Fayetteville, Ark. – The Arkansas Razorbacks completed their first true two-a-day effort on Saturday beginning with a 161-play scrimmage in the morning session.
Since fall practices began the talk and focus has been about the dominance of the offense over the defense. Slowly but surely the defense has steadily gained ground showing major signs of improvement in practice on Thursday leading up to a turn of the tables performance in Saturday’s scrimmage.
Arkansas head coach John L. Smith said, “Overall I was quite pleased from a defensive standpoint. We’re going to need a defense as well as an offense… we’re going to be good offensively.”
The Razorbacks have worked through the last week of practice without two starters, safety Eric Bennett and linebacker Alonzo Highsmith, both trying to recover from hamstring injuries. Starting middle linebacker Tank Wright has returned to practice but was held out of the scrimmage as he recovers from a head on collision suffered on Monday.
The absence of three starters did not slow the defense as they applied pressure on the offense throughout the scrimmage totaling 12 sacks. The defense also totaled 27 tackles for a loss, 11 pass breakups, and 2 interceptions; one that would have been returned for a pick-six by true freshman linebacker Otha Peters.
Tyler Wilson was impressive on Saturday completing 21 of 39 passes for 288 yards with 4 touchdowns. Wilson found second string quarterback turned slot receiver Brandon Mitchell for two scores and hit seniors Cobi Hamilton (29 yards) and Chris Gragg (12 yards) for his other two touchdowns.
Hamilton finished the morning session with a scrimmage-high 83 receiving yards.
The Arkansas quarterbacks worked past an excessive amount of drops by the wide receivers while having difficulty avoiding the Razorback pass rush. Smith said “overall we might not have had the focus we have had in the past offensively.”
Arkansas second and third team defense shined leading Smith to state, “They’re good football players. A lot better depth than we’ve ever had on that side of the ball.”
John L. Smith held Knile Davis out of the scrimmage and would not share the coaching staff’s plan on how and when they would fully integrate the preseason first-team All-SEC running back into the offense.
Dennis Johnson ran strong behind Arkansas’ first-team offense working for 76 total rushing yards on 15 carries finding the end zone once.
Smith got additional touchdown runs from Jonathan Williams (1 and 7 yards) and Nate Holmes (23 yards) leading the head coach to say, “Offense at times ran the ball well.”
Kiero Small continued to improve his stock on defense working with the second string unit at linebacker after performing with the first-string offense as the team’s starting fullback.
Small had six tackles, two for loss of six yards, in the scrimmage and caught one pass for 12 yards.
On offense, Mitchell’s play at wide receiver prompted Smith to say, “Mitchell is a legit receiver now.” Backing the words of his head coach was Mitchell’s team-high 9 catches for 73 yards.
Backup quarterback Brandon Allen was 27 of 48 with 1 pick (Kelleybrew) for 276 yards passing. Allen threw his only touchdown pass to sophomore wide receiver Keante Minor for a 50-yard score.
Equally as important as the performances displayed on Saturday was the fact that no additional injuries occurred on other side of the ball.
Overall Smith concluded that the “Defense (is) still allowing big plays and the rush offense needs to be improved.”
Inside the Numbers
In Smith’s post scrimmage press conference he eluded to a wide receiver trick play Razorback Nation knew was coming involving Brandon Mitchell. Coach asked reporters if they liked how Mitchell threw the ball on that… “He didn’t throw it did he?”
Expect a wide receiver reverse followed by a throw at some point during the 2012 college football season from Mitchell.
Razorback Mackey Watch
Chris Gragg had 5 catches for 54 yards with a TD. Gragg’s backup, Austin Tate, had 5 catches for 40 yards.
Carrying the Pigskin
Johnson rushed for 76 total yards followed by Nate Holmes 42 on 5 carries, and Jonathan Williams added 37 on 13 carries with 2 TDs. Ronnie Wingo Jr. rushed for 16 yards on 10 touches.
Tyler Wilson finished with three rushing attempts for minus six yards.
Throw it in the stands!
Brandon Allen was caught for minus 55 yards on 13 attempts.
Keon Hatcher led the newcomers with 4 catches totaling 41 receiving yards. Juco transfer Demetrius Wilson had 2 catches for 26 yards while D’Arthur Cowan added 2 catches for 22 yards. Six-foot six-inch freshman receiver Mekale McKay hauled in one pass for 10 yards.
Austin Jones had a scrimmage high 9 tackles followed by Trey Flowers and Kelvin Fisher’s 8 tackles each.
Freshmen linebackers Otha Peters and A.J. Turner made their presence felt on Saturday. Peters had four tackles and an interception while Turner had six tackles.
Freshman Brandon Lewis tied Keiro Small and Austin Jones for a team-high two sacks. Lewis’ sack total was for a combined 10 yards lost.