Secondary to none
Burns does wonders with Arkansas defensive backs
Posted: Sunday December 27, 1998 04:32 PM
ORLANDO, Florida (AP) -- When Keith Burns arrived at Arkansas, he got the defensive backs together and drew a dot on the floor.
Once he had their attention, he told them: "That's where everybody perceives you to be right now. You can be there or you can work your way up the wall."
At the end of the season, the dot would have been near the ceiling.
Arkansas intercepted 17 passes and the secondary was good enough that Burns was comfortable calling the variety of blitzes that he loves.
"When I got here, they were probably the most maligned group as groups go," he said. "They had given up a lot of big plays."
During a 4-7 1997, the Razorbacks' gave up an average of 220 yards per game passing and surrendered 21 touchdown passes -- nine of them of 20-plus yards against Southeastern Conference opponents.
"If they had a chance to make a big play, a chance to win, for whatever reason, they just didn't do it," Burns said.
He said he found a talent pool, a work ethic among the seniors and a willingness to do what the coaches asked.
"One of the best ways to evaluate them is to look at where they were," he said. "They believe they can win. They believe they can make plays. They have had success which confirms that."
Arkansas is 9-2 and preparing for Friday's Citrus Bowl against Michigan (8-3).
The Razorbacks are 24th in the country in pass efficiency defense, up 44 spots from 1997.
"You can put them in position, but they have to make the plays," Burns said. "When the ball was up in the air, we went after it."
In the Citrus Bowl, the secondary will be tested by quarterback Tom Brady, who has completed 62 percent of his passes with 14 touchdowns and 2,427 yards. He has seven receivers with a dozen or more catches.
"The first thing people think about when they think about the Big Ten is physical, smash-mouth football, but like anybody else, the offenses have evolved," Burns said. "It's just the perception that they run first and throw second. They won't hesitate to go to four wide receivers."
In fact, the Wolverines are averaging 225 yards per game passing and 151 yards per game on the ground.
Burns, who was at Southern California for five years before joining Houston Nutt's staff, was aware of Brady when Brady was at San Mateo, California.
"He doesn't make many mistakes," he said. "He takes care of the football. He has a real awareness of what they ask out of him. He knows they will win a lot of football games if he protects the football and makes good decisions."
Burns believes that offenses are so proficient these days that a defense must cause lost-yardage plays to compete. That's the premise behind his attacking style.
He is aware, however, that the Wolverines have had extra time to prepare for his approach.
"They may have had time to step back and look at our tendencies, but I'm not sure I have tendencies," he said. "I have always tried to stay multiple, not just unexpected, to keep people on their toes."
For instance, he didn't blitz cornerback David Barrett until Arkansas faced Mississippi in the eighth game of the season. The Razorbacks were leading 7-0 in the second quarter when Barrett rushed twice in a row and nailed Rebel quarterback Romaro Miller in the back both times. Miller was ineffective after that and Arkansas won 34-0.
Copyright © 1999 CNN/SI. A Time Warner Company.
Terms under which this service is provided to you.