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 FOOTBALL ANALYSIS:
Defense shows life, but passing game lags
Arkansas quarterback Austin Allen passes the ball while being rushed by defensive end Brandon Lewis (99) during Saturday's Red-White Game at Razorback Stadium in Fayetteville.
FAYETTEVILLE - The Arkansas Razorbacks decided to go with a watered-down play sheet for Saturday’s Red-White game, as many teams do in their spring finale, not wanting to reveal a lot of wrinkles in a televised game sure to be surveyed by any interested 2014 opponent.
The problem arose then, that the approximately 30,000 fans at Reynolds Razorback Stadium had to witness sometimes bland and not very energetic work in the early going by the starting offense.
Not until late in the second quarter, when Korliss Marshall galloped 59 yards through the left side for a Red team touchdown, did some electricity ripple through the stadium.
Quarterback Brandon Allen had completed 4 of 9 passes for 11 yards before he converted on his first 10-yard pass of the day - to Keon Hatcher - on the Red team’s 21st snap. His next pass was tipped and deflected to Davyon McKinney for an easy interception.
The offense’s stats improved in the second half when Allen was allowed to utilize play-action, sprintouts and bootlegs. Still, the 61 points put up by the starters were deceiving, with two defensive touchdowns and an exhibition touchdown run for Canaan Sandy inflating the number.
The vanilla offensive plan probably won’t be remembered, but here are a few things we learned during Arkansas’ 15 spring practices.
The defensive backs are more physical.
Arkansas’ cornerbacks redirected routes on some plays and disrupted the timing on others, a nice combination to pair with what is expected to be a quality pass rush, led by senior Trey Flowers and sophomore Deatrich Wise Jr.
The corners have a lot of improvement to make from last year, but they are intent on being more aggressive under coordinator Robb Smith and defensive backs coach Clay Jennings. The Hogs should be able to utilize a minimum of five cornerbacks on game day, with Tevin Mitchel, Carroll Washington, Will Hines, Jared Collins and D.J. Dean all having starting experience.
The passing game has a long way to go.
Arkansas put a greater focus on having its passing game take some of the weight off a ground game that ranked third in the SEC with 208.7 yards per game. At times in the Razorbacks’ open practices this spring, the passing game had some rhythm to it, and Brandon Allen maintained a solid completion percentage in the scrimmages. Those improvements didn’t show up consistently in the spring game.
The linebackers are better.
Projected starters Braylon Mitchell, Martrell Spaight and Brooks Ellis, as well as Otha Peters, made plays throughout the spring. They’re playing faster and they made contact with runners at or behind the line of scrimmage much more than they did last spring.
Tailback position in prime shape.
Korliss Marshall’s emergence as a back who can run the whole offensive playbook should give Arkansas as strong of a threesome as anyone in the SEC. The credentials for Alex Collins (1,026 rushing yards last season) and Jonathan Williams (900) are already established. Marshall’s blistering speed gives the Hogs a thunder- and-lightening quality to their attack.
In fact, Coach Bret Bielema said Saturday he would entertain the idea of twin halfback sets in the fall, as no one had clearly emerged as a fullback - with Kody Walker still being thought of as a combo back. Bielema even joked about having Wishbone tendencies when a reporter wondered how Marshall might take more reps.
Go-to receivers wanted.
There’s little doubt Hunter Henry and fellow tight ends Jeremy Sprinkle, Alex Voelzke and AJ Derby will get their touches in the fall, but deep-threat wideouts must emerge. The best candidates - Demetrius Wilson, Keon Hatcher, D’Arthur Cowan, Eric Hawkins and freshman Jared Cornelius - must be able to get better separation. The Hogs hope freshmen Kendrick Edwards and JoJo Robinson come in ready to roll.
Sports, Pages 17 on 04/29/2014