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.
UA coach wants all eyes on Hogs
Arkansas coach Bret Bielema watches during practice Wednesday, Aug. 13, 2014 at Razorback Stadium in Fayetteville.
FAYETTEVILLE -- Arkansas will hit the halfway point in its preparations for the season opener today, and the occasion will be marked by a rare treat for fans with a scrimmage that is open to the public.
Gate 1 will open at 2 p.m., and team officials said the scrimmage portion of the workout will begin around 3 p.m. at Reynolds Razorback Stadium.
Coach Bret Bielema projected the scrimmage would consist of about 100 plays. He said the atmosphere of a crowd is important in helping prepare the Razorbacks for their 3 p.m. opener Aug. 30 at defending SEC champion Auburn.
"I really like the fact Saturday we're going to try to get as many people here, the fans ... I want to create that environment, mainly for our kickers," Bielema said. "We have so many freshman and guys that haven't played a lot, I'd like to see as many people there just to try to get as big a crowd feel as we can."
Offensive coordinator Jim Chaney said it will be fun to see how the many young players will adapt after spending almost the entire camp in a sealed-off environment.
"It's a different environment -- I don't know if everybody understands that -- when you go out there and people are watching you than when you're just practicing out there," Chaney said. "You've got a lot of angry people trying to hurt you on the other side of the field. So it will be fun to watch some of our young kids respond to that environment."
Chaney said because of the possibility of plays, formations and schemes getting into the public domain, the Razorbacks won't showcase all the nuances of their offense.
"I don't think you want to be a fool and go out there and demonstrate your entire game plan," Chaney said. "But there's so much that we can do that's generic to football that we've got to get better at."
Defensive coordinator Robb Smith said there is no question things would be kept simple on his side of the ball.
"We're just going to stick to our base structure, nothing exotic or anything like that," Smith said. "As we get closer to kickoff we will get more pinpointed on that stuff."
Even if the schemes are simple, the possibility to make big plays and showcase talent will still be available to the Razorbacks.
"I kind of want to just show them what we've been doing," tailback Alex Collins said, talking about the fans. "We've been working so hard behind closed doors trying to get ready for this season, and with the fans being able to come out we kind of want to show them how far we've come."
Receiver Drew Morgan said the Razorbacks are going to show a lot in the game.
"The people that do come out will see quite a bit, so just stay patient with us because we're going to show some big plays," Morgan said.
Arkansas' offense wants to play cleaner that it did in its previous scrimmage and eliminate turnovers.
"I think we had four turnovers in the last scrimmage," quarterback Brandon Allen said. "We really want to get that number down. Zero fumbles. No interceptions. Any time you can have ball security like that we're going to be tough to beat."
The Razorbacks had four balls pulled away in last Saturday's scrimmage, but only two of them wound up as legitimate turnovers.
Morgan, who is in a battle with junior Keon Hatcher for one of the starting receiver spots, caught touchdown passes of 25 and 16 yards during plus-territory work for the only scores in the last scrimmage. Because the Razorbacks do much more situational, down-and-distance work under Bielema than they did under the previous coaching staff, scoring plays are restricted in scrimmages.
However, the offense connected on several long-distance pass plays last Saturday, including Damon Mitchell's 48-yard grab from Austin Allen, catches of 43 and 41 yards by Morgan and Hatcher from Brandon Allen, and Hunter Henry's 26-yard, over-the-middle reception from Austin Allen.
Defensive backs coach Clay Jennings said he wanted to see his players communicate well, tackle sure-handedly and keep the ball in front of them.
"Make sure we're better tomorrow than we were last Saturday, and for us to eliminate some of those deep balls we gave up," Jennings said.
Arkansas' injury list includes a few key players who are questionable for the workout, including tailback Jonathan Williams, tight end AJ Derby, fullbacks Kody Walker and Tyler Colquitt and defensive ends Deatrich Wise and Brandon Lewis.
"We are down in a couple of areas and we're just looking for those backups, second- and third-team guys, to step up and see who's going to emerge," defensive line coach Rory Segrest said.
Sports on 08/16/2014