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 SPRING GAME:
Jolts before bolts
Defense wakes up offense
Arkansas defender Rohan Gaines returns an interception for a touchdown during the Red-White game Saturday afternoon at Razorback Stadium in Fayetteville.
FAYETTEVILLE - The first-team defense scored touchdowns on back-to-back plays to cap a three-touchdown sequence in 16 seconds to highlight Arkansas’ annual Red-White spring game Saturday.
The Red team, composed of starters on both sides of the ball, beat the White reserves 61-22 on a sunny, breezy afternoon before an estimated crowd of 30,000 at Reynolds Razorback Stadium.
Arkansas was expected to showcase a much-improved passing game in the regionally televised game, but quarterback Brandon Allen and the starting offense came out with a thud, making the final score somewhat deceiving.
The Red team needed three series to notch a first down - and ultimately a touchdown - against the reserves, and Allen was intercepted by De’Andre Coley on the game’s second snap. The starters were three-and out or worse on four of their first five possessions. Allen completed 5 of 11 passes for 21 yards in the first half as the Red team led 34-22 at the break.
“I was very frustrated with the first half,” said Allen, who also threw an interception to safety Davyon McKinney on a pass tipped by receiver Keon Hatcher late in the first half. “We came back in the second half and I thought we did a lot better.”
Tailback Korliss Marshall provided a spark when he sprinted up the middle for a 59-yard touchdown - part of his 99-yard, two-score effort - to put the Red team in front 20-15 with 2:52 left in the half.
“I got to get in there and show some of my skills and let everybody see the real speed,” said Marshall, who had six carries for 99 yards and also scored on an 8-yard run in the third quarter.
End Deatrich Wise Jr. led the Red defense with five of its nine sacks, and he forced a fumble that led to a touchdown return by Darius Philon.
“I thought our defense, the one thing that’s shown up throughout the course of spring and out there today, they’re definitely a little bit more physical,” Coach Bret Bielema said. “They run to the ball very, very well. There’s some guys that lay some pads out there and it was exciting to watch them.”
The big plays began rolling immediately after Marshall’s 59-yard touchdown, aided by a block from guard Luke Charpentier.
Safety Rohan Gaines intercepted an Austin Allen pass and returned it 31 yards for a Red touchdown on the next snap. Wise slapped the ball away from Austin Allen on the next play and Philon rumbled 19 yards to the end zone with the fumble, and the rout was on.
“I’m always impressed with the D-line,” safety Alan Turner said. “They come in and work hard, and they can make things happen like that. It was just good to see it happen.
“Momentum is big, and that could have been great for us if it had been a real game situation.”
Brandon Allen, working exclusively with the Red team, went 12 of 21 passing for 108 yards with a 5-yard touchdown throw to fullback Patrick Arinze and 2 interceptions.
“I thought the part that was frustrating for me, just the first half, we kind of looked like we were sleepwalking a little bit,” Bielema said. “Some guys weren’t ready to roll.”
Allen agreed: “We didn’t have our minds ready to get out there and start working. I think we had a diluted playcall sheet.”
Offensive coordinator Jim Chaney gave Allen more roll-out and play-action calls after what Bielema called a “vanilla” first half, and Allen responded with a nine-play, 84-yard scoring drive capped by his 5-yard touchdown pass to Arinze in the right flat.Tailback Jonathan Williams had a 33-yard run in the sequence, and Cody Hollister, who later caught a 33-yard touchdown pass during Austin Allen’s lone series with the first-teamers, brought in a 17-yard pass.
“We started out a little slow,” said Williams, who had 78 rushing yards on eight carries and scored on a 4-yard run in the first half. “That’s kind of because we’ve been going against the same guys throughout the whole spring, and sometimes it’s kind of hard to get excited and get up for it. We came back in the second half with a lot more energy.”
Austin Allen and Rafe Peavey struggled with the second offensive unit in the face of a blistering pass rush led by Wise, Brandon Lewis, Darius Philon and DeMarcus Hodge. Both quarterbacks were sacked three times in the first half.
“The one thing with the one defense going against our two offense, I knew there was going to be some issues,” Bielema said. “You obviously would do some things to help them, protection-wise, in the scheme if you’re going into a game.”
Austin Allen led a 70-yard touchdown drive with the starters in the second half, completing 3 of 3 passes for 45 yards, including his strike to Hollister down the left sideline.
None of the receivers had flashy performances. Keon Hatcher had five catches for 52 yards, but he also had a glaring drop and tripped after a 1-yard gain on another play. Hollister’s 61 receiving yards was the day’s best output.
Drew Morgan led the White team with four catches for 39 yards, while converted quarterback Damon Mitchell added three receptions for 27 yards.
The White team led briefly as kicker Lane Sailing made a 32-yard field goal following Coley’s interception return to the Red 34.
The White’s best drive came after McKinney’s interception and 13-yard return to the White 45. Austin Allen led a one-minute touchdown drive, ending the half on his 45-yard pass to Eric Hawkins, who eluded Gaines down the left sideline.
Sports, Pages 25 on 04/27/2014