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. Murphy was the 2017 Arkansas Sportswriter of the Year.
Hogs run 175 plays in pleasing scrimmage
Arkansas quarterback Ben Hicks talks to teammates during practice Saturday, March 30, 2019, in Fayetteville.
FAYETTEVILLE -- University of Arkansas Coach Chad Morris wanted heat, humidity and a high snap count for the Razorbacks' first major scrimmage of training camp.
Morris got just what he was looking for Saturday. With temperatures hovering in the mid to high 80s and humidity hanging in the air like a wool blanket, the Razorbacks pushed through a 175-play scrimmage during practice No. 8 of camp in front of parents and friends of the program.
"Matter of fact, the hotter it got, the longer we wanted it to go," Morris said. "I wanted to see what these guys could do at the end. We definitely, again, continued to show great improvement all the way across the board. I'm pleased with where we are."
The two-hour scrimmage, with mostly situational work, was closed to the media and general public, but Morris and offensive coordinator Joe Craddock provided details on some of the biggest plays.
Top quarterbacks Ben Hicks and Nick Starkel threw a pair of touchdowns each, while John Stephen Jones had the first scoring pass of the day. Running backs Devwah Whaley, Chase Hayden and Trelon Smith -- a transfer from Arizona State who is sitting out this season -- had touchdown runs.
Morris said he did not detect "separation" at quarterback Saturday.
On defense, cornerback Montaric Brown had an interception and end Zach Williams recovered a fumble.
Hicks' scoring passes were to tight end Chase Harrell and wideout Jordan Jones. Starkel found Mike Woods and Shamar Nash for his touchdown passes.
Jones led a reserve unit down the field for a touchdown on the second set of downs of the scrimmage to touch off a better day for the offense, which committed only two turnovers.
Jones found Tyson Morris over the middle for a big gainer to convert third and long, then completed the drive with a touchdown pass to Trey Knox.
"John Stephen really got us started today, but I was proud of all those guys," Craddock said of the quarterbacks. "They all made plays, and again, it's all about consistency and continuing to get your guys in the end zone.
"The best one at that right now is John Stephen. No matter if he goes with the twos or the threes, he gets them in the end zone."
Defensive coordinator John Chavis, whose unit had 17 takeaways through the first seven practices, said his side of the ball got off to a hot start but did not stay consistent Saturday.
"For our first scrimmage, I felt things started really well," Chavis said. "Our guys did a lot of good things. The thing where we've got to grow is we've got to be consistent. We've got to learn to finish.
"We went through a phase where we weren't very good. I think we finished a little better than we did in that phase, but we've got to be consistent."
Woods, a sophomore, said the pace of the scrimmage was outstanding.
"The defense was flying around and the offense, we made some mistakes early, but I feel like we responded well," he said. "I feel like we ended on a strong note.
"I thought we played real fast today. We were getting set up real quick. We've got a couple of two-play packages in, so we're getting up to the line, getting set and playing fast."
Defensive veterans in tackle McTelvin Agim and linebacker De'Jon Harris played limited reps, Morris said.
"When they were in there, they were both very disruptive and active," Morris said.
Defensive end Gabe Richardson had one of the day's top tackles for a loss, as he charged into the backfield from his right end spot and hammered Whaley for lost yardage.
Linebacker Hayden Henry said the defense was "fine" after Harris finished up his day.
"He needed to rest, and we don't need him out there for 40 or 50 plays," Henry said. "He got enough to get a good day's worth and then he got a rest."
Henry described the day's tackling as great.
"I thought we were consistent," he said. "We had our heads and eyes up and ran on our toes. I thought it was a good day tackling. A lot of breaking tackles, we didn't see any of that."
Craddock put the turnover numbers in camp into a broader perspective when asked whether the offense had a chip on its shoulder.
"I counted before today, we've run 1,034 snaps of things where we're counting turnovers and ... and we've had 17," Craddock said. "That puts us at one out of every 61 plays and 1.6%. We're never going to accept turnovers in this program. Never. But, when we get to that and we were 129th [out of 130 teams in plays per turnover] last year, you look at that and it puts us in the top 30."
Adding 175 plays from Saturday's scrimmage puts the Razorbacks at 19 turnovers in 1,209 plays, or a turnover every 63.6 plays, half of last year's in-season count of a turnover every 31.2 plays.
Morris said there were no new injuries Saturday, and the Razorbacks will be adding some injured players back into the active rotation next week. Tight end Hudson Henry and defensive tackle Isaiah Nichols, both in concussion protocol since early last week, are likely candidates to join that list.
Morris said running back A'Montae Spivey came out due to an asthma condition as he was having trouble breathing.
The Razorbacks are likely to make their first appearance on the new grass at Reynolds Razorback Stadium in their next scrimmage Saturday.
"Obviously next Saturday, I expect it to be better than it was this Saturday," Morris said. "But these guys came out there and really, really everybody got some quality reps in there."
Sports on 08/11/2019
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