Arkansas football defense finishes strong after hot start by offense in Saturday scrimmage

Arkansas offensive coordinator Bobby Petrino watches during a scrimmage Saturday, March 30, 2024, in Fayetteville. (Hank Layton/NWA Democrat-Gazette)

FAYETTEVILLE — Quarterback Taylen Green and the top offense started Saturday’s scrimmage hot for the University of Arkansas football team.

Green connected with tight end Luke Hasz for a 24-yard touchdown pass, then Ja’Quinden Jackson notched a 10-yard touchdown run within the first 15 snaps.

Then the top defense fought back and won the day, capping its effort with safety Hudson Clark’s diving interception to snuff out a two-minute drill.

That was the last of 152 plays from scrimmage as the Razorbacks conducted their eighth practice of spring under a mostly overcast day at Reynolds Razorback Stadium with roughly 1,000 in attendance.

“Yeah, I’d say, shoot, we finished,” said sophomore cornerback Jaylon Braxton, who had two pass breakups, including one in the end zone. “It’s not about how you start. Offense came out on a hot start, but we finished the practice. Hud sealed it with a pick. So I say we got the dub.”

Green was 3 for 3 for 54 yards on the first series, a 7-play, 75-yard march that featured a 26-yard catch and run on a crossing route by Isaiah Sategna, who led all pass catchers with 5 receptions for 83 yards and 1 touchdown.

The run game heated up on the sequence that immediately followed, with Green scrambling for 15 yards to convert a second-and-15 play early. The drive featured a pass interference call on either Braxton or Lorando Johnson, who acted incredulous over the late flag.

That play took the ball to the 22 and Jackson, who wears No. 22, took it from there. He rumbled for 12 yards through a big hole over right guard, then blasted through a tackle attempt in the backfield by Kee’yon Stewart to run 10 yards over left tackle for the touchdown.

Green threw incomplete on his next five passes. He finished the day unofficially 10 for 23 with 156 yards, 2 touchdowns and 1 interception, along with 6 carries for 30 yards.

Malachi Singleton went 11 for 15 for 96 yards, while Jacolby Criswell was 8 for 15 for 57 yards and KJ Jackson was 8 for 11 for 70 yards.

“I mean we started out hot, and as y’all probably could tell we kind of went downhill, which is something we cannot be doing in the SEC,” Criswell said. “So therefore that’s something we’re going to pick up as a team, but overall I think it was a pretty good day.”

Said Green, “Like Jacolby said, we started out fast, but we need to finish. We’ve got to be consistent with that. That’s the one thing that we’re going to look at the film and just look at the little details because I feel like there was nothing that the defense did that stopped us. It was just us making the mistakes. We’ve just got to get that cleaned up in the film room and come back next practice and correct them.”

After the Hasz and Jackson touchdowns, the three defensive units racked up four consecutive possessions without allowing any points, including defensive end Quincy Rhodes’ recovery of a muffed snap, and defensive tackle Cam Ball’s recovery of a strip by end Landon Jackson on Singleton.

The scoring drought ended when Jackson led the third-team offense on a 75-yard touchdown drive capped by Braylen Russell’s tackle-breaking 2-yard touchdown run.

The top defense stymied three series in a row without allowing a first down before Green and the offense struck back on a series that began with runs of 9 and 7 yards by Rashod Dubinion. Green found Hasz down a seam for 16 yards, and on the next snap Sategna got loose down the left sideline and hauled in a 33-yard touchdown pass against tight coverage from safety Miguel Mitchell.

Transfer linebacker Xavian Sorey nodded his head in the interview room when Braxton said the defensive units won the day.

“I just think we had a good day,” Sorey said. “I feel like we’ve got to watch the film because you know how that goes. You think you had a good day and watch the film and it says otherwise.

“But I feel like the energy was there, though. The energy definitely was there.”

Sorey led the defense with nine tackles unofficially, while Ball, linebacker Carson Dean and safety TJ Metcalf had seven each. Mitchell and linebacker Brad Spence had six each.

The negative plays for the offense — on top of Clark’s interception and the fumble recoveries by Ball and Rhodes — included 6 sacks, 9 tackles for loss (2 by end Anton Juncaj), 6 pass breakups and 2 quarterback hurries.

Ball had a big day with seven tackles, including 1 1/2 sacks. Redshirt freshman Kaleb James also posted 1 1/2 sacks.

Juncaj, a 6-3, 275-pound transfer from the University of Albany, notched his tackles for loss on consecutive plays, a pitch to Augustave and a keeper by Singleton.

The other touchdown came on Dominique Johnson’s churning 4-yard run over right guard with the third unit.

The Razorbacks combined for 8 penalties for 70 yards — 5 by the offense for 25 yards, and 3 on the defense for 45 yards, including twice for pass interference.

On the injury front, receivers Andrew Armstrong and Jaedon Wilson went through warmups but did not scrimmage as they recover from hamstring issues. Receiver Bryce Stephens, defensive back Dylan Hasz and receiver Jace Petty also did not practice.

The kickers did not have an outstanding day in windy conditions.

Matthew Shipley missed his first two tries from 49 and 30 yards — the second one clanged off the left upright — before making kicks from 43 and 31 yards. 

Vito Calvaruso missed a 41-yard field goal with the ones, then he connected from 31 yards. On the final snap of the day, Calvaruso had booted a 53-yarder, but it came just after Coach Sam Pittman called a timeout to try to ice him. The move worked, as Calvaruso pushed a 53-yard try wide right after the break.