FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. — Arkansas’ defense “only” forced two turnovers on Saturday and that led to disappointment with John Chavis and others.
That may be the only disappointment this preseason as far as the defense forcing turnovers. They have done a good job and senior defensive tackle T.J. Smith says it’s not by accident.
“Coming into the spring that was a real emphasis, especially with Chief (John Chavis) and coach Coop (Ron Cooper),” Smith said. “They wanted to see us get a lot more turnovers and impact the game the best way we can. Our whole goal is to get the ball back to the offense.”
Arkansas was tied for No. 119 in the nation in turnover margin in 2018. They forced 16 turnovers, 11 fumble recoveries and five interceptions, the offense surrendered 26 turnovers thus a minus-10 turnover margin.
Smith had praise for the offensive line in addition to talking about the defensive group being disruptive on Saturday.
“Coach (Kenny) Ingram and coach (Steve) Caldwell, both of those guys do a good job of coaching us up with great technique, and we’ve got some pretty good athletes on the defensive line,” Smith said. “We push each other. There’s four seniors up there and we lean on each other, we push each other and we try to do as much as we can.
“The offensive line, they do a good job pushing us – (Austin) Capps, (Dalton) Wagner and Colton (Jackson) and Ty Clary. So many of those guys have come a long way. I saw Myron (Cunningham) get in there a little bit today and he did some disruptive things. Shane (Clenin) always does a great job. It’s a battle every day. Both sides bring it. It’s real competitive.”
One thing Arkansas places a strong emphasis on in addition to forcing turnovers is stopping the run. Smith talked about that as well.
“That comes first,” Smith said. “Coach always tells us you’ve got to play with a cheat sheet and part of that is stopping the run first and make teams throw the ball. That’s our No. 1 emphasis and we’ve got the guys to do it. On the inside it’s me, Sosa (Agim), Jonathan Marshall and Isaiah (Nichols), so we do a great job of stopping the run, and that’s a huge emphasis. And Scoota does a great job, and Bumper (Pool) does, too, coming in all filling things. The ends do what they’re supposed to do.”
Smith added some humor when asked where they are from a team-building standpoint?
“That’s a head coach question right there,” Smith said laughing. “I can say we are a long ways from where we were last year. Just the energy, the buy in, and I know y’all probably heard a good bit of that on media day, but it’s huge. Just changing the culture. We’re miles – miles – beyond where we were last year.”
While the 2018 season was a disappointment and certainly ended that way with blowout losses to Mississippi State and Missouri to close out the year. Smith said the players took immediate action to avoid such a year repeating itself.
“There was a meeting the Monday after that Missouri game,” Smith said. “Seeing what happened last season going 2-10, we accepted full responsibility of it as a team and as leaders. Guys in the senior class, we knew that this year no matter what happens this year, it lies on us. We put it in our hands. We’re accountable for what happens. Guys are very urgent to get this program to where we want it to be as seniors.”
Smith has also taken other measures to make sure 2019 is a good season for him.
“I just got out of practice and weighed 277,” Smith said. “Last year toward the end of the season I was like 310. Weight is down. That was a focus, just getting my body where I wanted it to be and where it needed to be to play fast.
“Biggest thing when you put on that weight, it doesn’t really slow down your speed. It’s more stamina than anything and being able to last. I’m moving a lot better and a lot more agile and I’m able to last a lot longer.”
Chad Morris offered up some praise for Smith following Saturday’s scrimmage.
“Again, disruptive up front with Sosa and T.J. Smith,” Morris said.
Arkansas will return to the practice fields on Monday at 10:05 a.m. They will open the season on Saturday, Aug. 31, against Portland State in Reynolds Razorback Stadium with kickoff set for 3 p.m. The game will be televised on the SEC Network.