FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. — The Robb Smith era has officially ended at Arkansas, much to the delight of a sizable — and quite vocal — portion of Razorback Nation.
Smith will move on to join P.J. Fleck’s new staff at Minnesota and the Arkansas defense will move in a different direction, likely going with a 3-4 base scheme beginning in 2017 under Smith’s yet-to-be-named replacement.
Smith’s tenure at Arkansas almost certainly will be remembered for how it ended in 2016, with the Hogs’ 56-3 loss at Auburn being the worst of many, many bad games.
The Razorbacks ranked 75th in the country in total defense and allowed 39 rushing touchdowns — the most in the country.
But there was certainly a time when Arkansas fans viewed Smith differently.
Smith’s 2012 Rutgers defense ranked 4th in the country in scoring defense and 6th in rushing defense. That Scarlet Knights team also claimed the program’s first conference championship since 1961.
In 2014 — Smith’s first season with the Hogs — Arkansas ranked 10th in both scoring defense and total defense. It was the first time since Arkansas joined the SEC that it finished in the top-10 in either category.
But Arkansas had four defensive players off that team drafted the next spring, and the truth is, the Razorbacks’ defensive players just weren’t as good in the following two seasons.
Now, some of that certainly falls on Smith, in terms of recruiting, scheming and game-planning. He was probably too married to his convictions and preferences. Considering the success his 2012 and 2014 defenses had with his preferred defensive scheme, it’s hard to blame him for feeling that way.
The Hogs’ defense operated for most of the 2016 season with one reliably solid linebacker, saw its defensive line drastically underperform preseason expectations and had major consistency problems at the safety positions.
The 2016 Razorbacks defense was bad, plain and simple, and the ultimate blame for that must — and did — fall on Smith. Arkansas coach Bret Bielema has labeled Smith’s departure a “resignation” and a decision Smith himself reached, but it’s pretty obvious that Bielema decided to move in a different direction.
The new defensive coordinator will inherit many of the same players, although a schematic switch to the 3-4 probably suits these Razorbacks better.
How much better? That remains to be seen.