FAYETTEVILLE - Arkansas defensive tackle D.D. Jones got his hands in the air and batted down a pass from quarterback Tyler Wilson in Razorback Stadium.
It was the first play during Saturday morning’s two-hour scrimmage.
But the first snap also set the tone for what proved to be an unusual practice.
“In these scrimmages usually we get after them,” tight end Chris Gragg said. “I think they came out with that mindset (Saturday) that they were going to get after us.”
Arkansas’ offense, which has typically has no problem running up and down the field against the defense the past five years, had to work for nearly everything it got Saturday. A defense playing without injured starters Alonzo Highsmith, Tenarius Wright and Eric Bennett turned in a strong performance in the 160-play scrimmage.
Unofficially, Arkansas’ defense collected 12 sacks, 27 tackles for losses and forced two turnovers in the scrimmage. The official stats weren’t necessary for Arkansas coach John L. Smith, who believes the group gained confidence Saturday.
“I liked the attitude that the defense approached it,” Smith said. “They played with spirit. They played with enthusiasm.”
Arkansas’ first-team offense scored touchdowns on 5 of 12 possessions, including a scrimmage-ending 13-yard touchdown pass from Wilson to Brandon Mitchell.
The second- and third-team offense – with quarterback Brandon Allen guiding both groups – struggled even more with touchdowns on four of 19 possessions.
The biggest eye-opener came early when, after allowing a touchdown to the second-team offense, the defense held firm for seven straight possessions. It included one drive-ending interception by freshman linebacker Otha Peters, who dropped back in coverage to snag a pass from Wilson and return it for a touchdown.
“We came out knowing that everybody in the stands were looking for the offense to just beat on the defense,” Flowers said. “It happens every year. We had a little chip on our shoulder like we had to come out here and make a statement.”
The seven scoreless possessions may have been the longest stretch for Arkansas’ offense since the current system was put in place in 2008.
But fullback Kiero Small, who also spent time at linebacker during the scrimmage, said it was good to see the typically explosive offense needing to work for points.
“Who wants to come out here and see one team dominate?” Small said. “That means you’ve got a problem when you get to playing other teams.”
Wilson completed 21 of 39 passes for 288 yards with four touchdowns and the interception. While his completion percentage wasn’t as high as normal during scrimmages, he did toss two touchdown passes to Mitchell (9 catches, 74 yards) and one each to Cobi Hamilton (5 catches, 83 yards) and Gragg (5 catches, 54 yards).
Backup Brandon Allen, who ran the second- and third-team groups, completed 27 of 48 for 277 yards with a touchdown and interception. The touchdown came on a 50-yard pass to receiver Keante Minor (4 catches, 78 yards).
The backups endured the biggest issues Saturday, struggling to slow a defense incorporating blitzes and other line games into its scrimmage plans.
Allen was on the run during the middle part of the scrimmage, including one series in which he was sacked by linebacker Austin Jones and defensive end Deatrich Wise on consecutive plays. Jones added another sack a few plays later.
“Those guys we really have to clean that up,” Smith said of his backup linemen. “The ones we are going to be pretty good. We have to get a lot better with the other guys.”
But Smith added he’s not concerned about the offense after one difficult day.
“The offense is going to bounce back,” Smith said. “They’re going to be good. I think it was a good spark (for the defense) and will help their confidence, which we need.
“Like I told them, we need to be good defensively for us to be a great football team.”
Arkansas feels like it took another step toward that goal with its scrimmage performance Saturday. But Flowers said first-year defensive coordinator Paul Haynes also had a message for his group after the scrimmage had ended.
“He was saying act like you know how to be great,” Flowers said. “You’ve still got to stay hungry. No matter how much you eat, you’ve still got to be hungry.”