Tom Murphy is a reporter for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. A graduate of Louisiana Tech University, he is a member of the Football Writers Association of America, and voter for the Heisman Trophy and AP Top 25 football poll.
Bielema liberal defining ‘sacks’
Arkansas coach Bret Bielema watches his team warm up during practice Saturday morning at Razorback Stadium in Fayetteville.
FAYETTEVILLE - The previous Arkansas football regime didn’t like pass plays to be halted during spring scrimmages, so its sack totals - always a judgment call with hits to the quarterback off limits - were paltry as Tyler Wilson and Ryan Mallett before him racked up huge passing totals.
Bret Bielema’s staff has proven to be liberal with the definition of a scrimmage sack, so even a brush-by - with starter Brandon Allen or any of the backups still having a chance to elude the rush or escape the pocket - is being noted as a “sack.”
The Razorbacks’ sack total of 11 - an unofficial count compiled by reporters charting the practice - in last Saturday’s 101-play scrimmage sounds monstrous, but clearly not all of them would have been live-action sacks.
Arkansas’ total offense of 618 yards on 100 offensive snaps - a field-goal attempt also counted as a play - included the 66 yards lost on the sacks. So, while the offense’s average of 6.18 yards per play was good, the sack totals - led by two each from JaMichael Winston, Tevin Beanum and D.J. Dean - raised the hackles of the offensive coaching staff.
“It was a lot of hot and cold stuff,” offensive coordinator Jim Chaney said. “The protection of the quarterback, everybody associates that with the offensive line, and it couldn’t be further from the truth.
“We had issues where the quarterback gave up a few sacks on his own. The wide receiver ran the wrong route and gave us a sack that way. We didn’t protect the quarterback for a lot of reasons. We didn’t have a hot [blitz call] here, we didn’t have a protection call there. So I walk out of there thinking there’s a lot of good with that practice, but the protection of the quarterback has to get better.”
Offensive line coach Sam Pittman concurred.
“Obviously we didn’t protect the quarterback very well,” Pittman said. “We gave five sacks with the one offensive line. We gave up eight last year in the season, so we’ve got some work to do.
“I think we’ll get it handled. I think we’ve got the guys that can do it.”
The Razorbacks devoted the first 56 snaps of the scrimmage to situational down and-distance work, with the highlight coming on Brandon Allen’s 67-yard touchdown strike to Hunter Henry. The sophomore tight end caught a crossing route over the middle, broke a tackle from safety Davyon McKinney and raced the final 45 or so yards untouched.
“The speed for me has picked up a lot,” Henry said. “I feel fresh. I feel good, the best I have.”
The running backs combined to gain 136 yards on 30 carries, an average of 4.5 yards per carry. Denzell Evans led the way with eight carries for 53 yards, while Alex Collins added eight runs for 38 yards. Starter Jonathan Williams, whose five carries for 7 yards included a 6-yard loss when he scooped up a muffed snap, was held out of the full-field segment of the scrimmage.
Allen led the quarterbacks with 291 total yards on 39 offensive snaps, which were split between four situational series and four move-the-ball series. Allen completed 17 of 20 passes for 247 yards. His last pass was a mid-range out route that safety Alan Turner read and intercepted just before going out of bounds.
AJ Derby completed 8 of 13 passes for 145 yards, with a tipped interception by Daunte Carr on his first pass and one touchdown. Derby led the second offense on the day’s best sustained drive, an 85-yard effort on nine plays that ended on Derby’s 3-yard throw to tight end Alex Voelzke for a touchdown.
Evans ran three times for 28 yards on the sequence and the second unit overcame an offsides penalty on tight end Jeremy Sprinkle. The touchdown drive’s biggest contributor was sophomore receiver Drew Morgan, who made a diving catch for 23 yards to put the offense in plus territory and then added a 21-yard catch and run on a screen play sprung by tackle Austin Beck that reached the 3-yard line.
Morgan, who is normally a slot receiver, played more at the outside X position normally manned by Demetrius Wilson, who was not cleared for contact, in the scrimmage.
“It felt good,” said Wilson, who played last year but didn’t catch a pass. “I definitely feel like I’m in the roll this year. … I think we got off on the right start with quarterbacks and receivers, really caught the ball well. We really made a big improvement, not only from last year but the off season.”
Morgan led the receivers with five catches for 109 yards.
True freshman Jared Cornelius added four receptions for 60 yards, including a 23-yard catch from Derby on a third-and-6 play.
“I got comfortable and I’m getting my feet back,” Cornelius said. “I’m starting to really understand the offense and work within the whole scheme. I’m feeling good.”
Sports, Pages 23 on 04/10/2014