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.
ARKANSAS RED-WHITE GAME:
Bielema milks every available day to hone Hogs
Arkansas coach Bret Bielema watches his team during practice Thursday, March 20, 2014, at the UA practice field in Fayetteville.
FAYETTEVILLE - If it seemed like Arkansas’ spring practice sessions stretched out longer than most schools, that’d be right on.
Coach Bret Bielema purposely scheduled spring drills to stretch over 43 of the 44-day maximum allowed by the NCAA so his rebuilding team could maximize its time in meetings and on the practice fields.
“I’d say we’re light years ahead of where we were a year ago as a football team,” said Bielema, who is going through his second spring with the Razorbacks.
The Razorbacks, coming off a 3-9 season that included an 0-8 mark in SEC games, end spring practice today with the annual Red-White game at 1 p.m. at Reynolds Razorback Stadium.
“It feels like we’re the only team still going,” junior tailback Jonathan Williams said. “But, yeah, I’m definitely ready for it. … We’re going to have fun.”
Receiver Keon Hatcher said he’s expecting a big crowd for the game, which is preceded by the annual RazorFest and leads into the Razorbacks baseball team’s 4:05 p.m. doubleheader against Auburn. Lastyear’s spring game drew an announced crowd of 51,000.
“Be prepared for a great game,” Hatcher said.
Linebacker Braylon Mitchell said the defense is viewing today’s game as a way to showcase a new spirit.
“We want to go out there and show the fans we’re a more physical team than we were in the past,” Mitchell said. “We want to fly around, make some plays and get the fans involved.”
The game is being telecast live on Cox Sports Television. The broadcast will simulcast on Comcast 207.
“I just want to show the fans what to expect next fall because there’s a lot of questions about last season and everything, how everything went,” said sophomore tailback Alex Collins, who rushed for more than 1,000 yards as a freshman. “We were a new team and we’ve gotten a lot better.
“I can just see us being a great team moving forward from here, so I just want this Saturday to be an eye-opener for all the fans.”
Bielema said he planned to keep the starting units together on both sides of the ball and have them go up against reserves for the entire first half, with more substitutions and more work for the reserves in the second half.
“I want our [No. 1] defense to be on the sideline when our [No. 1] offense is out there and realize that when they drive the ball and score, they’ve got to go out there and shut them down, and vice versa,” Bielema said. “If our one offense stubs its toe and throws an interception in the red zone or puts our defense in a bad position, I want them to go out and feed off one another.”
Bielema said there would be kicking periods between the quarters, like in last year’s Red-White game, and that special guests were on tap to make appearances.
First-year defensive coordinator Robb Smith said he is looking for sound technique, fundamentals and effort.
“It’s great for us to have a game-day environment so we’ll see how our guys react in certain situations,” Smith said. “We just really want to make sure that we show up and, one, play fast and physical, two, make sure we keep developing chemistry, and that guys are out there having fun playing hard and playing with the energy we’ve brought the last couple of scrimmages.”
Quarterback Brandon Allen said he wants to see the offense free of mental mistakes.
“I just want it to be clean, no penalties,” he said. “No false starts. Nothing to hurt ourselves.”
Sports, Pages 21 on 04/26/2014