-ranked opponents.

Many thought the Hogs’ defense would hinder the program’s chances of improving this season, but such has not been the case. 2014 has been a season full of offensive and special teams struggles for the Razorbacks while Robb Smith has the defense firing on all cylinders.

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In less than a season, Smith has taken one of the worst defensive units of 2013 and turned them into a force capable of knocking some of the most high-powered offenses completely off their game-plans. The 2014 Razorbacks’ defense has been the bright spot in Fayetteville this season and arguably the SEC’s best. Ole Miss, Alabama and LSU feature standout defenses; however, all three units receive support from the offensive side of the ball that Robb Smith’s Hogs do not.

Mississippi State came into last week averaging 39 points a game and was held to just 17 by the Arkansas defense. Heisman front-runner, Dak Prescott, looked baffled for most of the game and threw a pair of interceptions. Aside from Fred Ross’ 69-yard touchdown reception in the 2nd half, the Hogs’ defense gave up no big plays and put the No. 1 ranked Bulldogs in an unfamiliar position of having to play from behind. There’s no question that had the Arkansas offense played better, the Razorbacks are still celebrating a colossal upset.

The Arkansas secondary might be the most improved set of players on the team. Following a dismal 2013, the Hogs’ defensive backs sit 2nd in the SEC for passes defended and have done a phenomenal job limiting opposing, big time receivers. The Alabama game immediately comes to mind, where the Razorbacks held standout receiver Amari Cooper to just two catches for 22 yards. Another game of note was at Texas Tech, where the expectation was an offensive shootout. The Red Raiders’ “air raid” offense only managed one touchdown pass in the 2nd half as the Arkansas secondary hunkered down and left few open targets for Davis Webb.

It should come as no suprise that Robb Smith doubles as secondary coach for the Razorbacks.

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Success follows Robb Smith to wherever he’s coaching. In 2012, it was Smith’s stingy defense at Rutgers who allowed a little over two touchdowns a game and finished 4th in all of college football. When Greg Schiano left Rutgers for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Smith soon followed. Serving as Linebackers coach, Smith mentored Bucs’ middle linebacker Lavonte David to an All-Pro season in 2013. Smith left Tampa following Schiano’s firing, but wouldn’t be out of work long as Arkansas made him their new defensive coordinator last February.

One of Smith’s first tasks in Fayetteville was to improve the play of his linebackers. Thanks to improved technique and Robb Smith’s scheme, Arkansas’ Martrell Spaight leads the SEC with 87 tackles. Throughout all of 2013, the senior linebacker accumulated a meager 22 tackles.

Arkansas’ defense was led by Chris Ash in 2013. After an 0-8 SEC record, Ash jolted for the defensive coordinator position at Ohio State last January. Ash left behind a defense that was 89th in the NCAA for points allowed, with an average of 31 points a game. Robb Smith continues to do an uncanny job cleaning up the mess and believe it or not, makes more money at Arkansas than Ash is with Ohio State.

The Arkansas defense has answered the bell many times this season and will continue to be relied upon as the Hogs hit the final three games of the season. Robb Smith is the architect for the maturation of the Arkansas defense and deserves all the credit in the world when the Razorbacks finally snap the SEC losing streak.