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Arkansas’ Defense is Improved, So Long as the Offense Quits Putting Them in Awful Situations

The offense has royally screwed them over.

NCAA Football: Arkansas at Colorado State Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

Before we take a dive into the numbers, I just want to put out a reminder that there’s a difference between “improving” and “good”. There’s still a ways to go for the defense, but compared to last year, the numbers are better and they’re being put in some horrendous situations by the offense. Pretty soon we’ll dive into how the bad positions the offense has put the defense in has affected them.

When you compare the defensive S&P+ numbers to last year, the Hogs have improved in just about every metric. Here are a few of their rankings.

Defensive S&P+: Currently - 66th, In 2017 - 112th

Defensive Success Rate: Currently - 79th, In 2017 - 116th

Points Per Scoring Opp.: Currently - 45th, In 2017 - 119th

The caveat here is that this team doesn’t have any SEC numbers in it yet, which is true. However Arkansas played two of the more dynamic passing offenses in the Group of 5 and also had much better defensive percentile ratings against Colorado State and North Texas (72%, and 79%, respectively) than compared to last year’s G5 teams who were worse than these two (55% and 33%). I feel it’s a pretty safe assumption that the numbers will fall some, but not nearly to the level of last year.

The one big thing that’s different from last year to this year is the field position. Last season Arkansas ranked 86th in average defensive field position, which isn’t good but a whole lot better than this year’s 122nd. The past couple games had way too many instances of the Arkansas defense being put behind the 8-ball due to turnovers. Here are the list of drives against Colorado State and North Texas following a turnover or missed field goal, leaving out the pick six since the defense wasn’t on the field.

Vs. Colorado State

  • 4 plays, 6 yards (field goal)
  • 5 plays, 18 yards (field goal)
  • 7 plays, 70 yards (touchdown + 2 point conversion)

Vs. North Texas

  • 7 plays, 44 yards (touchdown)
  • 4 plays, 1 yard (field goal)
  • 2 plays, 34 yards (touchdown)
  • 8 plays, 80 yards (touchdown)
  • 3 plays, 3 yards (punt)
  • 3 plays, 4 yards (punt)

First of all, that is an insane amount of post turnover drives for a defense to deal with in two games, the majority of them deal with a short field. Also, here are a few success, notably after the two interceptions against Colorado State, but overall the defense can’t keep their opponents off the board. That’s 38 points on nine possessions, or 4.22 points per possession.

But what happens when the defense is put in better circumstances? Here are all the drives following a punt or kickoff, not including the punt returned for a TD.

Vs. Colorado State

  • 6 plays, 13 yards (punt)
  • 3 plays, 15 yards (interception)
  • 3 plays, 0 yards (punt)
  • 3 plays, -5 yards (punt)
  • 10 plays, 47 yards (field goal)
  • 4 plays, 26 yards (punt)
  • 3 plays, 39 yards (fumble)
  • 3 plays, 0 yards (punt)
  • 9 plays, 96 yards (touchdown)
  • 11 plays, 60 yards (field goal)
  • 6 plays, 59 yards (touchdown)

Vs. North Texas

  • 3 plays, 7 yards (punt)
  • 3 plays, 6 yards (punt)
  • 4 plays, 13 yards (punt)
  • 4 plays, 29 yards (punt)
  • 7 plays, 40 yards (field goal)
  • 14 plays, 72 yards (field goal)
  • 3 plays, 4 yards (punt)
  • 3 plays, 7 yards (punt)
  • 2 plays, 42 yards (punt)
  • 3 plays, 2 yards (punt)

Look at how much better that is! Only 1.24 points per possession and most of that coming in the fourth quarter of the Colorado State game when momentum had shifted and the defense was gassed. It’s even more striking against North Texas, who only had two drives lasting more than four plays following a punt or kickoff and got just six points out of it.

This isn’t any groundbreaking information that turning the ball over is bad, everyone knows that turnovers are killers, but these numbers really show how dramatically the game shifts as a result of that. It was especially dramatic against North Texas when seeing the Arkansas defense held Mason Fine and company to five 3 and outs, and eight total punts.

And for the defense? It’s been better. It’s not an elite defense but the step from the horrendous swiss cheese defense to where they are now is a necessary one. Put this defense with last year’s offense and you’ve probably got a bowl eligible team. Despite the horrible start in 2018, it hasn’t been on the defense so far. The offense that has ranged from anemic to downright charitable has been throwing them to the wolves so far.

The first three games have been awful and not what Arkansas fans expected at all, but at least there is something moving in the correct direction.